Whether you’re back to the office full-time or on a new hybrid schedule, you may feel a little out of practice packing lunch! A healthy lunch for work can help you be your best at your job, while also saving you some of that hard-earned money.
What makes a healthy lunch?
Healthy can look different for everyone, but there are a few things you’ll want to consider when preparing lunch:
- Is it well balanced with protein, fiber-rich carbs and unsaturated fats? These three nutrients can help you feel full and keep your energy up so you can focus on work.
- Have you included produce? Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and a packed lunch can be a great opportunity to add more to your day.
- What is going to taste good and satisfy you so you don’t end up tossing the lunch and ordering takeout with coworkers?
- What kind of storage options do you have? Do you have access to a fridge and/or microwave or will you bring an insulated freezer lunch bag and ice pack to help your meal stay cool.
Need some ideas to get started? Here are some of our favorite healthy lunches that pack well:
- Chicken and Veggie Wrap. Select a whole grain wrap with (leftover) marinated grilled chicken, baby spinach or any greens, chopped tomatoes and a smear of fresh avocado for satisfying, lean protein and fiber plus a good dose of potassium, and vitamin A.
- Veggie Pasta or Quinoa Salad. Mix together steamed, roasted or fresh broccoli, carrots, white beans, pistachios and a vinaigrette dressing for a filling and tasty choice when you don’t have access to a microwave. Make it gluten-free if you need to by using quinoa or lentil/chickpea pasta (which also provides an extra protein boost!)
- Add leftover veggies and protein like tofu, chicken, or shrimp to a bed of greens and cooked brown rice, quinoa or farro to make an easy, enjoyable and well-balanced lunch.
- Burritos. Try one with peppers, onions, salsa, avocado and vegetarian refried beans in a whole wheat or corn tortilla for a super quick vegan meal. Grilled chicken, fish, shrimp and shredded low fat cheese are also good in burritos. We love how versatile these are.
- Chickpea Patties or Baked Falafel. These are a flavorful source of protein, fiber, iron and magnesium. You can make them ahead and freeze them to add to pita bread or salads later. They are budget-friendly too.
- Salad: Start with dark greens like romaine, kale, spinach, or arugula. Add your favorite raw (or cooked) vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, green onions and celery. Top it with tasty higher protein and fiber foods like cooked tofu or tempeh, a hard-boiled egg, nuts, cooked beans or lentils, sunflower seeds, roasted peppers or edamame. For an even more filling and balanced salad, add a whole grain like cooked quinoa or a side of whole grain crackers. The fresh produce provides hydration and lots of nutrients!
- Stuffed Potato: Try a cooked regular or sweet potato stuffed with black beans and salsa. This is a super-simple meal rich in complex carbohydrates that can be made in the microwave.
Don’t Forget Snacks!
Well balanced snacks can help you stay alert for afternoon meetings and fill that long gap between lunch and dinner. Look for nutritious foods from the food groups like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. When you pack your own delicious and satisfying snack, you’ll be more likely to resist office donuts, cookies or candy
Some of our favorite snacks to pack in your lunchbox:
- Fruit like cherries and grapes
- BeBOLD Bars
- Baby carrots or whole grain tortilla chips with bean dip
- Air-popped popcorn
- Greek yogurt
- A handful of walnuts
- Apple slices with nut butter
- Whole grain cereal or granola
Enjoy these healthy foods at your lunch and snack breaks!
Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist in Pennsylvania. She is an associate professor of allied health and shares plant-based recipes and tips at www.melissatraub.com.