Packing a homemade lunch saves money and saves you from the mid-afternoon food coma that comes with takeout. But the same old lunch routine can turn into a rut. Did you know that a well-proportioned lunch comes in threes? A little starch, a little protein, and a lot of produce go a long way when creating sack lunches that pack well. Try some of these creative healthy recipes for your next homemade midday meal.
01. Grain salads like this Couscous and Chickpea Salad with Cranberries make hearty, one-dish lunches. Since they keep for up to five days refrigerated, you can do the prep work ahead of time. Proportions are key for composing the perfect grain salad. Make it half veggies, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter lean protein (like chickpeas or chopped chicken breast). Then let it soak in citrus, herbs, and spices for flavor!
02. We eat with our eyes first. This gorgeous, portable Stuffed Tomato Caprese will brighten lunchtime. Tomatoes are a vitamin-rich vehicle for the right amount of mozzarella. The cheese provides enough protein and fat to keep you full. Round out the meal with a whole grain roll or a cup of minestrone.
03. A Broccoli Salad gives you this veggie’s cancer-preventing phytochemicals and a boost of fiber to fill you up. The key to the flavor indulgences in this version (bacon and mayo) is keeping them “the condiments”, letting broccoli be the star.
04. We’ve all caught on to the kale trend, and for good reason! Kale is a nutrient-dense green, packed with vitamin K, important for bone and blood health. This Kale Caesar with Roasted Chickpeas is a nutritious combo of raw kale, fiber- and protein-packed legumes, and flavorful vegan (or not) dressing.
05. Getting those five servings of vegetables a day can be tough in a fast-paced lunch environment. A vegetarian sandwich on whole grain bread, such as this Green Goddess Sandwich, is a tasty way to pack in two full vegetable servings at lunch. With healthy, monounsaturated fat from the avocado and protein from the cheese, this sandwich will help you conquer that afternoon to-do list!
06. Changing up the bread can snap you out of that lunchtime rut. Try this Greek Chicken Gyro on a whole grain pita and some fruit or veggies on the side for a well-portioned lunch. Or re-wrap your sandwich fixings using whole grain tortillas, lavosh or naan for a new take on your old standby.
07. Are you bored with the sandwich you’ve been making every day for the last two months? Sandwich Kabobs are a fun way to re-invent the standard meat + cheese + veggie combo. If you have kids, getting them involved in food prep is a great way to increase their willingness to eat healthy foods!
08. Make easy Quichelettes a day or two in advance and enjoy warm or cold at lunchtime. They’re the perfect excuse to use last night’s leftover vegetables. Whole eggs are rich in choline, a B vitamin involved in the brain’s process of mediating memory, intelligence, and mood. Serve quichelettes with a side of mixed greens and you might just feel like you’re at weekend brunch already.
09. If you’re craving something warm as the weather turns cold, these Honey-Lime Quinoa Stuffed Sweet Potatoes may be your lunchtime solution. For an easy lunch at work (or home), prep the quinoa stuffing ahead of time and place in individual separate containers. When you’re ready for lunch, follow these instructions to steam the sweet potato in the microwave: Clean the exterior with a wet towel; poke 5-8 times with a fork; place in a bowl covered with a towel; microwave 3-5 minutes depending on size. Voila! Freshly steamed sweet potato—now just add that healthy stuffing for a hearty lunch!
1o. Who said lunch can’t be sweet? A Quinoa Fruit and Yogurt Parfait is a calcium-rich solution that you can assemble in the kitchen or right at your desk. Use plain Greek yogurt to reduce sugar and boost protein, helping you avoid a late afternoon crash. Add seasonal fruit, like sliced pears in autumn, to get the best flavor.
For Packing Leftovers or DIY Lunchables
11. Many of us remember Lunchables from our grade school cafeteria days. While a great idea in theory, the processed meats, cheese, and refined grains leave plenty to be desired. Save yourself the preservatives and make yourself a nutritious version. These BPA-free, microwave- and dishwasher-safe boxes from Prêt-a-Pàquet (for kids) and Monbento (for adults) make the perfect lunch boxes. Follow this template for a healthy, do-it-yourself Lunchable:
Quarter box filled with starch such as whole grain crackers, whole wheat pita triangles, or sweet potato rounds
Quarter box filled with one or a combination of protein sources such as hummus or bean dip, nut butter, sliced meat or cheese
Half box filled with chopped fruits and veggies