Have you ever missed lunch because you didn’t have time to run out and grab a meal? Then you know firsthand that delaying or skipping meals leaves you feeling ravenous. Being overly hungry can decrease focus and productivity and increase irritability and stress. That’s no fun for anyone!
Bringing lunch from home makes it much less likely that an unexpected meeting or schedule change will keep you from eating a nutritious lunch. Plus, when you are in charge of the ingredients and portions, it’s easier to tailor your meal to your specific nutrition needs, health goals, and taste preferences.
Let’s not forget about the money you can save by bringing instead of buying. Here in NYC, even a basic salad or sandwich can easily cost you $10, and that adds up fast. Packing your own lunch just three days a week could save you over $100 a month. I can think of a lot of ways I’d rather spend $100 than on a boring sandwich or salad. What would you rather do with all your extra cash?
Ready to start bringing your lunch, but not sure what to pack? I recommend including these four components to make a satisfying, well-balanced meal that will keep you feeling energized:
1. Whole Grain (or other high fiber starchy carbohydrate) – Try quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, or beans/legumes (which are a source of protein too).
2. Protein – Try tuna, salmon, skinless chicken or turkey, eggs, veggie burgers, tofu, or tempeh. Dairy foods are another protein option (and a good source of calcium). Choose mostly low-fat and nonfat varieties of milk, yogurt, and cheese.
3. Produce – All fruit and vegetables make good choices, so just pick your favorites!
4. Healthy fat – Try nuts, seeds, avocado, hummus, or olive oil.
Need some meal ideas to get you started? Here are a few of my favorites:
Quick and Healthy Packable Lunch Ideas:
Greek Pasta Salad
Add red and green peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese to whole grain pasta. Toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Add chickpeas for extra protein and fiber. Tastes great hot or cold.
Quinoa Burrito Bowl
Combine quinoa, black beans, bell peppers, onions (and any other veggie of your choice). For extra protein, add grilled chicken or tofu. Top with salsa and add guacamole or roasted pumpkin seeds for some healthy fat and extra flavor. Also delicious hot or cold!
Asian Pita Pocket
Fill a whole wheat pita pocket with broccoli slaw, shredded carrots, and sliced cucumbers (Tip: to save time, look for prepackaged slaw or other shredded vegetables in your produce aisle). Add a protein of your choice like baked tofu, tempeh, grilled chicken, or shrimp. Top with light ginger dressing.
Peanut Butter and Jelly (with a twist)
Freshen up this old standby by using sliced bananas or fresh berries instead of jam. Choose a natural peanut butter (or other nut butter like almond butter or cashew butter) without added sugar or oils. Serve on whole grain bread – whole grain cinnamon raisin bread is one of my favorites.
This lunch option is perfect for those mornings when you don’t even have five minutes to spare. You just need to spend just a few minutes once a week prepping, portioning, and pre-packing some of the items. Whole grain crackers are one of the easiest options for the grain component. Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and snap peas are no-fuss veggies. Bananas, apples, pears, and clementines are good no-prep fruit choices.
Keep some portable proteins on hand like tuna or salmon packets, pre-cooked/pre-seasoned tofu, lean deli meat, nut butter packets, and hard-boiled eggs (Tip: you can make hard-boiled eggs ahead of time. They will keep for about one week in the refrigerator). Single serving packets of hummus, guacamole, or nuts are easy fat additions. Then, all you have to do is grab one item from each category and go. Voila! You have a well-balanced lunch in less than 60 seconds.
What is your favorite packable lunch?