Bring your own lunch: healthy lunch ideas for work or any time you need a convenient meal!

Remember the days of back-to-school prep, making sure you had enough pencils, a cool backpack, and the good ole’ trusty lunchbox? The lunchbox was key: it housed your most precious snacks, giving you enough energy to sprint the bases during gym class kickball and stay awake in math class (maybe). Fast forward into adult years… what happened to your lunch box?

After several years as a registered dietitian, I’ve noticed that lunch tends to be the most neglected meal, with dinner and breakfast getting most of meal prep attention. That leaves a quick 15 minute, on the go option for lunch — whether a sad sandwich on white bread, a run to the drive through, or a “protein” bar (FYI there is probably more sugar than protein in your bar). Lunch deserves to be planned out! It’s the time of day you need a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat to give you energy to finish out the work day, replenish your energy from your morning workout, and prevent late night sweet cravings. Let’s bring some of that childhood excitement back to lunch!

The Lunchtime Essentials

A complete meal should include four main components: non-starchy vegetables, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Your lunch isn’t complete unless you can check off all four of these categories. And don’t forget 8-10 oz. of water!

Back to Packing

Don’t let your brown bag lunch history deter you! All the cool kids bring their lunch to work. It gives you the most control over your intake, which translates into your goals being achieved. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Leftovers: I know, it was probably a stretch to get you to consider packing your lunch and now I’m suggesting leftovers. But hear me out — we don’t all have the time to meticulously plan out breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a balanced and timely way that gives us all necessary nutrients, can be stored properly for the week, and tastes good. That’s where leftovers come in: cook once, eat twice (or three or four times). Hello efficiency.
  • Quinoa bowls: Quinoa is a high fiber whole grain that absorbs flavor; make a batch for lunches and it will taste better as the week goes on. Try a Mexican-inspired quinoa bowl with grilled chicken, black beans, chopped tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and bell peppers topped with olive oil and lime juice dressing (add garlic, cumin, and sriracha for a little more flavor and heat).
  • Snack lunch: Sometimes you may not have time to put together a cohesive meal for lunch and that’s okay. As long as you include all four components, you’re set. A snack-lunch could consistent of one cup baby carrots, one cup sliced cucumbers, one stick grass-fed jerky, an apple, and one brown rice cake topped with an individual packet of guacamole. Need more protein? Swap jerky for two hard boiled eggs. Plant based? Omit the jerky and use hummus instead of guacamole. Simple and satisfying.

When You Have to Buy Lunch

Of course, there will be inevitable days when you need to buy a lunch. Keep it simple. Avoid making huge substitutions and changes to pre-made menu items as this often changes the taste and volume of food so you may be hungry an hour later. First pick your protein, whether it’s animal or plant based; aim for 3-5 ounces (size of the palm of your hand). Then add veggies: a salad, grilled seasonal veggies, or a cup of broth-based vegetable soup. Lastly, choose complex carbohydrates. This can be brown rice, sweet potato, or farro. A carb serving should be approximately the size of your fist.

Get Packing!

Now that you’ve thought about what to pack, create an action plan of how you will achieve this goal. Start realistically, committing to a packed lunch twice per week. Slowly add more days each week until your lunch packing pro. If you’re feeling extra proud of yourself, tag FFC in your lunchbox pictures on social media!

Want to set up a complimentary consultation with Liz? Email her at edejulius@ffc.com!