Do you eat a healthy lunch every day? I’ve found that healthy lunches are *hard* to nail, especially if you’re on a budget. In NYC, where I live, there are lunch options galore–but the healthiest options like Just Salad, Sweet Green (I haven’t tried it but all friends say it’s amazing), etc, cost $10-12 for a large salad. And say if you wanted to get a coffee in the morning, or a little energy bar in the afternoon…That all adds up quickly–dining out in general is expensive here, and can set you back hundreds of dollars every month even when you don’t seem to be going crazy.
On the other hand, packing your lunch also comes with its own challenges. I admire people who can do this every day, because I just can’t seem to get up the motivation to put together something and pack everything nicely. But since it’s the New Year, I’ve gotten fresh motivation to try packing healthy lunches all through the week. (Or at least, most days. hehe)
Here are the best tricks to eating a healthy lunch even through your busy week.
1. Cook a batch of plain grains on Sunday: I’ve mentioned before that I don’t ever have leftovers. I tend to make just enough for every meal, because I’ll eat as much as I make! 🙂 If you don’t have this problem, packing the previous night’s dinner is a cinch. If you also have my super ability to eat as much as there is food in the pot, try making a batch of unseasoned, plain grains like brown rice, quinoa, etc, on Sunday (or any day, really) and have that on hand. Because it’s plain, you’re far more likely to leave it alone during the week. And before leaving for work, dress it up with the extras: few slices of avocado, some halved grape tomatoes, raisins, nuts, seeds, dressing, spices, etc.
2. Add some fresh leafy greens: If you like to buy pre-washed, packaged leafy greens, and this helps you get more greens in without a thought, go ahead and keep doing that! Personally, I like to buy whole kale or collard greens, wash a few large stalks, and quickly tear them using my hands or a pair of kitchen scissors (how genius–you didn’t even have to take out your chopping board and a knife!). Add these to your cooked greens, above.
3. Have frozen chopped veggies in the freezer: One of the best ways to make your lunch more nutritious and filling is to increase the amount of veggies in it. Frozen mixed veggies, peas, edamame, corn, etc, can be quickly microwaved (at home or at work) to bulk up your lunch, no matter what else you’re eating.
4. Pack a partial lunch: If you just don’t have the time or energy to figure out a whole lunch, how about packing a partial lunch? For instance, you could pack just the plain quinoa, OR plain steamed chopped veggies (I love peas andbroccoli/cauliflower/carrot blend), and during lunch time, go to the corner health store or company cafeteria and get a soup or chili (under $5) to fill out your meal. Tip: Always buy fruit during your weekly grocery shopping and add to your a partial lunch. This saves some money and reduces stress of microplanning. Win win.
5. Tortillas are your best friend: I don’t keep bread in the house because it’s too easy to snack on. (Mmm, bread). Again, just being honest here. Also, there is this pressure to finish bread as quickly as possible because it’s too easy to go stale. For healthy and portion-control-helpful carb option, I highly recommend tortillas instead. Look for preservative-free options in the refrigerated section (always read the ingredients!). I prefer taco-sized corn tortillas, which are gluten-free and go with all sorts of different fillings. Just microwave in your office kitchen and mix and match with your fillings, like quinoa, veggies, etc.
6. Mason jars are also your best friends: This trick is an oldie but goodie. On Sunday nights, lay out 3 or more jars and pack your week’s salads in order into each jar: put dressing first followed by grains and/or legumes, crunchy veggies like cucumbers and onions, followed by all the soft and leafy greens. Now all you need to do is shake it vigorously before eating at work! You’ve just saved about $9 on a salad–yay!
7. Pack sandwich fillings: As someone who doesn’t keep bread in the house, but also loves sandwiches, one way to enjoy a “homemade” sandwich is to bring sandwich filling, and buy the bread (i.e. bagel, olive or potato rolls, yum) during lunch break. Some suggestions for filling: homemade hummus, washed greens, a banana, peanut butter or another nut butter, tomato slices, avocado, etc.
8. Buy designated lunch boxes: I don’t know about you, but I always circle around Whole Foods and look at those eco-friendly lunch boxes thinking I should get one…some day. Wouldn’t it be so much easier–and let’s face it, cuter–to pack things in organized, designated containers that are dishwasher safe? Try this stacking, 2 compartment bento box from the MoMA store, or stainless steel 4-compartment one that goes directly inside the dishwasher. (No need to separate and keep track of all those lids and bottoms!). Bonus points for getting designated lunch silverware in its own container.
For the young-at-heart (hehe), Sugarboogar “What Did the Fox Eat?” lunchbox
Sugarbooger Baby Deer silverware set
10. Keep condiments at work: Keep non-perishable seasoning tools like salt, Bragg’s, nutritional yeast, sriracha, hot sauce, tahini, nut butter, etc, in a desk drawer. Even those little ketchup packets can come in handy, in a pinch.
Do you pack lunch every day? (If so, I salute you!) What’s your best tip/favorite thing to pack? 🙂
Take a look at some of our favorite healthy lunch recipes!
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling; MoMa; Lunchbots; Sugarbooger