Creating healthy lunch ideas for work is
a lot easier than you might think. With busy schedules, we often rush out of
the house in the morning with a coffee in one hand and half a bagel in the
other, without even giving a second thought to what we might eat when lunch
time rolls around.
Too often, we end up grabbing something at a fast food restaurant or, worse yet, settling for a bag of chips and a diet soda purchased from the nearest convenience store. Even that protein/power bar in the bottom of your purse or briefcase isn't a great lunch choice.
Unless you buy a really balanced – which also means really expensive – meal replacement bar, there is a good chance that you aren't getting everything your body needs to function effectively through an action-packed afternoon. Plus, most of the so-called “healthy convenience” foods are packed with fats and sugars.
Try Eating Out Less
Enjoying lunch in a restaurant once in a while is fine, but keep in mind that most menu choices contain extra calories and salt as well as preservatives, trans fats, MSG, and who know what else. And, eating out regularly can be expensive. So, brown bagging it to work can save you money, promote weight loss, and improve your overall health.
Packing your own lunch doesn't have to be difficult. Of course, it is going to be more time consuming than not packing a lunch, but it really is quite easy to put together a balanced meal that will be delicious and satisfying. For the little bit of planning it takes, you will be rewarded with a healthy lunch that will make you glad you took the time to think ahead.
Easy Healthy Lunch Ideas for Work
A healthy lunch – as with everything in life – is balance. To get the most benefits make sure your choices include protein, carbs, fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals from fruits or veggies.
After all, it could be several hours until dinner and you don't want to be reaching for unhealthy, sugar-laden snacks to get you through the afternoon hunger cravings.
Sandwiches can be healthy lunch ideas for work, but be sure to choose whole-grain breads, pitas, or wraps. Avoid white breads as much as possible since these contain fewer nutrients, have a greater impact on your blood sugar, and will not keep you satisfied as long as whole grain choices. To balance the starches, add plenty of veggies and proteins.
A grilled vegetable pita is also delicious. Grill sliced veggies with olive oil and spices the night before (celery, zucchini, red onion, and bell peppers are great choices).
You can eat the vegetables cold or reheat them in the office microwave before stuffing the pita. Add some hummus or cheese and drizzle with olive oil or your favorite dressing.
Stuff a whole-grain pita with your favorite protein: chopped chicken, salmon, tuna, eggs, or cheese. Add shredded lettuce, sliced grape tomatoes, red onion, and diced avocado.
Make a cobb salad wrap filled with bacon, chicken, egg, avocado, blue cheese, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
Make a salmon wrap with sesame dressing. Add a tablespoon of rice if desired.
For a vegan option with a Greek flare, make a hummus wrap and add lettuce, tomato, feta cheese, and black olives.
Good old-fashioned peanut butter and banana is also delicious. Use a natural peanut butter that doesn't contain the added trans fats and sugars.
The sandwich options are limited only by your imagination. Add a piece of fruit or a container of sliced veggies to complete your meal. If you have a sweet tooth or want the extra calcium, include some vanilla Greek yogurt with fresh fruit for dessert.
Salads can be a hearty lunchtime option packed full of all the nutrients you need to face the day. Eat them as a meal or include a smaller version as a complement to your sandwich.
Salmon salad – Add chunks of salmon or sardines to a mixture of raw veggies such as cucumbers, bell peppers, red onion, and tomatoes. Splash in Italian or sesame vinaigrette, a little dill and basil, and a squeeze of lemon. Put the greens in a separate container and add the salmon mixture when you are ready to eat.
Meatless salad – Make your favorite garden salad using healthy greens like spinach, field greens, or romaine lettuce with fresh chopped veggies. Add in protein choices such as nuts, chick peas, navy beans, or sliced eggs.
For a sweeter option, add sliced strawberries, mandarin oranges, cranberries, and slivered almonds. Seeds are also a great source of protein, but watch the portion size if you are on a low calorie or fat-reduced diet.
Bean salad – Mix a variety of beans (navy, chick peas, red kidney beans) with chopped onion, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, dill, basil, and parsley. Add olive oil or vinaigrette, garlic, salt and pepper to taste. For a spicier option add a little cumin and/or jalapeno peppers.
Hummus salad – Grill veggies (celery, zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, red onions) with olive oil and spices. Cool in fridge overnight. Put veggies, salad greens, and a large portion of hummus in a container (keep ingredients separated until lunchtime). Mix together and enjoy!
Quinoa salad – Quinoa is one of the tastiest, healthiest, and most versatile grains/seeds in the world. Make a Southwestern salad by mixing quinoa with black beans, green onion, red pepper, celery, and cilantro. Use a bottled dressing or make your own using lime juice, cumin, chili powder, and olive oil.
There are dozens of quinoa recipes out there (Quinoa salad with cherries and feta is especially yummy!) and many can be eaten hot or cold so they are perfect for taking to work. Don't like quinoa? No problem – replace it with couscous, brown rice, or orzo.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad – If you like Greek salad then you will love this hearty pasta version. Choose your favorite whole grain pasta then add chopped grape tomatoes (sun-dried tomatoes are good, too!), cucumber, red bell pepper, onion, olives, basil, balsamic vinaigrette (it's easy to make your own), and feta cheese. Fresh chopped spinach is also a tasty addition.
For those cooler fall and winter days, hearty soups are always a lunchtime favorite. Chicken vegetable, black bean, or butternut squash soups can be filling and nutritious. Remember, if your soup is low-carb or doesn't contain protein, you will want to add something like a whole grain bun, a piece of fruit and/or a Greek yogurt to your lunch menu.
Everyone loves leftovers, right? Aren't the late night turkey sandwiches the best part of Thanksgiving dinner? You are making dinner for your family anyway, so why not add a little extra to take for your lunch the next day?
Make a sandwich from the leftover chicken breast, re-heat a stir-fry or rice dish, or save the last bowl of chili. It really doesn't take any more time to make a larger salad, cook an extra piece of meat, or open a second can of beans, but you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor for two meals instead of just one.
Ideas for Work: Tips to Make Life Easier
We all want to be healthier, and we all want to do what is best for our bodies and our bank accounts. Taking healthy lunches to work can help keep both our expenses and our weight down. It's not hard, but it does take some planning and dedication.
Not only do you have to take the time to pack the lunch, but you also have to actually eat it instead of leaving it in the office fridge or your desk drawer while you hit the nearest drive-thru. Here are a few tips that might make taking your own lunch to work a little easier and more appealing.
Take what you like. When you pack your food the night before a bag of sliced carrots and cucumbers might seem like a good idea (especially if you are still full from dinner); but, they may not look as appealing the next day when your stomach is grumbling in hunger. You need to make healthy choices, but make sure that your lunch is also satisfying and tasty. You want to look forward to eating it.
Plan ahead. Make a big pot of soup or a large casserole and freeze in lunch-sized portions. Or, make extra at dinner and freeze the leftovers so you don't have to eat the same thing two days in a row. This way, you can pick whatever meal you like, add some chopped veggies; a piece of fruit, and/or a yogurt and you will be leaving home with a healthy, nutritious lunch.
Don't forget the snacks. Whether it's the box of donuts by the coffee machine, a co-worker's birthday cake in the staff room, or the vending machine down the hall, the workplace can be full of unhealthy – and tempting – choices. Those mid-morning/mid-afternoon hunger pangs can be relentless, so keep them under control with some healthy snacks.
Keep an apple, a bag of nuts, a container of homemade trail mix, or other nutritious options in your desk, purse, or briefcase. It might not make your craving for that piece of cake any less, but it will give you the strength to resist the temptation.
Allow yourself a treat. A lot of times we give in to temptation because we feel deprived. So, if everyone in the lunch room is munching on cake and cookies, it can make us question our determination to eat healthier. You don't have to deny yourself a treat in these situations, you just have to make better choices.
Mix it up. Keep your brown bag lunches interesting. Eating the same thing everyday can get boring. An apple might not seem appealing but a spicy quinoa salad or Caesar chicken wrap might have your mouth watering before the clock hits noon. The burgers and fries your co-workers bring back won't seem so tempting if you are looking forward to eating what you brought from home. Besides, studies have shown that your body likes variety.
There are literally hundreds of healthy lunch ideas for work. You just have to find what appeals to you and make choices that will benefit both your body and your budget.
I will continue to share ideas about diet and exercise that have helped me along the way. If you have any questions I can help you with, or if you have any ideas you want to share, feel free to contact me or visit our Q&A forum.