Easy Healthy Packed Lunches

In my last post we looked at the challenge working people face when it comes to lunch. Even if we know that packed lunches from home are better for us than whatever we can buy at the nearest fast food place, it is easy to convince ourselves that we do not have the time or the energy to gather ingredients and create a wholesome and appetizing lunch every day of the week.  In fact, it may seem like an impossible task. This is especially true for anyone with a full-time job who also takes care of his/her family.

But . . . It Is Important to Make Time

When you eat lunch at a restaurant, a fast food establishment, or buy something from the food trucks outside the office five days of the week, lunch will probably be the most fattening meal of the day. Imagine the money you could save and the calories you could eliminate if you ate a healthy and nutritious lunch that you packed at home instead.

I want to assure you that making healthy packed lunches is not as difficult as you may think. For example, many evening meal recipes can be doubled to provide leftovers that make a great lunch choices for the next day. Other easy lunch recipes include fresh fruits and seasonal vegetables. As mentioned before, the key is in the planning and the shopping. Once that is done the rest is pretty easy.

As promised, I want to share some of my favorites with you.

Some quickies to start:

  1. Buy a whole roasted chicken from your local supermarket (Safeway’s are great). You can either take whole pieces with some fresh fruit or carrot sticks; or make a delicious sandwich – add a small bag of corn chips and lunch is ready to go.
  2. Mash up a whole avocado, stir in a little Pace Picante Sauce, a dash of lemon juice, some salt and pepper to taste, and place in a small covered container. Pack a large handful of Frito’s corn tortilla chips and you are ready to go. If you need a protein, throw in a couple of cheese sticks for good measure.
  3. Speaking of cheese sticks, one of my favorite fast lunches is a fresh, crisp apple (sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice), 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (for spreading on the apple), and a couple of cheese sticks.
  4. Peel and slice a whole fresh peach or pear in small covered container; top with cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt with a dribble of local honey. Also pack a piece of rich whole grain bread (lightly buttered) and you are finished.
  5. Strawberries, grapes and sliced melons also work for #4.
  6. Pita Bread to go with sliced veggies and hummus dip is quick, easy, delicious, and nutritious.
  7. If you absolutely have to have something sweet at the end of the meal, have a cup of iced decaf coffee made with half milk and half water and Stevia for the sweetener.

Now for a few recipes that take a little more work

Barbecued Chicken Sandwiches

This is a delicious and simple barbecue lunch dish.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 roasted chicken or left-over chicken from dinner
  • 2 whole grain sandwich buns or rolls
  • 2 carrots cut into slivers or shredded, Ranch salad dressing
  • 2/3 cup of barbecue sauce (choose a low sodium variety)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Use a fork to shred the chicken and place it into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the slivered carrots to the bowl with the chicken and toss well with barbecue sauce.
  3. Spread a tablespoon of Ranch salad dressing on the whole grain bun.
  4. Add the chicken mixture to the sandwich bun and close.

Sooooo easy!  The carrots add a little crunch, plus some vitamin A. The recipe makes enough for two sandwiches. Prepare one for today; then, cover and refrigerate the meat mixture and have the 2nd one tomorrow or the next day.

Egg Salad

Image by Elena Shashkina
Image by Elena Shashkina

Ingredients

  • 2 hard-boiled eggs peeled and chopped into small pieces (or mashed)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of Hellmann’s or Best Foods light mayonnaise
  • 1-2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • 2 small sweet pickles, finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons celery, very finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon scallions, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed. Voila! You have a perfect egg salad. You can use it as a salad, by placing chopped Romaine lettuce in a separate covered dish and adding the egg salad at lunch time. Or spread on whole grain bread or roll for a hearty, healthy sandwich.  Either way, you have a nutritious protein-packed lunch that will give you energy for the remainder of the work day.

Pizza Roll Ups

Pizza is always a family favorite and pizza roll-ups make a delicious addition to your lunch menu.

Ingredients

  • 2 8-inch whole grain flour tortillas
  • 4 tablespoons of pizza sauce (choose a low-sodium variety or make your own)
  • 24 baby spinach leaves
  • 6 tablespoons of shredded skim mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Place the first tortilla flat on a plate and add 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce.
  2. Spread the sauce to cover the tortilla well. Place 12 spinach leaves on the tortilla over the sauce.
  3. Top with ½ of the mozzarella cheese.
  4. Microwave for about 45 seconds or until the cheese is melted. Allow the pizza to cool and then roll carefully.

You can then build the second pizza.

Slice the rolled pizzas into sections and wrap them separately for snacking or lunch. This recipe is great for substitutions. Try mushrooms, olives, peppers or any other topping you enjoy. (Do not use pepperoni – too many preservatives and too much salt.)

Fresh Fruit Salad

Fresh Fruit

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried
  • 1 cup chopped pineapple (canned pineapple can be substituted if fresh pineapple is unavailable)
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, sliced
  • 1 cup small red seedless grapes, washed and dried
  • 1 red apple, cored and diced
  • 1 Granny Smith green apple, cored and diced
  • 2 kiwi, peeled and sliced (then halved)

Directions

  • Combine all the fruits and toss well.

For a super simple and delicious dressing, add 2 cups plain Greek yogurt and a drizzle of local honey. The yogurt gives the fruit salad a little zip and the honey a touch of sweetness! You can also top with a cottage cheese if you prefer. Fruit salad served with a side of whole grain crackers or a fresh multi-grain bagel makes a tasty, nutritious lunch.

Spicy Cucumber Salad

 Image by Karen Mardahl
Image by Karen Mardahl

Cucumber salads are extremely filling and store well in the refrigerator.

Ingredients

  • 2 cucumbers, sliced (peeling optional)
  • 1 small package baby carrots shredded (or small bag grated carrots)
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (add more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

Directions

  1. Prepare and combine the cucumbers and shredded carrots.
  2. Mix together the remaining ingredients and stir into the veggies.
  3. Make sure that the cucumber and carrot mixture is covered completely with the dressing.

The acid in the lime keeps the cucumer crisp longer in the refrigerator, which makes this salad extremely easy to store.

Cucumber salad is delicious served in a whole-grain pita pocket.

Brown Rice Salad

Brown rice is healthy and nutritious, which makes brown rice salad a nice addition to your lunch menu.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • ½ red onion, finely diced
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 head Belgian endive, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons virgin olive oil.

Directions

  1. Toss the rice and endive together until mixed well.
  2. Mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar and drizzle over the rice/endive mixture.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

This recipe is very filling, so separate the rice salad into several containers. Not only do you have a low-calorie and nutritious lunch, you have enough extra for another day.

Closing Thoughts

Taking your lunch one or two days a week is a step in the right direction. So, whether you choose to pack your lunch once a week or every day, these healthy ideas will give you a place to start as you step on the path to better nutrition.

Start where you are comfortable (but stretch yourself a little.) For me, a serious, committed change always works best; but for many people, small steps work better when making big changes to their diet. Do what works for you – but do something NOW! Even one day a week without a fast food lunch is great for your body.