Are you tired of lunch being an overpriced, nutritional train wreck? Do you groan and drag your feet every time you think about packing a lunch? Here’s some motivation: It’s simply better and cheaper for you. “When you make your own lunch, you’re in total control,” explains Keri Gans, R.D., author of “The Small Change Diet.” You can use fresh ingredients, watch your sodium intake and control portion size—three things that aren’t so easy to do when grabbing lunch on the fly.
Also, it’s easier to eat a balanced meal at lunch—unlike dinner, which we often pull together last minute or eat out, making it full of “unknown variables” when it comes to nutrition and portion size, explains Heather Bauer, R.D., founder of Bestowed, a monthly subscription service that delivers hand-picked healthy products. Bauer advises, “Keep it light (small portions) and tight (a calorie count under 280) for breakfast and lunch, and you’ll have more flexibility with dinner.”
Try these 12 healthy meals, which will make you excited to dig into that brown bag come lunchtime.
1Egg White Salad Sandwich
Take three chopped hardboiled egg whites, mix with 2 tablespoons of plain hummus (instead of mayo), and top with 1/4 avocado, tomato and onion slices on 100 percent whole wheat bread. You’ll get protein, antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber, which can help lower cholesterol and prevent that post-lunch blood sugar rollercoaster.
2Chicken Caesar Salad
Top prewashed romaine lettuce with sliced grilled chicken (homemade or pre-poached from a grocery like Trader Joe’s), a handful of Parmesan flakes, and about 2 tablespoons of Bolthouse Farms Caesar Parmigiano (it’s yogurt-based and only 45 calories per 2 tablespoons). Serve with two FiberRich Plus bran crackers, crumbled and sprinkled on top.
Take one La Tortilla 100-calorie whole wheat wrap (they come in a “low carb” version, too), add sliced turkey, avocado, mustard, lettuce and tomato. By swapping the mayo for avocado, you’ll be adding filling healthy fats (vitamin E, for example) to your meal. Plus, the combo of turkey and whole wheat gives you lean protein and fiber that will make you feel full for hours.
4Dr. Praeger’s Veggie Burger
Dr. Praeger’s burgers were created by Peter Praeger, M.D., and Eric Somberg, M.D., with the mission of helping people enjoy healthy, nutritious food. Heat up a veggie burger and a slice of low-fat cheese on an Arnold Sandwich Thin in the microwave, or broil in a toaster oven, and you’ll have an easy, guilt-free lunch for only 200 calories total.
5Chicken Noodle Soup
The night before, toss chopped celery, carrots and chunks of cooked chicken breasts into a pot of low-sodium chicken broth and simmer for 30 minutes. Then add some carb-free Miracle Noodles for one minute. You’ll have a tasty chicken noodle soup that gives you plenty of protein without too much sodium—a common pitfall of many packaged soups.
6Amy’s Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl
If you want a meal that tastes homemade and is chock-full of antioxidants, don’t miss this one. With only 270 milligrams of sodium and 260 calories, you’ll get an organic, portion-controlled meal that’s delicious and filling. Want to add some crunch with your vegetables? Mix in some sliced cucumber.
7Low-Fat Chicken Salad
Buy a prepared chicken breast at your local grocery, or cook your own the night before. Shred or cube the chicken and add up to 2 tablespoons of light mayonnaise, some chopped celery, and salt and pepper to taste. Pair with two FiberRich Plus crackers, and you’ll have a healthy take on a simple lunch.
Use one Justin’s Classic Maple Almond or Honey Peanut Butter Packet (only 80 calories each), and spread on a slice of Ezekiel bread for the perfect combo of protein and fiber. Add a sliced banana for extra flavor and potassium, which is good for bone health and helps keeps blood pressure stable. Another option is to pair the nut butter with fresh fruit, such as strawberries or raspberries, instead of traditional jelly. Nut butters offer monounsaturated fats (good for your heart) and vitamin E (protects skin from free radicals).
9Chicken Parmesan Sandwich
Bread a chicken breast with whole wheat breadcrumbs, panko or unprocessed bran. Bake it, and at lunch the next day, melt Horizon Organic 1% mozzarella cheese on an Arnold 100-calorie whole wheat Sandwich Thin in the office microwave. Top with Cucina Antica marinara (an all- natural and no-added-sugar sauce). The bran provides fiber, the tomato sauce contains lycopene, which has skin-protecting benefits, and the cheese provides bone-bolstering calcium.
Forget tuna! Open an Oregon Smoked Salmon single serving pack, add some light mayo, chopped celery and a bit of spicy mustard for a kick. Or the night before, marinate salmon in the following: fresh-squeezed lemon, lime, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, dill and parsley, and then broil for about 15 minutes. At lunch the next day, put cooked salmon on a bed of mixed greens with 1/2 cup chickpeas, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, fresh squeezed lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You’ll get heart-healthy omega-3s from the salmon, iron, thiamine and vitamin B6 from the leafy greens, and a serving of fiber and protein from the chickpeas.
11Cottage Cheese and Berries
Need to eat something, but not very hungry? Try ½ cup Horizon Organic cottage cheese or Friendship whipped cottage cheese (2 percent or under) with 1/2 cantaloupe or a handful of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or sliced peaches. You’ll get an antioxidant-packed lunch, as well as a healthy serving of calcium and protein. Eat with two FiberRich Plus crackers if the former doesn’t leave you feeling full.
12Black Bean Quinoa Salad
Cook a cup of quinoa (or another whole wheat grain, like barley or whole wheat couscous) the night before. The next day, combine 1/2 cup cooked quinoa with 1/2 cup black beans (if canned, look for less than 100 milligrams of sodium), 1/4 cup cooked corn (canned is fine), 1 ounce of feta cheese, chopped tomato and a dash of pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and mix together.