Packing a lunch instead of eating out can help you get more nutrients and limit calories, carbs, and fat. It can also save money.
A healthy lunch should be calorie-controlled and include nutritious foods from different food groups. It also helps to have leak proof and air-tight containers and an insulated lunch bag.
Knowing what to make, setting aside time to make lunch, and having ingredients on hand can all support your efforts to make a healthy lunch.
Here are several ideas for healthy lunches for different tastes.
Lark offers a friendly and encouraging program that can help you log meals and achieve health and weight goals 24/7 when you use the app.
What’s for lunch? That’s a question that parents hear a lot when their children go back to school, but it’s also worth thinking about lunch for yourself. Benefits of a healthy lunch include increased focus and productivity, better weight control, and steadier energy levels.
American adults eat out 5 times per week on average, and restaurant meals tend to be higher in calories and saturated fat, as well as lower in fiber and some other nutrients. It’s easier to control what goes into your food, and how much you eat, when you make your own lunch. Here are some tips for making healthy lunches, and some ideas for the best ones to try.
Preparing to Pack a Healthy Lunch
Mayo Clinic says to include a range of food groups in your meal to maximize your energy. Fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats are all good choices. It’s worth investing in an insulated lunch bag or box and a set of leak proof and air-tight containers. You can use an insulated thermos to keep foods warm.
Best Satisfying Lunch: Chicken and Cheese Sandwich
Ordering a sandwich or picking up a ready-made one from a deli can lead to eating more calories, fat, and carbs than you need. A big roll or thick-sliced bread, fatty or processed meats, and mayo-based spreads can all contribute to the problem. Adding a bag of chips or a cookie can make it even less healthy. When you make a sandwich and pack healthy sides, you can have a nutritious lunch.
Here are some tips for building your sandwich.
Use whole-grain bread such as whole-wheat sliced bread or pita, soft taco-sized tortillas, or high-fiber wraps.
For protein, choose lean, unprocessed meat such as grilled chicken breast, or meatless alternatives such as a veggie burger patty, or low-fat cheese.
Add vegetables such as lettuce, tomato, spinach leaves, cucumber slices, and sprouts.
Use mustard instead of mayo or mayo-based spreads, and add two tablespoons of mashed avocado or hummus if you want something creamy.
Mayo Clinic has more tips for making a healthy sandwich here.
Instead of chips or a cookie, consider packing one or two healthier items such as a piece of fruit, some baked kale chips, carrot sticks, or a half-ounce of nuts to eat with your sandwich.
Best Make-Ahead Lunch: Barley Bean Salad
A salad with beans and grains can be made in advance and refrigerated. Just mix black, garbanzo, or other beans, cooked barley, and vegetables such as chopped bell peppers, sliced celery, diced onion, and tomatoes. Marinate your salad in a dressing made with olive oil, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, black pepper, chopped herbs, and garlic to taste.
Don’t worry if you haven’t made barley before. It cooks similarly to rice; just put it in water, bring it to a boil, and simmer until it’s cooked. You can swap whole-grain pasta, brown rice, or any other whole grain.
You can serve the bean salad on lettuce leaves for a more filling dish. Also consider adding low-fat cheese or serving the salad with cottage cheese, and a piece of fruit can complete your lunch.
Best “I Like Snacks” Lunch: Finger Foods
If you just love snack foods, why not make your lunch with several of them? Choose 3-6 of the following items.
Low-fat string cheese stick, plain or no sugar added yogurt, or low-fat cottage cheese
Raw vegetables such as carrot sticks, cauliflower florets, celery sticks, or cucumber sticks
A dip or spread, such as salsa, guacamole, hummus, or marinara sauce
Half-ounce or ounce of nuts or peanuts
Grapes, blueberries, strawberries, an apple, or an orange
Popcorn or whole-grain crackers
Best Make-on-the-Spot Lunch: Pizza Oatmeal
If you have leak proof containers and access to hot water at lunch time, you can make this oatmeal. Pack oats, marinara sauce, and low-fat shredded cheese in separate containers. At lunch time, add the cheese to the oatmeal, heat water to nearly boiling, and pour the water over the cheese and oatmeal. Add the marinara sauce and stir. You can also add sliced olives, diced vegetables, diced cooked chicken breast, or any other pizza toppings you like.
A small green salad and a piece of fruit can round out your lunch.
Best Breakfast-for-Lunch Lunch: Southwest Breakfast Bowl
Making a “bowl” means you get to pick several of your favorite ingredients, put them in a single bowl, and call it a meal. For your bowl, add 4-5 of the following items.
Chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, or cooked onions, zucchini, or bell peppers
Hard-boiled or scrambled egg whites, or tofu
Black beans or low-sodium vegetarian refried beans
Corn or cooked cubed sweet potato
Avocado slices or plain yogurt
You can also add cilantro, salsa, lime juice, and spices such as chili and cumin.
Best Low-Carb Lunch: Tuna Salad
Your tuna salad can start with a mixture of tuna, tomatoes, celery, onions, and bell peppers. Mix it with a dressing made of plain yogurt, pureed avocado, black pepper, and paprika, and refrigerate it. Low-carb accompaniments can include cheese, lettuce, hard-boiled egg, and berries.
Best “I Wish I Were a Kid Again” Lunch: PB & Banana Wrap
Spread peanut butter on a whole-grain tortilla, add some thin slices of banana, and fold it up like a burrito. Use sliced whole-wheat bread if you really want the “I’m a kid!” experience, or try almond butter and sliced strawberries for a more grown-up version. Either way, you’re getting protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Add carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, or grape tomatoes for some vegetables.
If you are making lunch for kids, consider tips from Harvard School of Public Health to keep the lunches fun and healthy. Kids often love themes, such as eating the rainbow with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Or, you can try using toothpicks as skewers to make fruit or veggie kebabs.
How Lark Can Help
Packing a lunch can fit right into your plan for weight loss and healthy eating, and Lark can help with food logging features and personalized coaching. Your Lark coach is available 24/7 to help you reach your goals through small changes in your daily life. Lark can help you turn lifestyle choices around eating, being active, and managing stress, into healthy habits for long-term success.
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Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.