Breakfast is often lauded as the most important meal of the day, but when it comes to packing a nutritious and satisfying lunch, it’s hard to beat a good old-fashioned packed lunch. Packing your lunch has a few benefits: you can save money, you can control what goes into your food, and you can make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
What Is The Healthiest Packed Lunch?
There are several qualities that make a packed lunch healthy.
Has A Complex Carbohydrate
The infamous after-lunch energy dip is often caused by blood sugar crashing after a meal that’s mostly composed of simple carbohydrates (4).
Packing lunch with complex carbs will help you avoid that 3 p.m. slump. Good sources of complex carbs include whole-grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and legumes (13).
Is Packed With Protein
Protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass, and it also helps you feel full longer (16). A high-protein lunch will help you avoid overeating or snacking later in the day. Good sources of protein include lean meats, tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Contains Healthy Fats
Fat is an essential nutrient that helps your body absorb vitamins and serves tons of functions in your body, but not all fats are created equal.
Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, olive oil, fish, and nuts, help improve heart health and reduce inflammation. Unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats can have the opposite effect (1).
Is Light On Refined Sugar
A little sugar is fine. Too much sugar can cause an energy crash later in the day. When choosing foods for your lunch, opt for those that are naturally sweet or only lightly sweetened.
Is Packed With Fiber
Fiber is important for keeping your digestive system healthy and promoting regularity. Fiber also helps you feel full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (11).
Has Little Or No Processed Food
Processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats, salt, and sugar. They can also be low in nutrients (5). When packing your lunch, opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
Read More: Bread Alternatives For Breakfast, Lunch, Or Snack Time
What Should You Eat For Lunch To Lose Weight?
Weight loss is the result of a sustained calorie deficit, meaning you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning (9). While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss, certain types of foods can help you create a calorie deficit more easily.
- High-protein foods – Protein requires more energy for your body to digest than other nutrients, so including protein-rich foods in your lunch can help you burn more calories (8).
- High-fiber foods – Fiber is another nutrient that requires more energy for your body to digest, and it also helps you feel full longer (7). This combination can help you eat less overall.
- Low-calorie foods – Eating mostly low-calorie foods helps you create a larger calorie deficit, which can lead to weight loss. Vegetables that have a high water content, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, are particularly good choices.
- Smaller portions – Portion control is key when trying to lose weight (17). Avoid overeating by packing smaller portions of high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.
Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas For Work
If you’re looking for some healthy-packed lunch ideas, we’ve got you covered. These recipes are easy to make, and they’re sure to keep you full and satisfied until dinner time.
Asian-Style Salmon Salad (2)
This salad is a great option for days when you’re looking for something light but satisfying. The salmon is packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and the salad is tossed in a delicious Asian-style dressing.
- 2 4-ounce salmon filets
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 3 cups fresh romaine chopped
- 1 cup red cabbage chopped
- ½ cup shredded carrots
- ½ cup mandarin oranges
- ¼ cup edamame
- ¼ cup sliced almonds
Honey Sesame Dressing:
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- ¼ cup vinegar
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- Preheat a skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes.
- Coat the salmon with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in the skillet and cook over high heat for 3 minutes. Turn over the salmon and cook for 5 minutes or until browned then set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the romaine, red cabbage, carrots, mandarin oranges, and edamame. Toss well to combine.
- Slice the salmon and toss it into the rest of the salad. Top with sliced almonds.
- For the dressing, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and sesame seeds in a bowl and whisk.
- Serve the salad and drizzle with a generous amount of salad dressing
Nutritional info: 1395 calories, 97g carbohydrates, 8g protein, 115g fat, 7g fiber, 84 g sugar
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Caprese Salad (3)
This classic Italian salad is simple but satisfying. It’s made with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, and it’s drizzled with a balsamic vinegar dressing.
- 4 medium tomatoes, sliced
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
- ½ pound fresh Mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- On a large shallow platter, layer alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella adding a basil leaf between each
- Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together then generously drizzle over the salad.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Nutritional info: 256 calories, 8g carbohydrates, 11g protein, 19g fat, 2g fiber, 6g sugar
Curried Chicken Salad (6)
This salad is full of flavor and nutrients. The chicken is cooked in a curry sauce, and the salad is tossed with fresh vegetables and a simple salad dressing.
- 3 cups chicken breast, shredded
- 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
- ½ cup golden raisins
- 1 cup plain greek yogurt
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Mixed greens
- English cucumber, thinly sliced
- Cherry tomatoes halved
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 6 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the mixed greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Mix until well combined. If the mixture is too dry, you can add some more yogurt, a tablespoon at a time.
- In another bowl, mix the ingredients for the dressing.
- To assemble, scoop a cup of curried chicken salad onto a lettuce leaf. Add tomatoes and cucumbers then drizzle the dressing.
Nutritional info: 372 calories, 26g carbohydrates, 19g protein, 19g fat, 4g fiber, 21g sugar.
Read More: 300-Calorie Lunch Ideas: 10 Meal Options That Won’t Leave You Hungry
Greek Yogurt And Fruit Salad (10)
This light and refreshing salad is perfect for a summer lunch for both you and your kids. It’s made with Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and some honey.
- 250g strawberries, hulled, quartered
- 2 medium bananas, peeled, sliced
- 2 oranges, peeled, chopped
- 1 fuji apple, chopped
- 200g low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp honey
- ⅓ cup almond kernels, chopped
- In a bowl, combine the strawberries, bananas, oranges, and the apple.
- In a separate bowl, combine the Greek yogurt and honey.
- Scoop the salad and put it into serving bowls then top with the yogurt mixture. Top with some almonds and enjoy.
Nutritional info: 253 calories, 40.2g carbohydrates, 9.2g protein, 7.9g fat, 6.0g fiber, 27g sugar
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad (12)
This protein-packed salad is perfect for a filling lunch. It’s packed with fiber-rich chickpeas, fresh vegetables, and a zesty dressing.
- 2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 large cucumber, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¼ cup red onion, diced
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- Lemon vinaigrette, you can use as much or as little as you’d like
- All the ingredients to a large mixing bowl
- Pour the lemon vinaigrette over the salad and stir gently.
- Transfer the salad into a bowl and serve.
Nutritional info: 300 calories, 34g carbohydrates, 12g protein, 14g fat, 9g fiber, 8g sugar.
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Quinoa And Black Bean Salad (14)
This protein-packed salad is perfect for a filling lunch. It’s made with fiber-rich black beans, quinoa, and vegetables, and it’s tossed in a zesty dressing.
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¾ cup quinoa
- 1 ½ cups vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
- 2 (15 ounces) cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat, cook, and stir onion and garlic until lightly browned.
- Add in the quinoa, stir and cover with vegetable broth; season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes until quinoa is tender and broth is absorbed.
- Stir the frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes until heated through; mix in the black beans and cilantro.
- Serve and enjoy.
Nutritional info: 153 calories, 27.8g carbohydrates, 7.7g protein, 1.7g fat, 7.8g fiber, 1.5g sugar
Sesame-Ginger Chicken Wraps (15)
These wraps are perfect for a satisfying lunch. The wraps are filled with fresh vegetables, some rice, chicken, and peanut sauce.
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- ¾ pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into strips
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 cups chopped broccoli
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup creamy peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 ½ cups warm cooked rice
- 6 (10-inch) flour tortillas, warmed
- Heat some oil in a large saucepan over medium to high heat. Add in the chicken, sesame seeds, garlic salt, and pepper; cook and stir in the hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the broccoli, onion, and ginger. Cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is no longer pink at the center.
- Then combine sugar, peanut butter, soy sauce, water, and garlic in another saucepan over medium to low heat. Cook the sauce for about 3, stirring frequently, until all the sugar is dissolved.
- Assemble the wraps using the tortillas, chicken-broccoli mixture, cooked rice, and peanut sauce. Cut the tortillas in half then serve.
Nutritional info: 494 calories, 63.9g carbohydrates, 23.9g protein, 16.3g fat, 4.9g fiber, 12.4g sugar
Easy Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas For Kindergartners
When you send your child off to school, you want to ensure they have a nutritious and filling lunch to help them power through the day. These easy and healthy packed lunch ideas are perfect for kindergartners.
Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwich
This classic sandwich is a staple for a reason. It’s simple to make, and it’s packed with protein and complex carbohydrates.
Hummus And Veggie Wrap
This wrap is a great option for kids who like to dip their food. It’s filled with fiber-rich hummus and fresh vegetables, and it can be easily customized to your child’s liking.
Turkey And Cheese Sandwich
This sandwich is a great option for kids who like a classic lunch. It’s packed with protein and calcium, and it can easily be customized to your child’s liking
Fruit And Yogurt Cup
This healthy snack is perfect for kids who need a little something to tide them over until lunchtime. It’s made with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, and it’s a good source of protein and calcium.
The Bottom Line
Lunch is an important meal, and it’s essential to make sure you’re eating something that will give you the energy you need to power through the day. These healthy packed lunch ideas are easy to make, and they’re perfect for work or school.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion (2017, biomedcentral.com)
- Asian Pan Seared Salmon Salad with Honey Sesame Dressing (n.d., therecipecritic.com)
- Caprese Salad Recipe: How to Make It (n.d., tasteofhome.com)
- Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar (n.d., hsph.harvard.edu)
- Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health outcomes: a systematic review of epidemiological studies (2020, biomedcentral.com)
- Curried Chicken Salad Salad (n.d., themodernproper.com)
- Dietary fibre and satiety (2007, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Diet induced thermogenesis (2004, biomedcentral.com)
- Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fruit salad with honey yoghurt (n.d., taste.com.au)
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- Mediterranean Chickpea Salad (2020, downshiftology.com)
- Physiology, Carbohydrates (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Quinoa and Black Beans (n.d., allrecipes.com)
- Sesame Chicken Wraps (n.d., allrecipes.com)
- The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance (2015, academic.oup.com)
- What is the role of portion control in weight management? (2014, nature.com)