Reader’s Request: Easy Lunch Ideas

by Holly on February 7, 2012

in healthy tips,lunch,reader's request

Can we please all agree that lunch is the hardest meal of the day to plan?

You know it is…I know it is! That’s why I am giving ideas for packing quick, easy and delicious lunches in this post, but tomorrow I am still going to walk to the nearest food cart and fork over $10 for lunch. Because after I inevitably sleep through my alarm, packing a well-balanced lunch and nutritious snacks will be the last of my priorities in the morning.

Clean clothes. Deodorant. Breakfast. Reading People.com. These are my AM staples.

But as I’ve discovered in life, the key to anything is this: PREPARATION.

With just a wee bit of preparation and hefty pinch of good grocery shopping skills, it’s quite easy to pack brown bag lunches that you’ll actually want to eat come lunch time.

(1) Whatever you do, make soup your friend. Give it a hug…a firm handshake…and mind your manners by telling it please and thank you, because soup is going to be your lunchtime BFF.

Canned soup (Amy’s and Health Valley are favorites) is great…but even greater? Homemade soup. Spend Sunday night making a big pot of Sweet Potato Corn Chowder or Spicy African Peanut Stew or Babaganoush Soup and pour into tupperware containers for the week. In the morning, all you have to do is grab n’ go…but just make sure to put underwear on first, mmmkay?

(2) The worst feeling is getting to work…working…impatiently counting the minutes until lunch…and realizing that when lunchtime arrives, you don’t want the salad you packed because a beer + cheeseburger sounds soooo much better. Have no fear, for you are just not eating the right salad.

Lunch salads need to be messy, filled with fun add-ins and exciting! Try this Spicy Buffalo Tempeh Salad or this Hearty Tofu & Quinoa Tabbouleh or this Wild Rice Chicken Salad. Throw in a large tupperware container, add salad dressing, give it a good shake and pair with a hunk of crusty baguette or bag of pretzels. Because my motto has been and always will be, pair it with a carb.

(3) There’s no shame in frozen meals. Not on this blog. I’m busy. I get lazy. I’m tired. I sometimes eat frozen meals. Although, let me be clear, there’s no Hungry Jack’s or Marie Callender’s in this Everythingtarian’s freezer. I prefer organic, minimally-processed frozen meals with less than 400 calories, 800 mg of sodium and 5 g saturated fat.

Of course, frozen meals are never filling on their own, so I may I suggest pairing them with some veggies, a granola bar and piece of fruit? Otherwise you’ll be hungry in two hours…guaranteed.

(4) Throw stuff in a tupperware container and hope for the best. No really, do it! That’s how I came up with my 5-Minute Tuna Salad (which I seriously need to make again…sooo good).

Start with a grain, such as quinoa, brown rice or pasta. Throw in veggies…and lots of them! Add a protein like chickpeas, chicken, tofu or tuna. Drizzle with dressing – anything from homemade Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette to store-bought vinaigrettes to hummacue sauce (2 T hummus mixed with 1 T BBQ sauce) to Green Goddess Dressing. Top with avocado. Always avocado.

That’s it. You’re done. Eat!

(5) Supplemental lunch items are just as important as lunch itself. If you work at a desk, I highly recommend devoting one of your drawers to hoarding food items to grab when hunger strikes.

  • apples + peanut butter
  • SunChips (Garden Salsa + Harvest Cheddar are the best)
  • rice crackers topped with nut butter + cinnamon
  • carrots + hummus
  • trail mix (try golden raisins, walnuts + dark chocolate chips)
  • kombucha
  • pickles wrapped in ham + slices of cheese
  • string cheese
  • cottage cheese + ranch seasoning
  • Wasa crackers topped with cream cheese + heirloom tomatoes
  • cucumbers (the best for munching!)
  • peanut M+Ms
  • Luna, Larabars, KIND + Clif Mojo Bars

So, I just have to ask…what are YOU having for lunch? Sharing is caring, let’s not forget!

{ 47 comments }

mindy - clueless nut February 7, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Ah, I love this. I prepare breakfast AND lunch the night before. Some days have been so long I’ve had to pack supper as well. My lunch: Leftover goat cheese and veggie pasta bake with a side salad topped with chickpeas, strawberries, goat cheese, and vinaigrette! Sweet + savory is my fave!! I always snack on some sort of fruit with a spoonful of peanut butter!!!

Katie February 7, 2012 at 10:36 pm

The snack drawer! I miss having one at work…except now I have a ‘snack kitchen’ – so that’s pretty nice, too. My latest favorite lunch is a sweet potato and collard greens. Mmmm, is it lunchtime yet?

BroccoliHut February 7, 2012 at 10:44 pm

So many great ideas!! I’ll be book marking this post, fo sho.
Today I had a pretty tasty lunch of homemade lemon ginger hummus with veg & whole wheat tortilla. Tomorrow I’m thinkin’ I’ll use up some of my leftover lentil loaf :)

dana @ my little celebration February 7, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Lovely post! Lunch can be a toughie. When I’m at home for lunch, I make a green smoothie almost every time. But otherwise I love a good pb&J, hearty soup, hummus and veggies or a bulked up salad.

Lovely ideas, friend!

Mama Pea February 7, 2012 at 10:55 pm

You know I am all about the Hugh Jass salad everyday for lunch (still!). You have some awesome ideas, though. Thanks for adding me to the list :)

Ann February 7, 2012 at 10:57 pm

This is Cranberry Pecan chicken salad is my crack of the week: http://www.plumpiecooks.com/2011/04/cranberry-pecan-chicken-salad/#.TzH80lxrNep

Seriously, so delicious. It’s Tuesday. I made some Sunday. I’ll be out tomorrow. I am very sad about that. It’s one of the first times I am motivated enough to actually make a sandwich in the morning. Usually my lunch is completely grab and go – pre-portioned tupperware containing the main meal of the day, some string cheese (because I’m 8), water bottle is pre-filled, and I get the organic lunch snack pack apples from the store or grab like a banana or (blood) orange, because I won’t play with knives in the morning. Oh, and baby carrots. I can eat baby carrots all day.

I agree with the soup theory. Soups are the best. And they usually freeze really well, making pre-prep super easy.

Christie February 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Yes yes yes! I am SO useless at making my lunch – and its costing me a LOT of money!!

I find #2 happens to me all the time…and I love tip #4. Your 5 minute tuna salad may or may not be my lunch tomorrow!

Nicole @ Geek Turned Athlete February 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm

I am SO for homemade soup. I try to tell my co-workers that homemade soup tastes so much better than that Progressive crap. They never listen! And like you said, you can make a huge pot, freeze some of it for later, and put the rest into little Tupperware containers. Love it!

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table February 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm

I am a huge fan of soup – I keep a spoon and bowl at work and make batches of soup on Sunday night to bring for the week. This week was my favorite – Butternut Squash-Apple Soup: http://www.sprint2thetable.com/2010/11/fall-soup-perfection/

Like you, I do the gain salads. I also make giant salads right in the plastic containers the lettuce mixes come in when the greens are about half gone. Yesterday I added sprouts, shaved raw asparagus, celery, and nooch to eat as a side with my soup.

If I work from home all bets are off – I’m cooking dinner-like lunches and am in photog mode while I have the natural light. :)

Erica February 8, 2012 at 12:39 am

Since i work from home now, im a big fan of cooking up eggs for lunch! Other favorites include soup, stir fry or salad. For j, i usually pack up leftovers or a sandwich and tons of sides (applesauce, fruit, homemade bars, mixed nuts, etc)

lynn @ the actor's diet February 8, 2012 at 1:02 am

i still have to make that tuna salad – esp. since i inspired it!!!

Lola February 8, 2012 at 1:59 am

Oh wow! This is an amazing post and incredibly useful as I am trying a healthy lifestyle but I really struggle when it comes to deciding what to have for lunch. This looks really good!

Jordan Lynn (Ciao Cow) February 8, 2012 at 5:10 am

Since I am a student, I usually try to eat lunch at home, but when I was working in the real world, I ate some strange things because I SUCK at planning for lunch. A lot of times I would go to the grocery store and buy hummus and pretzels or have a soy latte and chips or a pastry from Starbucks. On particularly bad days, I’d have french fries from Fudruckers’ i.e. not my healthiest moments … However, this was also before I read healthy living blogs and embraced the beauty of huge a freakin’ salads. :)

Lauren February 8, 2012 at 5:59 am

I almost always make a big salad for lunch that includes some kind of leftovers. But in a pinch, I’ll go with a protein smoothie.

Amber February 8, 2012 at 6:46 am

I love this post Holly! In my snack drawer at work I often have tea (always a variety because you never know what you’ll be craving), cystalized ginger, dried fruit, fresh fruit, almond butter (way better the pb in my opinion), individual pieces of dark chocolate, and homemade pulp crackers.

Lunch is usually nofry stir fry, salads, homemade soup, or lettuce wraps.

Hillary February 8, 2012 at 6:53 am

Usually I eat lots of leftovers for lunch; if not leftovers, I at least try to stay with the whole grain-protein-veggie combo. But last night, when I was packing my lunch for today, I got lazy. And lazy = PB+banana on a wheat tortilla for me today!

chelsey @ clean eating chelsey February 8, 2012 at 7:10 am

Great post! I’m actually having soup today! I spend my Sunday afternoon prepping food for the week – good thing because I’ll be at work for 12 hours today. Yikes!

Jamie @ Don't Forget the Cinnamon February 8, 2012 at 7:17 am

Haha I LOVE all the random things in your fridge in a tubberware lunches!
I just packed my lunch for today and I’ve got pita wedges with curried b-nut squash hummus (recipe from Oh She Glows!), grape tomatoes and carrot sticks, grapes, and greek yogurt with peanut butter, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and raisins!

Mattie @ Comfy and Confident February 8, 2012 at 7:18 am

Thank you for all the great lunch ideas. I am always looking for new ways to make lunch more interesting.

Jecka February 8, 2012 at 7:19 am

I bring lunch to work nearly every day. I feel in the minority here! I do many of the things you’ve mentioned: if I get frozen meals (which is rare), they’re for emergency laziness only and I make sure I only get minimally-process, lower-sodium meals with ingredients I can pronounce. I prepare my breakfast and lunch and snacks (all of which are eaten at work) the night before.

From one everythingtarian to another… preparation IS key!

Sarah@The Flying ONION February 8, 2012 at 7:25 am

Great post!

When I’m working crazy hours, I usually just make a quick tossed salad with fun ingredients for lunch because I’m too tired to plan anything more exciting out for the next day. Toppings are key though. Like edamame, walnuts, feta cheese, roasted peppers, homemade croutons, etc. They make or break a good salad. :D

Jennifer February 8, 2012 at 7:46 am

Ummm yes, this post was money. Love, love, love it! I’m taking notes. Also, just tried adding veggie burger bites to my lunch salads and found it to be very yummy! Though I agree w/ you, I always need to pair it with some carbs too. Yaaay lunch blog posts! :)

Amy B @ Second City Randomness February 8, 2012 at 7:48 am

Soup and salad are my two picks the majority of the time for lunch. Either leftover/frozen soup I made a weekend or so before or salad I’ve prepped the night before. Prep is definitely key.

Although I totally still eye all the good food guys walk up from the cafeteria… it just smells so good!

Chris February 8, 2012 at 8:14 am

Lunch happens after my workout, so go to lunch is PB & J, although I grew up on fluff (marshmallow creme) with PB which is also a staple. Once a week there is a salad or a tuna fish sandwich. Jus depends what I’m doing…

kelly February 8, 2012 at 8:40 am

I gave up breakfast and lunch “foods” because I find them annoying in my life (except for coffee). I am only “good” at dinner. What do I eat for breakfast and lunch – whatever I happen to tos into my ziplock bag (currently the bag contains – 2 pcs of red licorce, 4 dark chocolate dove squares, 1 granola bar).

I do go home for lunch – sometimes I put more in the ziplock bag. It’s rarely healthy.

I think I am just rebelling against years of trying to eat the right thing LOL

emily (a nutritionist eats) February 8, 2012 at 8:51 am

One of my favorite meals to take to work was sauteed greens, quinoa and a chicken sausage. It could all be made easily on Sunday and was so satisfying!

Angharad February 8, 2012 at 9:16 am

Love this my friend. Lunch is indeed SO hard to plan for and when I don’t prep I inevitably eat something overpriced and not that awesome. Soups are great, as are any leftovers (lasagne, fried rice). I love bringing a veggie salad and nuking a sweet potato and some black beans to add in. I ALWAYS make sure I have fruit. Bananas are my friend, as are blood oranges and giant red ruby grapefruits right now. My absolute fave lunch though is making a big snack plate – carrot sticks, a vat of hummus, granary bread, orange slices and a yoghurt and banana for later. Perf.

Bronwyn February 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

I’m definitely a big salad for lunch kind of girl. Spinach, cherry tomatoes, red peppers, carrot, red onion, chickpeas/tofu/tempeh, and seeds + dried fruit, Sometimes there’s some avocado in there too.

Anna February 8, 2012 at 10:21 am

I always like to pack a big salad with whatever I have on hand then add some quinoa, chicken breast, and almonds to make it a complete meal!

Nicole February 8, 2012 at 10:24 am

I pack my lunch everyday. That usually means making something on Sunday that I’ll pack all week. Today is totally one of those ‘throw what’s in the fridge into a container’ days…a thin layer of veggie chili piled high with roasted veggies and avocado. That will certainly keep me full all afternoon. Now excuse me while I grab a snack. All of this lunch talk is making me hungry!

Katie February 8, 2012 at 10:39 am

Haha, I didn’t even realize that wild rice chicken salad was mine until I got the pingback on my end…thanks for the link love!! xo

Megan (Braise the Roof) February 8, 2012 at 11:17 am

#4- YES. That is often what I end up doing for lunch. I don’t usually buy pre-prepped veggies, but chopped frozen veggies are my best friend when it comes to fast lunches.

I’m having 1/2 of a leftover stuffed baked potato from last night for lunch, plus veggies and hummus. How’s that for a Holly-friendly lunch?

Katie @ Peace Love & Oats February 8, 2012 at 11:32 am

That tuna salad looks delicious! I love making giant salads with anything I can find in my fridge!

KaraHadley February 8, 2012 at 11:40 am

Ironically, today I went out for a burger. This is the first time I’ve gone out for lunch in a while, though. Normally, I eat leftovers. Or snack-plates of cheese, bread, fruit, pb, and maybe a carrot or two.

Sara February 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I normally make one or two recipes on Sunday to use for my lunches throughout the week. Currently lunch is a yummy “butter chicken” curry type dish with brown rice that I cooked up on Sunday. I used to always eat salads for lunch but got hungry in ten minutes. I’m realizing, after reading the post and everyone’s comments, that my salads were seriously lacking. I need to make a SALAD. :) And now I have all these great ideas. Thanks!!

Jenny February 8, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I don’t know why I even get a paycheck. I should just have it all sent to credit towards the cafeteria at work because I am SO bad at preparing for lunch. At least that have a well-packed salad bar?

Danielle February 8, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Thank you for answering my request!!:) thi helped a lot!

Deborah February 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Been following your blog since Dec but never commented before. Loving following you and already got some great ideas…thanks. As far as lunches go I work in a school, I run clubs through lunchtimes and on a good day can grab 10 /15 mins to eat later in the day. Leftovers, big salads are good but my favourite thing is the world is my food flask. My soup or beans are whatever are hot and ready to eat wherever I happen to be.

Steve February 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Every few nights or so, I’ll fire-up the grill and cook 6-8 Smart boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I do-up with a healthy dusting of Mrs. Dash chicken seasoning (love that stuff – no sodium, yet tasty). I’ll throw them in my biggest Lock-and-Lock BPA-free container and store them in the chill chest.

I’ll also have a few cups’ worth of my “clean black beans” recipe in another L-a-L container. The chicken and beans, along with some Mann’s pre-cut broccoli and a freh tomato make-up most of my dinners.

But for lunch, I’ll pre-cut one of the pieces of chicken (cube it) and throw it in a portable Pyrex container. I’ll add 1/2-cup of beans, a serving of broccoli, a cut-up hard-boiled egg, and just a splash of organic, low-sodium vegetable broth. 3 minutes in the microwave later, and I’ve got a super tasty lunch that keeps me beyond full until dinner.

That’s my go-to lunch… Unless I’m feeling really lazy (or am out of chicken)… Then I’ll take a Quest Protein bar (all natural, no sugars or sugar alcohols) and gnash on it.

Kait February 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Leftovers are my best friend! And I always make soup.

Matt @ The Athlete's Plate February 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I basically eat a sandwich everyday. So good.

Oriana February 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Hi! I started reading your blog about a month ago and it is pretty much my new favourite thing ever. Well, that is until I made that Buffalo Tempeh Salad for dinner tonight. It’s like…. all the deliciousness of boneless buffalo wings, but I feel nourished and satiated, and I don’t feel oily and bloated and ashamed of myself.

Thank you.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

…thank you for a zillion other things in your blog too, but specifically for giving me back the gift of buffalo sauce minus meat.

elise February 8, 2012 at 11:17 pm

holler. im a pro. i never EVER buy my food.

Prep for the work week: http://www.hungryhungryhippie.com/how-to-prep-for-the-work-week/

Pack bring-to-work meals: http://www.hungryhungryhippie.com/putting-it-all-together/

BYO lunchbox (part II): http://www.hungryhungryhippie.com/back-to-school-special/

Gillian February 9, 2012 at 11:03 am

I love this. I honestly used to loathe lunch. So much that I would skip it or eat sugary things to keep my energy going without having to commit to a meal. Trail mix/dates/chocolate were my munchies of choice.

Now that I’ve realized eating sugar all day only makes me more anxious, restless and sleepless through the night, I commit to lunch.

My lunch today was Indian Split pea Soup (courtesy of Happy Planet- clean ingredients and delicious) topped with greek yogurt and veggies on the side. Light but filling and will allow me at least one sweet indulgence come 2 or 3 oclock!

Dad February 9, 2012 at 11:19 am

Holly, you hit a homerun with this topic. the responses are incredible! You know me….business lunches can be a bore. More salad please!

Luv ya, Daddio

TeriLyn [a foodie stays fit] February 11, 2012 at 8:49 pm

seriously, why are lunches so hard?! I am just too lazy to prepare ahead of time. But this inspired me to at least *think* about planning. Yes, I’m planning to plan.

Mary Legare Whaley February 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I love easy lunches. I struggle though. Some weeks, I go elaborate: roasted vegetables and such. Easy weeks? Sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, and hummus. Salads are quick, but sometimes my creativity fails me. This week, I’ve got hummus + spinach + cucumber + tomato sandwiches on the menu, with a side of honey crisp apple. I can’t wait for lunch…

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