Many of my clients who work away from home have one common obstacle: they don’t plan ahead when it comes to lunch. As a result, they typically wind up eating something—like a fast-food burrito, a hodgepodge of processed snacks, or heavy takeout—that leaves them feeling zapped of energy and sluggish all afternoon.
While bringing a healthy lunch to work does take a little more time and effort, the payoff is well worth it. Meal-prepped lunches for work tend to be more nutritious, can help you better regulate your blood sugar, and keep you focused and productive all afternoon. Plus, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch may boost your motivation to prep a healthy dinner.
Here are 10 easy and nutritious lunches that you can prep and pack for work. Whatever your dietary needs — vegan, gluten-free, or low-carb—you’ll find a recipe on this list that’s delicious and good for you.
1. 15-minute lentil soup
Soup is the ultimate make-ahead meal, since you can cook a big batch that’s easy to store and re-heat (you can even freeze leftovers). This easy variation will leave you feeling satiated and energised thanks to its chief ingredient, lentils. Lentils are chock-full of fibre with over 15 grams per cup. A high fibre intake is tied to a lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Also, this recipe is gluten-free and can be easily made vegan if you use veggie broth.
2. Shrimp summer rolls
Summer rolls are an ideal packed lunch because they don’t need to be reheated and they’re handheld—perfect for munching at your desk. This recipe combines veggies with lean protein from shrimp, plus flavourful garlic, lime juice, ginger, and cilantro. Incorporating lean protein into your lunch breaks is crucial for maintaining steady energy all afternoon. Why? Protein prevents blood sugar spikes and the subsequent crashes that can make us sleepy and then cranky a few hours after we eat. To round out the meal even more, add a healthy fat like sliced avocado or a side of chopped nuts.
3. Quick chickpea curry
This simple, mouthwatering recipe is easy to make, thanks to ingredients you likely already have on hand—such as canned chickpeas and ketchup. Chickpeas—along with lentils, beans, and other legumes—are classified as pulses. According to a 2021 review published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found those who ate about 150 grams of pulses a day (about 2/3 a cup) saw improvements in blood pressure, inflammation, and body composition (ie your ratio of fat to muscle). For an added boost of nutrients, throw in a handful of fresh baby spinach for more fibre, antioxidants, and vitamin A.
4. Egg salad with herbs and pickles
Instead of relying on traditional mayo, which lacks protein and may contain artificial preservatives, this recipe combines hard-boiled eggs with Greek yoghurt. Greek yoghurt is a great source of protein with over 16 grams per individual container. Protein is crucial for building and maintaining bones, muscles, skin, and even immune cells.
For more nutrients, consider adding extra veggies, like minced bell pepper, chopped kale, or sliced grape tomatoes. You’ll also want to separately pack a slice of whole-grain bread to serve the salad over, or round out your meal with a side of fresh in-season fruit.
5. Vegan chilli
Not only does this hearty recipe pack fibre and nutrients thanks to its variety of veggies, beans, and chickpeas, but it also has a bit of a kick (perfect for spicing up a sluggish afternoon). It also includes avocados, which are a great source of good-for-you fats known for protecting heart health and raising beneficial HDL cholesterol levels. Avocados also contain polyphenol antioxidants, which protect cells from damage that could lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Just be sure to separately pack your avocado garnish so it doesn’t get too mushy by mealtime.
6. Lentil quinoa lettuce wraps
This recipe—one of my own—uses canned lentils for a fibre-rich protein source. This lunch option is also seasoned with Mediterranean-inspired healthful ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon, and herbs. A 2018 research review found that extra virgin olive oil prevents artery hardening (a contributor to heart attacks and strokes) thanks to its anti-inflammatory antioxidant content and ability to relax blood vessels.
When packing this dish for work, add the pre-cooked quinoa to the lentil mixture and include the lettuce separately to prevent it from getting soggy. Then, when you’re ready to dig in, simply spoon the mixture into the lettuce cups, or serve over a bed of chopped greens.
7. Salmon and sweet potato bowl
One of my favourite things about bowls is how easy they are to customise. This one combines salmon with spinach, roasted sweet potatoes, farro, and harissa (a hot chilli pepper paste native to Northwest Africa). Not only is salmon a good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s, but a 2020 analysis of over 9,00,000 participants published in Nutrients also found that for every 20 grams of fish consumed per day, the average risk of death from cardiovascular disease decreased by 4 percent.
To make this bowl gluten-free, simply replace the farro with brown rice. Or if you’re going for a lower-carb lunch, keep the sweet potato and swap the grain for extra spinach.
8. Lemon thyme chicken salad
Salads sometimes get a bad rap for being bland, but this dietitian-crafted dish packs flavour with olive oil, lemon zest, feta, and fresh thyme. Opting for a salad instead of a sandwich or wrap at lunch can instantly double your veggie intake and curb excess carbs, thereby boosting post-meal energy levels. How? The added antioxidants from veggies improve blood circulation, while nixing surplus carbs prevents that dreaded afternoon slump.
9. Mediterranean tuna salad
Transform canned tuna into a Tuscan-style dish flavoured with pesto, chickpeas, and olives. This satisfying recipe provides a generous portion of veggies with two cups total from arugula, iceberg lettuce, and grape tomatoes. It also healthfully balances carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, so you’re consuming a broader array of nutrients and results. The best part? It only takes about 15 minutes to prepare.
10. Tofu Ceviche
Tofu is a quick, convenient protein option for plant-based eaters and omnivores alike, since it’s sold ready-to-eat—perfect for when you’re in a time crunch before work. Also good: one serving of this dish provides 17 grams of protein. This recipe combines tofu with avocado and a tangy vinegar-based sauce. Add chopped jicama—a root vegetable native to Mexico that can be eaten raw—or a side of fresh fruit for some extra healthy carbohydrates.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health‘s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
This story first appeared on www.health.com.
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