Going out for lunch almost always sounds better than making a sandwich or eating leftovers from last night. But that's not always the healthiest—or most wallet-friendly—way to go. The best way to avoid takeout temptation? Pack a lunch you’ll be excited to eat. It doesn’t need to be fancy—follow along with these tips, and you’ll be on your way to a tasty and money-saving midday meal.
Make tonight’s dinner tomorrow’s super sandwich.
Give Subway Sandwich Artists a run for their money. Leftovers—everything from short ribs to baked chicken to chickpea patties—often taste even better the next day, especially when wedged between two slices of crusty, fresh bread. Add a little mayo or sriracha for flavor, and then pile the protein and veggies high. Just make sure you use a quality loaf or wrap that can hold up without getting soggy.
Repurpose side dishes into a tasty salad.
Just because that quinoa played second fiddle in last night’s dinner doesn’t mean it can’t be the star of lunch the next day. Cooked grains, roasted veggies, and legumes are so versatile. Start with a base, like quinoa or black beans, add a few freshly chopped veggies, and drizzle with a quick vinaigrette for a filling meal.
Eating tapas-style keeps things interesting and varied, and it’s so easy; just pack an assortment of snacks to enjoy midday. Veggies with dip, crackers and hummus, marinated olives, a small salad, some hardboiled eggs—mix and match however you like! You can’t go wrong, and you’ll probably have some leftover if you hit a mid-afternoon slump.
Pack thoughtfully, starting with the right containers.
Doesn’t matter how good the contents of your brown bag are—if your food leaks, gets soggy, or goes bad because you didn’t pack it properly, all bets are off. Opt for reusable storage (it’s better-quality and less likely to fail on you, and better for the environment). Here are a few of our go-tos:
- LunchSkins sandwich bags: For PB&J, crackers, chips, and other dry foods.
- Stasher silicone food storage bags: For anything that sweats or turns brown when exposed to air, like apples or avocado. These washable silicone bags are airtight and self-sealing—so cool!
- U Konserve leak-proof containers: For basically everything! They’re BPA-free, and made of stainless steel, which is more kid- and klutz-friendly than glass.
Assemble at the office.
Use Stasher bags or U Konserve containers to keep ingredients separate on the way to the office or school. When lunch rolls around, you can assemble your salad, sandwich, or tacos in no time—and they’ll always taste fresher.
Keep an essentials drawer at work (just in case).
Stuff happens. Sometimes you leave your carefully packed lunch at home. That doesn’t mean you have to suck it up and shell out cash for an overpriced salad or turkey sandwich. Here are a few things to keep in your office or desk drawer for lunch emergencies.
- A can of quality tuna or chicken can be a serious lifesaver. Drain the contents and pile atop a bed of greens for extra protein, or grab a pre-cut mirepoix mix from the grocery store and blend together for a flavorful tuna or chicken salad.
- If you’ve already got salty, crunchy crackers, all you need is an avocado, some hummus, or to whip up a little tuna salad (see above!) for a light but satisfying lunch.
- Sprinkle sliced almonds over avocado toast, salads, and soups for a bit of crunch. Bonus: They’re loaded with fiber and protein, so they’ll keep you energized throughout the day.
- Canned garbanzo beans are one of the most versatile and shelf-stable ingredients around. All you need to do is drain them, add sliced tomatoes, a little olive oil, some salt and pepper, and sprinkle feta or goat cheese on top for a Mediterranean bean salad.
- Microwavable quinoa and brown rice is always clutch. You’re just seconds away from fluffy, perfectly cooked grains that are wholesome enough on their own, but taste great when paired with half an avocado and a splash of coconut amino sauce.
- A few condiments are totally necessary to have on hand even when you do remember to bring lunch. Olive oil, vinegar, Maldon salt, and a favorite hot sauce are our go-to add-ins.
Upgrade your PB&J.
It’s a classic for a reason, but even peanut butter and jelly gets tired. Swap out peanut butter for almond butter, cashew butter, or tahini; and try honey, coconut butter, or dried fruit instead of strawberry jam.
Invest in Mason jars.
Mason jars are so versatile—you can use them as drinking glasses or to store herbs, display fresh flowers, and brew kombucha at home. They’re also great for preparing crispy, crunchy salads ahead of time. Layer your fixins in the following order and transfer to a bowl and toss when you’re ready to eat:
- Dressing: Drizzle into the bottom of the jar.
- Bulkier, wet foods: Next, add grains and proteins.
- Heavier veggies: Add heavier veggies in the middle.
- Lettuce: Lighter leafy greens go on top.
Add a little something to look forward to.
Sweet, salty, crunchy, gooey, chocolatey—whatever speaks to you that day! No need to totally derail your healthy diet, though. Try these guiltless swaps.
Instead of: Chocolate chip cookies
Try: Good Bites raw and vegan cookies, which use organic, raw, vegan, and gluten-free ingredients
Instead of: Potato chips fried in corn oil
Try: Jackson’s Honest Chips, which are cooked in heart-healthy coconut oil
Instead of: High-fructose corn syrup filled fruit roll-ups
Try: Stretch Island Fruit Strips, which are organic and have zero added sweeteners
Instead of: Candies made with tons of processed sugar and mystery ingredients
Try: Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, which are made with all organic ingredients including organic dark chocolate, organic cocoa butter, and organic peanuts
You and your family deserve happy, healthy lunches. Try these tips and never deal with a sub-par midday meal again.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho