How a Nutritionist Packs the Perfect Lunch


It’s lunch time, and you’re starving! With nothing to eat, you escape the office in search of food. You mean to get salad, but somehow end up with a football-sized burrito—how did that happen? It’s time to ditch the takeout and start packing. A healthy homemade lunch can save you time, money, and calories, and you won’t need to muster up a willpower of steel when hunger strikes. With a basic understanding of the food groups and a few crafty ways to remix leftovers, putting together a balanced brown bag is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

Step 1: Sandwich, Salad, or Soup?

Salads and sandwiches are go-to’s for good reason—the combinations are endless. They’re especially easy if you have leftovers on hand. The basic blueprint: Protein + Healthy Fats + Veggies + Grains.

If you’re building a sandwich, choose a healthy whole-grain bread, spread a thin layer of good fats, add some satisfying protein (leftover from dinner), and a big handful of veg. A few suggestions for inspiration:

  • Rye bread + pesto + thinly sliced steak + arugula + tomato
  • Whole-wheat wrap + avocado + rotisserie chicken + cucumber + shredded carrot
  • Whole-wheat pita + hummus + falafel + tomato + cucumber + red onion

If salad is more your thing, start with leafy greens and top with extra veggies (these can be leftovers or simply shredded cabbage and carrots). Add protein, sprinkle in carbs from cooked grains or starchy veggies, and top with a healthy fat. You get the idea!

  • Arugula + tomato + cucumber + broccoli + cottage cheese + quinoa + sunflower seeds
  • Romaine lettuce + peas + bell pepper + canned tuna + wild rice + lemon + olive oil  
  • Baby spinach + green beans + hardboiled eggs + sweet potato + olives

In the cooler months, a big pot of wholesome vegetable soup covers the veggie portion of your blueprint all week. Stir in diced-up protein from last night’s dinner, and get your carbs by sprinkling in grains or enjoying a slice of warm whole-grain toast on the side.

How much? 2 ounces lean protein, 1 to 2 teaspoons healthy oils, at least 1 cup veggies, plus 1 cup whole grains or starchy vegetables (or 2 slices of bread).

Step 2: Add Color and Crunch with Fruit and Veggie Snacks

A piece of fresh fruit and a small bag of veggies are easy to throw into a lunch bag, and a perfect way to fill the gap between meals. Your morning snack doesn’t need to be huge—it’s a quick energy hit to see you through until lunch. Any fresh fruit will do, but try one of these easy-to-grab ideas:

  • Whole fruit, like an apple, pear, orange, or banana
  • Bite-sized berries, grapes, or cherries
  • Diced watermelon, cantaloupe, or pineapple

As you head home and hunger starts nagging, munch on fiber-filled veggies to take the edge off. These babies are easy to bag with minimal prep:

  • Baby carrots
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mini sweet peppers
  • Sugar-snap peas
  • Baby cucumbers

How much? 1 cup fruit plus 1 cup vegetables for snacks.

Step 3: Include Protein-Packed Snacks to Fight Hunger

Protein is often overlooked during the day and over-consumed at dinner. If you find you’re wolfing down lunch at 11:00 am or raiding the fridge the minute you get home, it’s a sign you probably need to add a couple of protein-rich snacks to your day. Nuts are a great choice to reach for every day. Throw in one or two other protein sources, such as dairy, eggs, or legumes, to give your snacks staying power. That could be a small tub of plain Greek yogurt with your raspberries, or a cheese stick with your bag of veggies. Other choices include:

  • Cottage cheese  
  • Small milk-based coffee, like a cappuccino or latte (soy milk is okay too)
  • Hardboiled egg
  • Nut butter (choose no added sugar or salt)
  • Hummus or tzatziki
  • Edamame beans or roasted chickpeas

How much? A small handful (1 ounce) of nuts plus 1 serving of dairy or another protein-rich food for snacks.

Optional: Sneak in a Small Treat

If you suffer from post-lunch sugar cravings, throw in a small treat to satisfy your sweet tooth to avoid a visit to the office vending machine. A bite-sized piece of dark chocolate, savored mindfully, should hit the spot.

Seem like a lot of food? Rest assured it’s much less than what’s hidden in that burrito and smorgasbord of unhealthy office snacks. Don’t stress if you can’t get your act together every day. Even if you only get it right a few days a week, you’ll still be saving calories and money. Plus, knowing exactly which ingredients went into that delicious lunch will make logging your intake that much easier.

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