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Healthy Lunches at Work

October 2014

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

When you bring your lunch to work, pack tasty, nutritious meals that give you a midday energy boost. Many people pack way too little food and beverages when they bring their lunch to work. Make it a solid meal with plenty of veggies, fruit, whole grains, and protein along with a healthy mid-afternoon snack that can tide you over until dinner.

To make sure your lunch is balanced, include lean protein like beans or chicken, along with a salad that includes 2-3 types of greens and veggies. Top it off with some nuts, avocado or low-fat cheese, and a light dressing. You will be more likely to stay motivated to pack a lunch if you choose foods that you look forward to eating. Here are some simple ways to add variety to your daily lunches.

  • Experiment With Ethnic Cuisines - Break out of the rut of bringing the same old turkey sandwich for lunch every day and think in terms of dishes you would order in a restaurant and ethnic cuisines you like.
  • Bring Brown Bag Tasty Lunches - Try Greek Salad Pita. Fill a whole wheat pita with leftover chicken or canned chickpeas, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, feta cheese, and/or Kalamata olives. The latter is an almond-shaped Greek olive (also spelled calamata) that is a dark eggplant color with a fruity flavor and often slit to allow the wine vinegar marinade to penetrate the flesh. They are packed in either olive oil or vinegar. Squeeze half a lemon over the chicken and veggies right before you're ready to eat.
  • Try an Asian Salad Bowl - Toss together shelled edamame (from the frozen food section, thawed according to package instructions), mixed greens, shredded carrots, green onions, and red bell pepper. Add crushed brown rice crackers for a crouton-like crunch. Bring store-bought peanut dressing in a separate container and add it right before you're ready to eat.
  • Experience Italian Chicken Salad - Combine chopped chicken and white beans, arugula, tomatoes, olives, raw zucchini, and red onion. Marinate this salad in balsamic vinegar in a plastic container and then put it on slices of whole wheat crackers or bread when you're ready to eat.
  • Eat a Yummy Mexican Burrito Bowl - Combine sliced chicken breast and black beans, cooked brown rice (which you can buy frozen and heat up), sauteed onions along with green and red peppers, and romaine lettuce. Bring along a 100-calorie pack of guacamole and add it just before you eat.
  • Eat Breakfast for Lunch - Try incorporating your favorite breakfast foods into your lunch. Top a toasted whole wheat English muffin with goat cheese and sliced strawberries or almond butter and sliced bananas. Bring a packet of plain oatmeal, add it to a bowl, and stir in hot water or milk. Add ingredients like cinnamon, dried cherries, raisins, almonds, or pecans.
  • Bring Salad in a Jar - Invest in a wide mouth, quart-sized Mason jar. Salad ingredients will stay fresh in a sealed, refrigerated jar for hours. First, put your favorite salad dressing at the bottom of the jar. Next, add several layers of ingredients like cherry tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, corn, broccoli, black beans, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, or orzo. You can include any leftover cooked veggies and grains you have on hand. At the very top, add greens like baby spinach or chopped romaine lettuce. Be sure to keep the layer of greens separated from the dressing at the bottom so it stays dry. When you're ready to eat, just shake the jar to coat the whole salad with dressing.

Keep it simple and remember that bringing your lunch doesn't have to be overwhelming. If you can't assemble a whole lunch in advance on some days, bring leftover chicken or salmon and add it to a salad that you buy at work. Remember to take small steps and try out one new lunch recipe each week.