We all know how important a healthy lunch can be for combatting that midday slump. But for many of us, enjoying nutritious foods at lunchtime can be easier said than done. Between juggling work and appointments, sticking to an exercise routine, and the many other demands of our days, sitting down for a balanced meal in the middle of the day can be challenging to pull off.
Thankfully, preparing a healthy lunch doesn’t have to be a whole ordeal. Sure, enjoying a freshly grilled piece of salmon over chopped veggies and boiled quinoa would be a nice meal to nosh on, but most of us don’t have the time to whip up a gourmet meal.
Instead, try these five-star lunch solutions that result in easy and healthy lunches. If you are one of the many people who have a hard time finding good-for-you and simple meals to enjoy at lunchtime, read on for some inspirational ideas provided by dietitians across the country. (And don’t miss these nine healthy meals for added variety that’ll get you through more than two weeks of lunches without even having to repeat a meal.)
1. Prepackaged Salad With Protein
Most grocery stores have a wide variety of veggies to choose from that can make for an awesome salad. But the simple acts of washing and chopping lettuce, tomatoes and other salad ingredients can be daunting during a busy day.
Using a bag of prepackaged salad as a base and “topping it with a scoop of already-seasoned chicken, tuna or salmon in a pouch” can be a simple lunchtime go-to, suggests registered dietitian Lacey Ngo, MS, RD. To round out this meal, she recommends drizzling the salad with your favorite dressing for a bit of flavor.
Pro tip: When picking your salad kit, Ngo says to look for salad packages containing dark leafy greens for extra antioxidants.
2. Canned Lentil Soup and Sourdough Bread
Cracking open a can of pre-made lentil soup is super simple to do and can make for a satisfying lunch.
“You can heat up the soup quickly in the microwave, and you’ll get a nice boost of protein from the lentils to carry you through the afternoon without weighing you down,” says registered dietitian Kacie Barnes, RDN, LD. Adding sourdough bread can help support a healthy gut because the fermentation process used to make this bread can result in an elevated number of prebiotic properties.
3. Lunchtime Charcuterie Plate
Why save charcuterie boards for just happy hour? A lunchtime charcuterie plate is “a simple, delicious way to eat a balanced meal with no cooking needed,” says registered dietitian Erin Hendrickson, RDN. She likes including nuts, fruit, veggies, cheese and crackers on her lunchtime board.
“[Plus], a lunchtime charcuterie plate is a great way to use up random odds and ends that might otherwise go to waste!”Hendrickson adds.
4. Bean Salad
Yup, a bean salad can be an easy and healthy lunch for busy days. According to Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook (Adams Media, 2021), people can prep a big bowl of bean salad using any drained canned beans, chopped vegetables and a vinaigrette.
“Keep it all week to add to salad, wraps or grain bowls,” she says. For even more protein, you can toss in rotisserie chicken or any leftover fish or meat from dinner, Harris-Pincus adds.
5. A Simple Sandwich
Sometimes classic meals can be the best choice. Registered dietitian Jennifer Fiske, MS, RDN, LD, suggests exploring sandwich options to create an easy and healthy lunch.
“Use Ezekiel bread, low-sodium turkey or leftover grilled chicken, goat cheese spread or Trader Joe’s vegan pesto, and lettuce,” she says. Pair with apples, snap peas or carrots and dip for a balanced and approachable meal that offers a variety of flavors and textures.
6. Peanut Butter Roll-Up
“One of the easiest lunches that is packed with nutritious ingredients is a peanut butter roll-up,” says Kristen Smith, MS, RDN, LD.
To make this economical and nutritious lunch, spread some peanut butter on a whole-grain tortilla, add fruit slices and roll it up. What you will be left with is a simple lunch that will provide protein, whole grains and a serving of fruit.
7. A Power Bowl
A power bowl lunch takes the guesswork out of lunch and loads you up with good-for-you nutrients in a no-fuss sort of way. Never made a power bowl before? No problem.
Nutritionist and recipe developer Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, provides a few tips: “Mix and match 4 ounces of protein, ½ cup of grains, 1 to 2 cups of veggies, a ¼ cup of toppings and a delicious sauce. This healthy balance of ingredients helps power us through the day. Protein is especially important to have at each meal because it keeps our muscles strong and helps keep us fuller longer.”