8 Healthy Brown Bag Lunches RDs Swear By

Lauren Krouse
by Lauren Krouse
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8 Healthy Brown Bag Lunches RDs Swear By

Staying motivated to pack your lunch (rather than ordering takeout or stopping at a fast-casual restaurant) can be a challenge. But planning ahead pays off: You’re more likely to stay on track with your weight-loss goals (and save money in the process.) Plus, a nutritious midday meal helps you avoid the 4 p.m. slump and make good food choices throughout the day.

If you’re never excited to pack a lunch — or worse don’t eat the lunch you pack — take inspiration from these healthy brown bag lunch ideas provided by registered dietitians.

1

SUNFLOWER SEED BUTTER AND BANANA SANDWICH

“This is a take on the classic PB&J, but with the rising commonality of allergies, I often suggest trying a 2-tablespoon serving of sunflower seed butter. To lessen the overall added sugar content of the meal, swap jelly with a sliced banana, which pairs well with the seed butter and is also rich in potassium. Opt for two slices of freshly baked 100% whole-grain bread to boost the meal’s fiber content, and to boost the protein content sprinkle 1 tablespoon of shelled hemp seeds in the middle, before placing the banana slices. This sandwich is filling as a meal at around 500 calories.”
— Rachel Fine, RD at To the Pointe Nutrition

2

CHICKPEA-BASED PASTA SALAD

“Lately, I’ve been loving bean-based pasta salads packed with healthy fatslean proteinswhole grains and colorful veggies. Compared to traditional pasta, bean-based pastas are much higher in both fiber and protein, making them a satiating substitute. Try making it with 1 cup (150g) cooked rotini chickpea-based pasta; 1/4 cup (55g) homemade tomato sauce (made with canned tomatoes, garlic, onions and a touch of chili powder); 1 cup (150g) roasted, mixed vegetables with olive oil (peppers, zucchini, broccoli, onion, whatever’s on hand); and 1 tablespoon pesto sauce. This is a comforting lunch (with approximately 400 calories) that satisfies me until suppertime.”
— Micah Siva, RD, chef and founder of NutritionXKitchen

3

TUNA SALAD WITH A PEACH

“I like to include tuna in my lunch about once a week, to help me meet the American Heart Association’s recommendation of two servings of fatty fish per week. In the evening, I put together tuna salad made with a 3-ounce can of light tuna, chopped celery, 1/2 an apple in chunks and homemade dressing. In the morning, I take my insulated lunch bag, throw in a small frozen cold pack, the container of tuna salad, a fresh tomato, a fresh peach and a baggie with eight small whole-wheat crackers with a hint of salt. Then at lunchtime, I can assemble a plate with a quartered tomato and the tuna salad in the center, and have the peach as dessert. This lunch has about 500 calories and is great for helping keep blood sugar levels stable.”
— Jo Ann Carson, PhD, RD, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center 

4

FARRO AND ARUGULA SALAD

“My ideal brown bag lunch is a grain salad loaded with veggies, healthy fats and protein. These three nutrients work in tandem to promote satiety, which can prevent overeating later in the day. My favorite combination is a farro salad with arugula (which will not wilt as quickly as spinach), roasted chicken (rotisserie chicken works well here and saves prep time), chickpeas (if on a plant-based diet, double the amount of chickpeas for added protein), red bell pepper, cucumber, and Kalamata olives. I toss the salad with a simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. To make the salad (about 4 servings), combine: 1 cup (200g) farro, 5 cups (100g) arugula, 1 can chickpeas, 1 chopped red bell pepper, 1 chopped cucumber, 1/2 cup (38g) Kalamata olives and 2 cups (300g) of cooked or grilled chicken. For the dressing, combine 1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil, the juice of one lemon, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon honey, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and salt and pepper, to taste.”
— Sarah Rueven, RD at Rooted Wellness

5

BLACK BEAN AND FAJITA VEGGIES TEX-MEX BOWL

“When creating brown bag lunches, I typically reference the Plate Method. I aim for half of my meal from fiber-rich veggies, 1/4 from a satisfying protein source and 1/4 from an energizing carbohydrate-rich food. This way, I feel full, satisfied, energized and ready to get back to work. I often bring a Tex-Mex bowl consisting of 1/2 cup (75g) black beans, 1/2 cup (100g) brown rice, 2 cups (300g) or so of fajita veggies (onions, peppers, and mushrooms sauteed in extra virgin olive oil with fajita seasoning), with a side of salsa and 1/4 of an avocado for about 450 calories.”
— Anja Grommons, RD

6

GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD

“I pack my lunch most days of the week and it’s almost always a salad of some kind that’s topped with protein. On Sunday, I wash and dry leafy greens and put them in a pillowcase in the crisper drawer (it’s the best way I’ve found to keep the greens crisp and fresh for days) and then put the following in separate containers: grated carrots, sliced cucumbers, chopped parsley, sliced red onions and sliced bell peppers. I cannot make a salad without a handful of parsley because it adds so much flavor (as well as potassium, vitamin C, vitamin K, magnesium, folate and calcium). I also grill up a pound of chicken tenders (which are low-fat, cook quickly and weigh about 1–2 ounces each, so I can easily figure out how to add about 3 ounces of protein to my salad). In the morning, I assemble the salad ingredients in a container and then top with the chicken (or I’ll switch it up with canned tuna, canned salmon, canned cannellini beans, some roasted tofu or any other protein I might have.) I drizzle on a little olive oil, vinegar (rice vinegar for a lighter dressing, sometimes balsamic or wine vinegar if I’m in the mood for something tangy), salt and pepper and that’s it. I make a big salad, but I estimate that it’s only about 350 calories.”
— Susan Bowerman, RD, senior director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition

7

DIABETES-FRIENDLY CHICKEN CAESAR WRAP AND SNACKS

“As a person with diabetes, it’s important to focus on protein and fiber while also considering convenience. A chicken Caesar wrap made with lite Caesar dressing, a high-fiber, low-carb tortilla, romaine lettuce and a dash of Parmesan cheese will not only provide a burst of flavor but also a solid amount of protein and fiber, two key components in keeping blood sugar levels stable. I pair mine with a big handful of carrots and a small scoop of hummus for some healthy fat. Of course, I want something sweet to finish off the meal and keep my blood sugar happy, so I have a medium apple and some cocoa-dusted almonds (one small handful), which also provides some more fiber and protein. This lunch is super simple to make — less than 10 minutes for sure — and will leave you satisfied and ready to take on the rest of your day.”
— Ben Tzeel, RD, creator of Diabetes Strong 

8

LENTILS WITH ETHIOPIAN BERBERE SPICE

“I like to pair spiced lentils with a grain as a complete protein source and complex carbohydrate. I add a little plant-based butter or olive oil for a healthy fat. Not only do you get all of your macronutrients in this meal, but by combining protein with a carb, you help minimize insulin spikes from the sugar. Protein allows for a more controlled rise in insulin levels that’s necessary to prevent diabetes in the long-term. About 1/2 cup (75g) of lentils is filling; with 1 tablespoon of plant-based butter and a whole-grain pita, the meal has 531 calories and provides 26 grams of protein (about half of the average person’s protein needs for the day). Lentils with Berbere spice are easy to prepare and very low-cost. They can be cooked in bulk in 20 minutes at the beginning of the week and can either stand on their own as a meal or paired with vegetables like carrots and spinach or meat like chicken or lamb.”
— Colleen Wysocki-Woods, RD, owner of ZEST Nutrition

About the Author

Lauren Krouse
Lauren Krouse

Lauren Krouse is a freelance writer and researcher based in North Carolina. A graduate of the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at UNC-Wilmington, she loves writing about all things health, fitness, politics, and activism. When she’s not typing away, you can find her meditating, weightlifting, playing soccer, or walking in the woods with her partner and two rescue dogs.

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