Whether you’re still working from home or just getting back into the office, a healthy homemade lunch can help you save money and reach your weight-loss goals. Throwing a PB&J into a brown paper bag with a granola bar is fast and makes for a nostalgic and comforting lunch, but if you’re stopping there, it can quickly get repetitive and boring.
Luckily, it’s easy to upgrade your favorite packed lunches without totally overhauling them. “Lunches are a great opportunity to [get] more ‘nutrition bang for your buck’ [by adding] in fruits and vegetables, which many Americans aren’t getting enough of,” says Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN. It can be as simple as packing a side salad along with your favorite sandwich or subbing avocado for cheese on a salad.
If you’re looking for more ways to add extra flavor and nutrition to your lunch routine, we’ve got you covered.
SUB BREAD FOR LEAFY GREENS
Have a soft spot for BLTs and chicken wraps? “Instead of bread for sandwiches, try a bibb or romaine lettuce wrap,” suggests Kamaria Mason, MPH, RD. You can wrap your “sandwich” ahead of time, or pack your fillings and your lettuce wraps separately, and throw everything together when it’s time for lunch. Leafy greens add extra phytonutrients and crunchy texture and can be a healthy swap if you’re trying to cut back on calories.
MODERNIZE SPREADS AND TOPPINGS
“Try hummus or Greek yogurt-based ranch dip instead of traditional mayonnaise to create a protein-packed, fiber-fueled wrap or sandwich,” says Shamera Robinson, MPH, RDN. Guacamole or mashed avocado also make great spreads; swap them for cheese and you’ll cut back on saturated fat.
SUB JELLY FOR BERRIES
Mason and Robinson like to use more nutrient-packed condiments whenever possible. Instead of slathering jam or jelly onto a PB&J, try using fresh berries. Slice strawberries very thin, or smash raspberries and “spread” them on. Not only will you cut back on added sugar, but you’ll also gain extra fiber from the whole fruit.
GET CREATIVE WITH YOGURT
Instead of squeezable or pre-flavored yogurts, which are often high in added sugar, opt for plain Greek yogurt. It’s rich in gut-friendly probiotics, and you can control the sweetness by adding fruit or a touch of honey. Another great idea: “turn your plain yogurt into a frozen treat,” says Mason. If you’re feeling tropical, “mix in mango and top with toasted coconut,” suggests Robinson.
ADD SEEDS TO SALADS
“Try adding hemp, sunflower or chia seeds to salads for an extra boost of protein, fiber, healthy fats and micronutrients,” says Schlicter. “They add extra texture and are a fun way to mix things up.”
Maybe you roasted chickpeas during meal prep for a crunchy snack. “Add them to your salads for extra plant-based protein and flavor,” says Schlicter. Try roasting them with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric one week and then go spicy another week by adding cumin and chili powder. “Chickpeas, salt and red pepper flakes is another delicious combination,” she adds.
“It goes without saying that we should add more color to our plates. Not only is this more pleasing to the eye, but fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices provide a bevy of health-promoting nutrients,” says Shahzadi Devje, RD. “Texture also matters and is often the reason we choose certain foods. Try and include various textures (crunchy, smooth, chewy, crispy) to your lunches to make them exciting and appetizing.” For example, nuts and seeds are the perfect crunchy toppers for salads. And yogurt, tahini and guacamole offer a beautiful creamy mouthfeel for homemade dressings, says Devje.
RE-CREATE RESTAURANT-WORTHY BOWLS
Replicating bowls from your favorite restaurants is easier than you think. “Each week, prepare a batch of whole grains, roast a variety of vegetables and experiment with different lean proteins,” says Morgan P. McGhee, MPH, RD. “If you’re a big fan of Chipotle, try re-creating your go-to burrito bowl; if you’re more of a poke person, keep ingredients like seaweed and rice vinegar on hand to throw Asian-inspired rice bowls together.” Your homemade version will likely be more nutritious, as well as more budget-friendly.
REMEMBER HEALTHY FATS
“I love adding avocado to [grain bowl] or having nuts on the side to increase the nutritional value of my lunch,” says McGhee. For a fun topping with healthy fats, add 1 tablespoon of Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or Liquid Aminos to your favorite nuts and bake at 400°F (204°C) for about 10 minutes, suggests McGhee.
“In our journey toward being healthy, we often get stuck in the restriction-binge food cycle,” Devje says. “We mark certain foods as ‘bad,’ and these are deemed ‘off-limits’ — until a dreaded craving hits and we cave in.” Instead, she recommends packing a healthy treat as part of your lunch. In fact, eating dessert has been shown to help with weight loss. Try one of these delicious five-ingredient dessert recipes under 200 calories to help you satisfy your sweet tooth without going overboard.
Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — from high protein to low carb — via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.