If you’ve ever cracked open an interesting-seeming diet book, you’ll know that all the healthy lunch ideas seem to be Michelin-quality, full-scale culinary productions. As if any modern woman has time to whip up elaborate hot meals using fresh veggies and cast-iron skillets in the middle of the day (most of us are probably happy if the microwave in our office break-room isn’t on the fritz.)
However—with a little foresight and patience—it’s entirely possible to eat satisfying, healthy midday meals at work that don’t invlove the same old salad or ho-hum sandwich from the deli around the corner—but that also don’t take precious time to prepare.
What’s a healthy lunch in our book? Easy, filling meals that involve plenty of fresh produce, flavorful condiments, lean protein, and low carbs.
To that end, we compiled 13 healthy lunch ideas that are realistic for working people like you—and don’t have to be heated up at work.
1. Mediterranean kale salad
This salad is a cinch to make and transport to work. We like to use a cup or two of fresh kale, a little crumbled feta (about a teaspoon), sliced orange pepper, diced scallions, some chopped cucumber, and—if you feel like it—a little quinoa (or pre-made quinoa salad) on top. Finish it off with a few shakes of black pepper and a tablespoon of lemon tahini dressing or olive oil. Be sure to give the kale a good massage after you dress it, which makes it more pliable and easier to eat.
2. Mexican-style vegetarian pita
Fill a whole-wheat pita with a tablespoon of black or low-fat vegetarian refried beans, and add salsa, lettuce, chopped cilantro, and either a pinch of shredded cheese or a slice of avocado.
3. Caprese salad
This restaurant staple also works well for the office if you chop or slice fresh tomatoes, add a few slices of low-fat mozzarella, chopped basil, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If that’s too light, add a 3-ounce piece of grilled chicken.
4. Brown rice bowl
Use half a cup to a cup of leftover brown rice or quinoa and toss in chopped mint leaves, a teaspoon of crumbled feta or goat cheese, chopped scallions or onions, and any other veggie you like. When you’re ready to eat it, add some olive oil or light balsamic vinaigrette.
5. Spicy turkey wraps
Take one whole wheat wrap ir tortilla and fill it with 4 or 5 slices of turkey, one to two slices of thinly-sliced cheese, zesty horseradish or dijon mustard, lettuce, tomato, and black pepper.
6. Curry chicken salad
This one tastes best when it’s made a day or two before and chilled in the fridge. Take leftover roast chicken and give it a rough chop. From there, add in light mayo, curry powder to taste (your mixture should start to turn yellow), scallion, chopped celery, and—if you want—a teaspoon of golden raisins. If you’re low-carbing it, wrap it in lettuce leaves or eat over a green salad.
7. Steakhouse shrimp salad
This salad—based on the types often found at steakhouses—is best made the night before and left to chill in the fridge. Combine chopped pre-cooked shrimp, cooked chopped string beans, chopped tomatoes, and white onion. Toss with a mixture of red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Yum!
8. Healthy tuna salad
Instead of loading up your tuna with tons of mayo, try only using a teaspoon of the creamy stuff, then adding in a tablespoon of dijon mustard, as well. This adds a satisfying kick, and cuts nearly all the fat found in typical tuna salad. For an extra boost, add a splash of lime juice, some salt and pepper, or a pinch of cayenne. Eat it on top of a green salad with spouts, on one slice of whole wheat bread, packed into a small whole wheat pita, or atop a crunchy rice cake or Wasa cracker.
9. Cauliflower and spinach whole wheat pasta salad
This one needs to be made the night before, and chilled overnight. Toss half a cup of fiber-rich whole wheat pasta with roasted or steamed cauliflower, chopped roasted garlic, and steamed spinach. Drizzle olive oil on top, or a splash of tangy bottled Italian dressing.
10. Sushi-style salad
Combine crunchy romaine lettuce, crabmeat (imitation or fresh), two slices of avocado, chopped scallion, chopped cucumber, and plenty of black pepper. Top with a little olive oil. If you’re really looking to amp up the sushi flavors, crumble in a few crunchy seaweed snacks.
11. Leftover chicken cutlets and roasted peppers.
Typical chicken cutlets are deep fried and not exactly the most healthy option. But if you bake them using a super-thin layer of whole-wheat breadcrumbs and plenty of garlic pepper, you cut a staggering amount of fat, calories, and carbs. If you have leftovers from the night before, pack a cutlet in a container with a few roasted peppers and a small piece of mozzarella.
12. Smoked salmon and hearts of palm salad
Despite its elevated ingredients, this light salad is a breeze to make before heading to work.Combine one diced large cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped canned hearts of palm, scallions, and chopped iceberg lettuce. From there, add a slice or two of smoked salmon and, if you like, a slice of grapefruit or avocado on top. This salad can be dressed with olive oil, or any light dressing you like.
13. Cold cajun chicken
Take a piece of grilled or blackened chicken the night before and run in a homemade Cajun spice mix using stuff you already have in your pantry (we like this recipe.) Serve on top of a green salad, or slice it and add it to a whole-wheat wrap filled with crunchy veggies.