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How to Pack a Healthy Lunch

Packing your lunch can be a challenge. You want a delicious, balanced meal that travels well and doesn’t take too long to prepare. Never fear. Check out our tips for packing an easy-to-make healthy lunch.

Pack Leftovers

Bulgur with vegetables

The quickest way to throw together lunch is to use something you’ve already made. Plan ahead with your favorite dinners, so you have something tasty for your lunch the next day. Some dinners, like a hearty stew or vegetable curry, are even better the next day.

Consider Portions

When you shop, think about the things that make up a balanced meal. Purchase your lunch ingredients and assemble them ahead of time. Each meal should contain proper portion sizes of the following:

Protein

Include about 4 ounces of lean animal protein, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Go for whole, unprocessed ingredients like chicken breast, turkey, fish, hard-boiled eggs or lean beef (like flank steak). If you’d rather go for vegetarian proteins, add at least a half cup of beans, lentils, legumes or tofu.

Dark green leafy vegetables

Dark Leafy Greens and/or Colorful Veggies

When you’re building a dinner plate, a good practice is to fill at least half your plate with dark leafy greens and veggies. The same goes for lunch. Devote about half the volume of your lunch to a variety of veggies to make sure you’re getting in a ton of nutrients and fiber with a minimum of added calories. A piece of fruit, like an apple, can help satisfy a sweet tooth.

Healthy Fats

Plant-based fats like nuts, seeds, avocados and olives will help fill you up and keep you full. Aim for one ounce of healthy fats, which comes out to about a handful of nuts (say, 20 to 24 whole almonds).

Complex Carbs

Add about half a cup of whole, unprocessed grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley or farro, especially if you’re choosing vegetarian protein. And if you’re making sandwiches, choose a bread loaf made with whole grains.  Bonus points for nuts and seeds!

Condiments

If you’re making a salad, pay attention to the condiments you decide to use as they can really add up in the way of calories and artificial ingredients. Stick to a maximum of 2 tablespoons of dressing for salads. Or make your own. A simple 2 to 1 ratio of olive oil to vinegar works really well.

Check out our guide to building the right kind of salad or Choose My Plate for more helpful guidelines.

Get the Kids Involved

If you’re packing lunch for the kids, get them involved. Children are more likely to eat new foods when they’re involved in the decision-making process. The end result is fun family time and a more nutritious, balanced lunch than the high-sodium, high-sugar prepackaged lunches you might get at the store.

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