September means back to school and typically changes to your daily routine. Healthy lunch ideas that also include portable options are one of the most popular requests I get from clients. Whether you are thinking about options you can take to work or something suitable for children and teenagers you certainly don’t want to be spending ages preparing them.
Nourishing your body and mind in the middle of a busy day means plenty of protein, veggies and some slow releasing carbs to keep energy levels high through the afternoon. Add to that some healthy fats and you have a great meal to refuel.
Below, you’ll find some of my top healthy lunch ideas and tips whether you are thinking about packing lunches for school or work.
School Lunch Ideas
If you are bored of your usual fillings it is time to jazz up the flavours! In my book My Kids Can’t Eat That! I include a wide variety of options to make packed lunches more exciting for children. Below are some ideas but first if you are thinking about your teenagers / child’s lunch box here are some basics to consider:
- Focus on both choice / variety and presentation
- Include a water bottle daily
- Meal prep – save time and make up selections the night before (make use of leftovers too e.g cooked rice / potatoes for salads etc)
- Ensure sufficient snacks that are nutritious and filling – rule of thumb try and include protein at each snack such as hummus and vegetable sticks, cheese with crackers etc
What to Include
In the lunchbox aim to include the following:
- 1 portion of fruit – this could be slices of apple, grapes, satsuma, berries, chunks of melon
- 2 portions of vegetables – many children like munching on raw veggies e.g carrot sticks, mangetout, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, slices of pepper. You can also incorporate them in rice or pasta salads for example
- 1 portion of protein. This could include fillings in wraps etc or stand alone – cooked sliced chicken breast, beans, hummus, hard boiled egg, veggie burger, tofu, edamame
- 1 wholegrain. This may include brown rice, wholegrain pasta, quinoa, wrap, crackers, oat cakes, wholegrain rice cakes, tortilla etc
- Optional dairy. This could include Greek yogurt, milk in a shake, cottage cheese, small square of cheddar cheese. For dairy free options look for fortified products – plant based milks and yogurts for example.
Sandwich, Wrap & Roll Healthy Lunch Ideas
Make use of wraps, rice paper rolls, nori sheets as well as the usual rolls and bread to make more exciting options. You can also reduce the carbs further by using lettuce leaves or slices of ham as wraps.
When it comes to fillings the choice is endless. I love making use of falafels, homemade burgers and meatballs for more substantial fillings. For a vegan option try this delicious chickpea filling.
Here are some filling options that are great for adults and children alike.
Salmon and cucumber – drain and mash a can of boneless salmon. For a creamy taste stir in a spoonful of mayo or dairy free yogurt. Deseed and dice 1/3 cucumber and mix in to the salmon.
Chicken and apple: Top bread with shredded chicken and thin slices of apple (drizzle a little lemon juice over the apple slices to stop them browning
Refried beans. Sauté 1/2 diced onion in a little oil until soft. Add a can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed with 1tbsp tomato puree and a little smoked paprika and ground cumin to taste. Mash lightly to create a chunky texture.
Carrot and Raisin. Mix together a grated carrot with a handful of raisins and a spoonful of mayonnaise, dairy free yogurt or hummus.
Steak and guacamole. Spread guacamole on the bread and top with cooked thin slices of steak.
Chicken with fruity coleslaw – use the apple sauerkraut and mix in a little mayonnaise or dairy free yogurt to create a healthy coleslaw. Use to top over shredded roast chicken
Roast beef and sauerkraut – top slices of beef with homemade sauerkraut
Salmon, tomato and alfalfa. Mash up a drained and boneless can of red salmon with a little tomato ketchup. Spread onto bread and top with alfalfa sprouts or cress
Creamy Smoked mackerel. Skin and flake smoked mackerel fillets then mix with a little mayonnaise or dairy free yogurt.
Chicken pesto. Mix 1-2tbsp homemade pesto with 3tbsp mayonnaise then toss in shredded cooked chicken breast. Spread on bread and top with lettuce or baby spinach.
Pack a Dressing
A good dressing or sauce can transform a humble mix of veggies into fabulous meal. Just pack your dressing in a separate container and drizzle it over the your salad when ready to eat.
One of my favourite dressings is just a simple vinaigrette which can keep in the fridge for at least a week making it ideal for a wealth of cooked and raw dishes. Experiment with different vinegars as this really makes a dressing. My Sherry and Olive Vinaigrette is currently one of my favourites.
Salad & Salad Bowls
This is probably my favourite option for a lunch – whether it’s at home or travelling. I regularly use up leftover cooked vegetables from the night before and mix in protein and a dressing. You can bulk up leftovers with extra protein – such as canned beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, cooked chicken breast or hot smoked fish. Canned fish is always a great storecupboard option.
This type of salad is basically a selection of prepared veggies (in jars or from the deli) tossed in a delicious balsamic / red wine vinaigrette. You can pack dressings separately and drizzle over the salad just before eating. This dressing recipe is one of my favourites – simple and delicious over cooked and raw vegetables and pulses.
Another option for speedy salads is to use prepared packets of cooked meat and fish. Grab a large bag of mixed salad leaves and chopped veggies from the fridge. This prawn salad also include sliced oranges for a light, refreshing salad. This would work just as well with smoked salmon or hot smoked mackerel fillets.
Roasting a tray of vegetables makes a great base for any salad and is robust enough to travel well. Toss in canned pulses or griddled tofu and you have the perfect energising lunch.
I am a big fan of salad bowls especially when you are using up leftovers from the night before. A simple drizzle of soy sauce and rice vinegar really jazzes up this salad bowl.
Here are some other salad ideas