Whether you’re packing lunches for the kids to send with them to school, brown bagging your work lunch, squeezing lunches in while working from home, or caring for little ones who haven’t yet reached preschool age, lunch is one of the most important meals of the day.
You’ve already broken your fast (hopefully) and it’s time to refuel. Skip the processed, packaged snacks and the drive thru, and take a few minutes to prepare something fresh, tasty, and rich in the nutrients that you need to finish your day.
Below you’ll find our suggestions for quick and healthy lunches from some of our favorite bloggers. Many are vegan or vegetarian, made with whole grains and fresh produce. We’ve included a few sweets and snacks, to help power you through your day during the long afternoon hours before dinnertime rolls around.
Nutritious Fruits & Veggies
1. Tex-Mex Chopped Veggie Taco Dip
This delicious dip from Lauren Brennan would be perfect to put out at a party, but it also doubles as an excellent lunch idea. Pack it up with your favorite whole grain crackers, pita wedges, or corn chips.
2. Pear and Blue Cheese Flatbread
Ana Kamin categories this tasty option as a five-minute lunch, and we have to agree – it’s quick to make! But please, don’t feel that you need to rush through enjoying it as well. You’ll want to savor the combination of sliced juicy pears, rich blue cheese spread, fresh micro greens, and your favorite flatbread (try a lightly toasted lavash, then slice into squares before serving).
A drizzle of local honey works well atop this one, too!
3. Cucumber Avocado Nori Rolls
Skip the grocery store sushi and try making your own. It’s easier than you think!
A veggie version like this one is super refreshing, and it packs well, too. To make these nori rolls you can also skip the usual seasoned rice, which helps to cut down the prep time.
4. Raw Pesto Salad
Made with raw fresh vegetables and topped with pesto, plus dried fruit and seeds, this salad is colorful, flavorful, and rich in vitamins and minerals. It makes a satisfying lunch, and it’s simple to make!
5. Sunshine Salad
Another bright and fresh veggie lunch option, this one features the flavors of late summer, and the beginning of a new school year.
Sweet tomatoes, abundant zucchini, and fresh corn are combined with fresh herbs and onion, and a bit of crumbled goat cheese, if you like. Simplicity at its best!
6. Asparagus, Tomato, and Feta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
This salad comes together in a snap, with fresh blanched asparagus, cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, toasted walnuts, and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette. Try serving this one as a side with dinner, and then let it do double duty as lunch the next day.
7. Bavarian-Style Cabbage Salad
Maybe it’s not the most healthy option on our list, since it is topped with a sprinkling of crispy bacon. But I can guarantee that if you make this into a full meal, you’ll probably consume more roughage than you normally would in one sitting. Plus, that fat in the bacon might just help your body to absorb the fat-soluble nutrients in the veggies.
Healthy Whole Grains and Lentils
If you make a big batch of whole grains for dinner, it’s easy to turn those leftovers into a tasty lunch. Here’s one delectable suggestion to get those recipe-building wheels turning, plus another for a tasty lentil-based dish.
8. Turmeric Quinoa Salad
Fragrant, crunchy, and sweet are just a few of the words that Lorena of Green Healthy Cooking uses to describe this healthy veggie and whole grain salad. The quinoa is protein rich, with added potential health benefits from the yellow turmeric, and a tasty honey mustard dressing to top it all off. Yum!
9. Sun-Dried Tomato Arugula Lentil Salad
If you can’t get enough of the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes, then this lentil salad is for you. With the addition of green, peppery arugula, fresh tomatoes, a sprinkling of goat cheese and a drizzle of dressing, this delicious dish makes a delightful lunch.
Not sure that you’ll be able to convince the kids? Christine McMichael of Jar of Lemons reports that her salad tastes like pizza. That’ll probably get through to them!
Pasta Salad, Potatoes, and Noodle Dishes
Another great way to use up leftovers or to make from scratch, noodles can be packed in a thermos to serve piping hot at lunchtime, and pasta salads are delicious when you make them the day before (or a few days in advance) so they have a chance to soak up all of the delicious flavors of a vinaigrette.
10. Lazy Ramen
Though she’s not quite ready to head off to college herself, Rachel is no stranger to processed ramen noodles. She’s a big fan of cooking from scratch (as she shared in her Lemon Rosemary Bundt Cake with Goat Cheese Frosting post for Foodal), but she’ll also admit that quick convenience foods can sometimes come in handy.
Dorm food at its finest (well, not really… perhaps at its most typical), many of us are familiar with those orange and white packets of ramen noodles. We’ve all eaten them on occasion. But they’re often somewhat bland, devoid of fresh ingredients, and high in sodium.
With just a tiny bit of added effort, you can take this super simple noodle soup to the next level with the addition of fresh herbs and vegetables, a touch of fish sauce and sriracha, some homemade chicken or vegetable stock, and a few cubes of tofu.
11. Mexican Potato Skins
This recipe doubles as a fun appetizer, but we think it’s lunch-worthy, too. Gluten free, vegan, and packed with protein, these probably aren’t the loaded potato skins that you’re used to!
After scooping out a few lightly boiled potatoes, Ania and Duncan of Lazy Cat Kitchen fill them with a flavorful and protein-rich black bean mixture, spiced with cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and chilies. Top it all off with fresh avocado, tomatoes, scallions or green onions, and some fresh cilantro, and you’re in for a treat!
But wait – there’s more! Don’t forget that final drizzle of homemade vegan cashew-based sour cream.
12. Mandarin Pasta Spinach Salad with Teriyaki Dressing
Dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, nuts, fresh herbs, and a tasty teriyaki dressing are tossed withbaby spinach leaves and cooked elbow pasta in this colorful and flavorful dish. Tiffany Edwards describes her dressing as addictive –you’ll have to try it yourself it to find out if she’s right!
13. Portable Rice Noodle Soup
No thermos? No problem! This one works in a mason jar, too. Just add hot water and your rice noodles and fresh vegetables will cook just enough, coming together to make a tasty lunch soup.
14. Trifecta of Fullness Pasta Salad
Michelle Hutchinson at Oh My Nosh! says this pasta salad is her favorite alternative to sandwiches when she’s packing lunches for the kids, and it’s really got it all: a balance of fiber, protein, and fat that’s key to keeping them full and energized right through to dinnertime.
Made with just a few simple ingredients, if you already have leftover cooked pasta on hand, there isn’t even any cooking involved! Just combine canned chickpeas with fresh veggies, macaroni, and salad dressing, and lunch is ready!
Packed with Protein – Meat and Fish
Though there are certainly plenty of ways to consume enough plant-based proteins for a healthy diet (like nuts, seeds, and legumes, to name just a few), for the meat-eaters among us, it can be nice to enjoy a serving of meat or fish at midday now and then.
15. Tuna Stuffed Avocado
The tuna is combined with fresh bell pepper, jalapeño, cilantro, and a few squeezes of lime juice for a mayo-free protein-rich lunch salad that pairs so nicely with the creaminess of the avocado.
16. Roast Beef Quesadillas
This one is a excellent way of using up leftovers, and the kids will like them cold in a packed lunch almost as much as when the cheese is still hot and gooey!
Serve with a side of salsa (try our recipe for fresh pico de gallo, or check out our round-up of some of the best salsa recipes from around the web). Or, for the adults, Annie at The Gingham Apron suggests topping these beef quesadillas with sliced spicy pepperoncini peppers for a bit of extra heat.
17. Russian Chicken Salad
What makes this chicken salad Russian? Well, Elena Szeliga at Happy Kitchen Rocks says there really was no such thing until she made it herself, and deemed it Russian.
Elena started with the idea of the Olivier Salad, a combination of potatoes, carrots, peas, baloney, pickles, chopped egg, and mayo that’s often referred to as Russian salad outside of the country.
The recipe that she came up with combines cooked chicken with Greek yogurt, mustard, and cream cheese, plus pickles, chopped hard boiled eggs, and fresh parsley to make a creamy salad that’s excellent spread on crackers. Don’t forget the optional caviar!
18. Deli Meat Roll-Ups (and the Sandwich-Free Lunch)
In case you hadn’t noticed already, I’ll stop here to point out that none of our suggestions in this round-up include your typical spread/cold cut/cheese between two slices of bread and call it a day sandwich lunches. Though sandwiches are certainly quick to make, they’re not your only option.
If you’re also a big fan of this idea and you’re looking for even more ways to get out of your daily sandwich-making rut, let me direct your attention to Jess Thomson’s Post on The Kitchn, Thinking Outside the Lunch Box.
Here you’ll find even more creative suggestions for sandwich-free lunches like the one pictured here, deli meat roll-ups with veggie sticks, pretzels, cinnamon apples, and a coconut macaroon.
Though many of us have come to understand the negative potential outcomes of chronic sugar consumption, something sweet to end the meal was part of my daily routine as a child. Adding a piece of fruit to a child’s lunchbox is a great way to accomplish this while boosting their intake of vitamins and fiber. But something homemade that fits more definitively into the dessert category can be a welcome treat as well, for kids and adults alike.
19. Green Tea Matcha Cookies
These cookies are made with matcha or powdered green tea for a brightly hued and sweet, lightly flavored tea cookie with a few additional antioxidants and maybe just a touch of caffeine to keep you going in the late afternoon.
20. Raw Vegan Banana Pudding
This raw vegan banana pudding satisfies that craving for something sweet while it provides plenty of healthy nutrients, fiber, and protein.
It’s made with just four ingredients: cashews, bananas, dates, and almond milk. Try topping this sweet treat with your favorite fresh fruit or chopped nuts.
While opinions differ on snacking, many of us need a little something between meals to get us through the late morning or early evening hours. Rather than reaching for a candy bar or a bag of chips from the vending machine, take this as another opportunity to consume a few healthy, nutrient dense calories that are free of artificial colors and flavors.
For even more ideas (a lot more!), check out our round-up of over 70 of our favorite homemade, healthy snacks.
21. PB&J Bars
Made with whole wheat pastry flour, mashed bananas, peanut butter, and maple syrup for a bit of added sweetness, you can say goodbye to store bought granola bars forever once you’ve mastered the art of making these (but we will never say no to making your own homemade granola, and bars too!).
True, you will have to turn on the oven. But it really isn’t complicated to do! Top them with your favorite jam or homemade preserves.
22. Crunchy Chickpeas 2 Ways
This crunchy, protein-rich snack has become super popular in health food stores across the country, and it’s even served as a bar snack these days. But if you haven’t tried these little garbanzo bean delights yourself yet, they’re easy to make at home.
The kids who are into salty crunch will love them, too. Hopefully, even the ones who turn their noses up at the chickpeas on their plates. And this one’s a bonus – with two different flavor combos! Feel free to experiment with your own spice blends, but we’re excited to try the spicy and lemon and herb mixtures suggested here.
23. Easy Apple Chips
Did you know that you can make your own dried fruits and vegetables at home, in a food dehydrator or a low-temp oven? This is another one of those items that you can definitely find in a pre-made bag at the store these days, but the homemade version is less expensive, more flavorful, and you get to control exactly what’s in it.
Kelli at Baked Simple slices apples thin with a mandoline, sprinkles on a little cinnamon, and sticks the in the oven spread out on baking sheets in a single layer. They’ll take a few hours to dry, but the active cooking time could not be simpler.
What’s for Lunch? Quick and Healthy, Together at Last!
Whether you’re prepping make-ahead meals and snacks on the weekend for the M-F grind ahead or taking a few minute to put something together on your lunch break at home, we hope you’ll enjoy experimenting with the colorful, flavorful, and nutrient rich options above.
What are some of your favorite fast and nutrient-rich weekday lunches and snacks to prepare for your family, or to guarantee the energy and satisfying flavor you need to provide a much-needed break, and provide what it takes to get through that long workday? Let us know in the comments!
Photo Credits: All photography in this article is owned and copyrighted by their respective owners as identified. Used with permission by Ask the Experts, LLC. All rights reserved by all parties. Additional link contributions by Nan Schiller and Lori Jo Hendrix.
About Allison Sidhu
Allison M. Sidhu is a culinary enthusiast from southeastern Pennsylvania who has returned to Philly after a seven-year sojourn to sunny LA. She loves exploring the local restaurant and bar scene with her best buds. She holds a BA in English literature from Swarthmore College and an MA in gastronomy from Boston University. When she’s not in the kitchen whipping up something tasty (or listening to the latest food podcasts while she does the dishes!) you’ll probably find Allison tapping away at her keyboard, chilling in the garden, curled up with a good book (or ready to dominate with controller in hand in front of the latest video game) on the couch, or devouring a dollar dog and crab fries at the Phillies game.