My Trader Joe's lunchbox and I are besties for the resties. I'd forget my backpack before I'd forget my lunchbox. I mean we've been through a lot together.
Consider this a little follow-up to my Life Lessons: On Counting Ingredients, Not Calories post. Once you know how to be a label detective, you're well on your way to buying delish, quality food for your lunchbox. Packing a lunch saves you time, money and a whole lotta added calories, fat, sugar and sodium from restaurant food. Yada yada yada. Tell me something I DON'T know, right?
You've all heard it before. You already know that you should pack a lunch and you should eat your broccoli and you should do squats and you should sleep more but the question is HOW? I'm so glad you asked.
1) Buy an adorable lunchbox. Preferably a big, embarrassing, cumbersome bright blue one. But seriously. You can't be wasting plastic everyday tossing all your yummies in a leftover grocery bag! Buying a cute (or manly) lunchbox is the first step to success. If you want to be twins, you can buy a colorful one at Trader Joe's. If not, go to Target or buy one online.
2) Invest in the essentials: Tupperware, an icepack and possibly a thermos. Target is the holy land of Tupperware. My favorite are the circular and rectangular glass Pyrex ones because you can microwave them and dish-wash them without any worries about chemicals from hot plastic leaking into your food. They even have nifty ones now that are divided into sections for easy portioning. The possibilities are endless, people! Buy a couple really small ones (for hummus, nut butter, muffins/bites, etc.), a few medium ones (for sliced apples, crackers, veggies), a few large ones (for packing salads, soups, leftover, etc.) and some pretty big ones for storing batches of leftovers in the fridge. Mason jars are great for storing leftovers too.
I absolutely adore my thermos (pictured above). I heat up my soup/chili/leftovers in the microwave in the morning before I leave for campus and then pour the hot contents into the thermos. It stays nice and warm hours later, plus I don't have to worry about microwaving it. I highly recommend buying one, especially for the wintertime! You can also use it to keep food cold. I also use this thermos for taking coffee, tea and cold smoothies to go. Love it!Whenever I pack yogurt or hummus, I always put an icepack at the bottom of my lunchbox to keep it cold since I'm always gone for hours on end.
3) Prepare a couple main dishes with protein, healthy fats and complex carbs ahead of time. You need your lunch to fuel you until your mid-afternoon snack, so you want to make sure you have plenty of fiber and protein from primarily non-processed, whole food sources. That may mean cooking a batch of chili, quinoa, sweet potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and muffins on the weekend to prepare for the week ahead. Chop your lettuce, slice your peppers and put your hummus and Greek yogurt in individual containers for easy grab-and-go. Putting in a couple of hours on the weekend will make your lunch packing a breeze--trust me.
My protein sources of choice are beans, lentils, hummus, nut butter, eggs, wild salmon, and occasionally tofu, tempeh and tuna. Amp up the fiber factor with whole-grain bread or crackers, quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice, nuts, fresh fruit and veggies. Fabulous healthy fat sources include avocado, nuts and nut butter, chia seeds, ground flax seeds and hemp seeds. My formula for packing a healthy lunch most often involves some kind of main dish that's usually leftovers (homemade veggie burger, lentil/bean/veggie soup, chili, curry, tuna, wild salmon burger) with fruit, veggies with hummus, and a healthy nut-based bite or muffin.
Below are some of my go-to main dishes for lunches. I usually make one or two at the beginning of the week and take leftovers for lunch!
vegetable chickpea quinoa soup // channa masala // goat cheese and spinach salmon burgers // zesty sweet potato and bean chili // super easy chickpea, brown rice and broccoli casserole // curried butternut and red lentil soup // twenty minute four bean veggie chili // lentil vegetable curry // creamy curried chickpea soup // roasted buddha bowl // avocado chickpea egg salad // avocado bean burgers // hearty lentil, kale and potato soup // Mediterranean tuna salad // avocado egg salad // creamy Mexican tempeh veggie casserole
Easy throw-together meals:
Baked sweet potato + ½ cup black beans + ¼ of an avocado + ¼ cup salsa // ½ cup cooked quinoa + ½ cup chickpeas + ¼ cup feta + 2 tbsp chopped kalamata olives // 1 whole-grain tortilla + 2 tbsp almond butter + 1 tbsp 100% fruit jelly + sprinkling of flaxseed // ½ cup cooked edamame + ½ cup cooked quinoa + 1 chopped bell pepper + 2 tbsp Asian dressing // 1 can tuna mixed with 3 tbsp garlic hummus, 1 tbsp greek yogurt + 2 tbsp chopped onion + sliced cucumbers/carrots and whole-grain crackers // 1 cup plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup blueberries + 1 tbsp chia seeds + ¼ cup granola // 2 sliced whole-grain bread + ¼ cup hummus + cucumber/tomato slices // Amy's canned lentil soup + ¼ of an avocado // Amy's burrito
4) Add one or two satisfying sides.
sliced apple (I love organic gala) with cinnamon + ¼ cup chocolate peanut butter dessert hummus // two Mexican hot chocolate bites // sliced peppers or whole-grain crackers with ¼ cup garlic hummus // two no-bake pumpkin pecan cookies // carrots with ¼ cup guacamole (I like these wholly molly single serving packs) //pumpkin quinoa muffin // ¼ cup almonds + ½ cup grapes // two oatmeal cinnamon raisin chip bites // banana + 1 tbsp peanut butter // peanut butter banana chickpea cookie // sliced pear + hard boiled egg // vegan peppermint protein muffin // larabar // baked sweet potato slices + 1 tbsp almond butter // blueberry walnut muffin
Sometimes I load up on extra snacks since I'm on campus for several hours at a time, so keep that in mind if you see an extra large lunch. Some people may need more food, and some people need less. This isn't an exact science--figure out what works best for you!
Now that we've chatted about meal and snack ideas, let's see some examples. These are all lunches I ate over the past couple weeks. Clearly I'm on an apple kick...
Simple Truth frozen Mediterranean quinoa + ½ cup chickpeas // sliced apple //sliced cucumber + Roots roasted red pepper hummus
white bean and kale veggie stew // blueberries // organic Greek yogurt // two flourless mini raspberry chocolate muffins
curried butternut red lentil soup // Mediterranean tuna salad // brown rice crackers // sliced apple with cinnamon // peanut butter banana chickpea cookie + raw brownie bite // sliced cucumbers + garlic hummus (this example was for a longer day)
Now you're officially a legit lunch-packer. Want a cookie?
Today is the last day to enter to win six tubs of Root's hummus plus a handful of other goodies! Click here to enter.