Packing your own lunch is generally your healthiest option, since you can control the portion size and ingredients while avoiding preservatives, unhealthy fat and sugar found in packaged, pre-made foods. Packing the same staples every day can get boring quickly, though. You don’t need to get too fancy to try something different – just introduce a few new flavors or textures to generate new ideas for the old brown bag lunch.
Salads are a lunch staple, but having the same greens every day can get old. Cut down on food waste and add flavor by using leftovers as salad toppers. Quiche cut into bite-size chunks, for example, has more flavor than adding a more conventional hard-boiled egg.
Or make your salad with a bed of grilled greens. Cut a heart of romaine lettuce into 1 ½ -inch slices, brush with olive oil, and grill for approximately 2 minutes per side, until grill marks appear. Top each grilled romaine heart with cherry tomatoes, homemade Caesar dressing and Parmesan cheese for a grilled Caesar salad.
If you’re looking for a heartier lunch, turn your salad into a grain bowl. It’s a lot like a regular salad, but your toppings are served on a bed of cooked whole grains instead of leafy greens. In addition to protein, whole grains offer fiber and healthy carbs that keep you energized after lunch. Opt for chewy wheat berries or protein-packed quinoa, or less common grains like amaranth or freekeh.
Try chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, sliced red onions, chickpeas and Greek dressing on a bed of quinoa for a grain bowl with classic Mediterranean flavor. Or toss wheat berries with chopped chicken breast or tofu, sliced cabbage, edamame, sesame seeds and citrus ginger dressing for an Asian-inspired bowl.
Add a fresh take on this lunch staple, courtesy of unexpected flavor combinations: Make harvest-inspired chicken salad sandwiches by mixing sliced grapes, dried cranberries and chopped pear into your chicken salad, or add curry seasoning to egg salad for a spicy twist.
You can also play with texture by serving your sandwich toppings in lettuce boats instead of bread. Pack romaine leaves from the center of the head – these have a crisper texture than the softer outer leaves – separate from your sandwich fillings. At lunch, add the sandwich fillings to each leaf, making several taco-like “boats” that are lower in carbs and calories than typical sandwiches. If you crave more flavor, add a drizzle of homemade dressing to each boat before eating.
Forget pre-packaged snacks and sides – you can make healthier, interesting ones at home. Use your Vitamix machine to whip up energy-boosting gluten-free date nut bars as an alternative to store-bought granola bars. Add variety by modifying the recipe to your taste – substitute some of the dates for dried apples or peaches, add a dash of cardamom or cacao powder to the recipe; use pecans or almonds in place of walnuts. Or go for a seasonally inspired snack with pumpkin pie bars.
Make single-serving smoothies ahead of time to enjoy on the go at lunchtime. The smoothie will thaw over the morning, so you have a drinkable – but still chilly – beverage by lunchtime. Try a cranberry salad smoothie for a tasty and interesting blend filled with seasonal staples.