Eating a balanced breakfast before speeding out the door in the morning can be a battle in and of itself but packing a lunch beforehand, too? It may sound daunting but when you think about what consistently ordering out for lunch is doing to your health (and waistline and wallet), you might reconsider.
Here's an eye-opening stat: We get about a third of our calories from foods and drinks prepared away from home (i.e. restaurants, drive-thrus and bars), according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
And here's why that's an issue: 92 percent of all meals served in restaurants (chain and non-chains) exceed the typical calorie needs for a single meal, per an April 2016 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. And for the average adult, eating one meal away from home each week can equal gaining around two extra pounds in one year.
So what's one to do? We've pulled together 12 different recipes spanning across various diets, from vegan to gluten-free to low-carb and high-fiber. And the best part is, many of these can be batch-cooked in advance or easily thrown together the morning of. You can even whip up some of these for dinner and enjoy the leftovers the next day for lunch.
Best Gluten-Free Lunch Recipes
1. Tangy Tuna Salad Collard Wrap
Going gluten-free doesn't have to mean forgoing sandwiches and wraps. Getting creative, like using collard greens in place of a traditional flour wrap, allows you to still enjoy all of the delicious sandwich fillings, while also getting a boost in nutrition (in this case, vitamins A and C) by using collard greens.
Get the Tangy Tuna Salad Collard Wrap recipe and nutrition info here.
2. Chicken and Goat Cheese Salad
Grill chicken breasts in advance or use already prepared rotisserie chicken from the grocery store to throw this salad together in less than 10 minutes before heading out the door.
The chicken and goat cheese mix makes a great lunch because the protein from the chicken helps keep you feeling full. Plus, this pick is free of refined carbohydrates, so you're less likely to get a quick rise in blood sugar levels, which can leave you feeling tired and hungry soon after, per the American Heart Association.
Get the Chicken and Goat Cheese Salad recipe and nutrition info here.
Best Vegan Lunch Recipes
3. Smashed Chickpea Club Sandwich
Brown-bagging your own vegan lunch doesn't have to mean boring salads or lackluster soups and sandwiches. Case in point: The smashed chickpea club sandwich. This sandwich packs in 17 grams of fiber and 21 grams of protein thanks to the chickpeas and sprouted grain bread.
Sprouted grains are nutrition powerhouses because they increase the amount and bioavailability of some vitamins and minerals, per the Whole Grains Council. We're also huge fans of microgreens (also used in this recipe) because they're a concentrated source of nutrients.
Get the Smashed Chickpea Club Sandwich recipe and nutrition info here.
4. Grilled Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Sometimes you just shouldn't mess with a good thing and sometimes, it's made better with a few little tweaks. The beloved PB&J would be one of those latter times.
If you've never tried grilling a peanut butter and jelly, hear us out. The two spreads meld together in a warm gooeyness and the bread creates a slightly crunchy bite. This one is probably best suited for a weekend lunch work-from-home situation since it wouldn't hold up well after a few hours.
By using whole-grain bread, natural peanut butter and an appropriate portion for jam (one tablespoon max), this can absolutely make for a healthy lunch. But if you have a peanut allergy, you can still enjoy this sammy by swiping hazelnut, almond or sunflower seed butter instead.
Get the Grilled Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich recipe and nutrition info here.
Best Low-Carb Lunch Recipes
5. Cauliflower 'Grilled' Cheese Sandwich
You can follow a low-carb diet and have your sandwich, too. And not just any sandwich, but a grilled cheese sandwich that boasts only 4 grams of net carbs.
This recipe ditches bread for a low-carb cauliflower before baking it in the oven. To create the "bread," the recipe calls for hemp, chia and sesame seeds, all of which are excellent sources of healthy fats. Healthy, unsaturated fats may help reduce inflammation and cholesterol levels, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Get the Cauliflower 'Grilled' Cheese Sandwich recipe and nutrition info here.
6. Caprese Mason Jar Salad
This is an easy lunch that you can throw together the morning of in five minutes or less. Mason jar meals are great because you can transport, mix and eat all out of the same jar. This low-carb salad, which packs just 7 grams of net carbs, is so vibrant in flavor and color yet packed with nutrition, too.
Plus, it features heart-healthy tomatoes, which are rich in vitamin C and lycopene, a carotenoid that may reduce the risk of stroke, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Get the Caprese Mason Jar Salad recipe and nutrition info here.
Best High-Protein Lunch Recipes
7. White Bean Tuna Salad
Spreading out your protein intake throughout the day — aka, having some at breakfast, lunch and dinner — may be just as crucial as making sure you're getting the right amount each day, according to a June 2015 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
And this high-protein salad that packs in a whopping 42 grams of the macro will get you on your way. You can also enjoy it as an open-faced sandwich on a whole-grain bread.
Get the White Bean Tuna Salad recipe and nutrition info here.
8. Turkey Cashew Chili
This is a killer short-cut meal that tastes like something you spent hours cooking in the kitchen. And, the ingredients and their flavors will meld together, making it even more delicious the next day and the day after that.
Turkey and kidney beans are a no-brainer when it comes to making a healthy chili but cashews offer a surprise crunch as well as some healthy fats to the dish. You'll get an impressive 29 grams of protein in each bowl.
Get the Turkey Cashew Chili recipe and nutrition info here.
Best High-Fiber Lunch Recipes
9. Greek Orzo Salad
You're smart to make fiber a priority at lunchtime. It helps slow digestion so you'll feel full longer, which may help prevent that 3 p.m. slump, as well as help with weight management, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
This dish packs 9 grams of fiber per serving, which is about 36 percent of the recommended amount for women per day and about 23 percent for men, as established by the National Academy of Sciences.
Get the Greek Orzo Salad recipe and nutrition info here.
10. Chicken Salad Pizza
A healthy, high-fiber pizza? You read that right. Each serving has 12 grams of fiber — that's the same amount you'll get from five cups of raw, chopped broccoli. We think you'll enjoy a slice of this pizza instead.
Topped with chicken salad, this whole-wheat pie is a good source of protein while the grapes, almonds and tarragon elevate its flavor.
Get the Chicken Salad Pizza recipe and nutrition info here.
Best Dairy-Free Lunch Recipes
11. Avo-Egg Salad
Most egg salads are made with mayonnaise but this one uses avocados instead for a healthier fat alternative. Enjoy it on whole-grain bread or keep it a low-carb recipe by adding to lettuce cups. Because of their healthy fats, avocados are a nutrient booster and help increase the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K
Get the Avo-Egg Salad recipe and nutrition info here.
12. Hearty Chicken, Vegetable and White Bean Soup
Skipping out on dairy doesn't have to mean skimping on flavor. This white bean recipe makes for a tasty stew-like soup thanks to the filling creaminess from the beans. You can make this ahead of time and keep it in the freezer for a last-minute meal. Each serving is only 300 calories and provides 31 grams of protein.
Get the Hearty Chicken, Vegetable and White Bean Soup recipe and nutrition info here.
- Food and Drug Administration: "Calories on the Menu"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Energy Contents of Frequently Ordered Restaurant Meals and Comparison with Human Energy Requirements and US Department of Agriculture Database Information: A Multisite Randomized Study"
- American Heart Association: "Carbohydrates"
- Whole Grain Council: "Sprouted Whole Grains"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Types of Fat"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Lycopene-Rich Tomatoes Linked to Lower Stroke Risk"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Defining Meal Requirements for Protein to Optimize Metabolic Roles of Amino Acids"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Improving Your Health With Fiber"
- National Academies: "Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application"