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12 Easy On-the-Go Lunch Ideas

author image Lisa Chiu
Lisa Chiu has been a journalist since 1998, covering everything from congressional lobbying to bee exterminators. She has worked for "The Orange County Register," "The Arizona Republic" and "The Seattle Times." Chiu holds a master's degree in China studies from the University of Washington.

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12 Easy On-the-Go Lunch Ideas
Photo Credit: iStock / Terry J Alcorn

“During the workweek, busy people often sacrifice a good lunch,” says J.M. Hirsch, the author of “Beating the Lunch Box Blues.” “We tend to have this idea that lunch is supposed to be a sandwich and a hunk of fruit, so it’s easy to be bored,” Hirsch adds. If you’re looking for some brown-bag inspiration, there are a lot of ways to make your midday meal more exciting. Read on to learn about 12 different ways to experiment with bento boxes, hearty soups, kebabs and more.

1. Lunches Created out of Leftovers from Dinner
Photo Credit: iStock / Terry J Alcorn

1 Lunches Created out of Leftovers from Dinner

“The best way to think about lunch is to start with dinner the night before,” recommends J.M. Hirsch, food editor for the Associated Press. “While making dinner, think about the ingredients you’re using that can also serve as the basis for a healthy lunch the next day,” Hirsch advises. Beau Coffron, creator of the website Lunchbox Dad, will often grill extra chicken breasts at dinnertime to make a wrap or a burrito and dice them to make chicken salad for lunch the next day. Adding in hummus and vegetables gives you protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Related: 10 Simple and Delicious Slow Cooker Meals

2. Healthy Antipasti
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2 Healthy Antipasti

“Lunch can be more interesting if you give it a do-it-yourself quality,” says author J.M. Hirsch. “Most of us eat lunch at our desks or while we’re reading. I like to pack a lot of different things that can be eaten separately or together that you can pick at or assemble,” he adds. Consider packing an antipasti plate that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, olives, cheese, whole-grain flatbread, hummus and mustard. Experiment with different fruits and vegetables, and different types of lean meats.

Related: No-Carb Lunch Ideas

3. Breakfast for Lunch
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3 Breakfast for Lunch

Have you ever tried using leftover morning pancakes as the bread for your sandwich at lunch? You can make a whole-wheat pancake sandwich with turkey and low-fat cheese or spread it with peanut butter and bananas. Author J.M. Hirsch also likes to pack miniature quiche cups for lunch because they are easy to make and transport. Opting for a crustless egg-white quiche that is packed with vegetables cuts down on calories and fat while bumping up the vitamin and mineral profile.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

4. Soup
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4 Soup

Soup in a thermos can be a source of comfort during a busy workday. But be careful: Soup can be high in sodium, so make your own or choose a low-sodium option. Current dietary guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, but unfortunately most of us overshoot this target with an average intake of 3,436 milligrams a day. Treat your low-sodium broth as a blank canvas and add lean proteins (turkey, chicken, lean beef), complex carbs (whole-grain pasta, beans, lentils) and loads of vegetables (onions, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes) for a hearty and healthy lunchtime meal.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

5. Frozen Pasta
Photo Credit: iStock / wsmahar

5 Frozen Pasta

Whole-wheat pasta makes for a lovely lunch, and it freezes and defrosts quickly, says Kendra Peterson, creator of the Biting the Hand That Feeds You blog. Kendra recommends tossing cooked frozen pasta in a container in the morning and it will thaw by lunchtime. Just add vegetables, tomato sauce and the cooked meat of choice and you’ll have a complete meal. Whole-wheat pasta is a healthy option because it has more complex carbohydrates and fiber than white pasta. You can also try pasta made from buckwheat, beans or quinoa for variety in flavor.

Related: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health and Fitness Newsletter

6. Bento Boxes
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6 Bento Boxes

The Japanese perfected the bento box, an easily transported meal with compartments for various foods. “Make your next lunch an American bento and fill with dried fruit, grape tomatoes and grilled chicken salad or a whole-wheat wrap with lean deli meat and nonfat cheese that’s been rolled and sliced into spirals,” says Beau Coffron of the website Lunchbox Dad. Bento boxes work particularly well with food that can be dipped, such as fruit and yogurt or raw vegetables and salad dressing.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

7. Seafood
Photo Credit: iStock / juliedeshaies

7 Seafood

Eating eight ounces of a variety of seafood per week can help prevent heart disease in adults. Seafood is rich in healthy omega-3 fats, which help protect against heart disease and stroke and aid in blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. Aim to make fish or shellfish the main protein on your plate at least twice a week. Try adding mussels, steamed clams or broiled fish to whole-wheat pasta. Fish tacos are also an easy and fun way to incorporate more fish into your diet at lunchtime. Topping with fresh cilantro, cabbage and avocados adds antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fats.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

8. Barbecue Sandwich
Photo Credit: iStock / DustyPixel

8 Barbecue Sandwich

Take your lunch to the next level by making a healthy barbecue sandwich, recommends author J.M. Hirsch. Chop leftover lean meat, add some low-sodium barbecue sauce and heat it in the microwave. Pack the mixture in an insulated container in the morning, and then spoon it onto a whole-wheat bun for lunch. You can also make a large batch of pulled barbecue chicken in a slow cooker ahead of time and enjoy it throughout the week. Serving with lettuce leaves or as an open-face sandwich on a whole-wheat bun will help cut down on calories as well.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

9. Rice Balls
Photo Credit: iStock / IslandLeigh

9 Rice Balls

Steamed rice balls or rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves are common lunchbox items throughout Asia because they’re portable and require no plates or utensils. One of the easiest ways to make healthy rice balls for lunch is to take a handful of cooked, brown sticky rice, add some lean meat or vegetable filling in the center and top it with more rice. Gently compress and roll the mixture with both hands until it forms a solid ball. Experiment with various fillings such as pickled vegetables, pieces of grilled chicken or pork or your favorite leftovers.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

10. Meatloaf
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10 Meatloaf

Blogger Kendra Peterson saves time by making a batch of lean mini meatloaves in a muffin tin instead of the traditional bread pan. The smaller size makes it easier to pack for lunch. When the loaves are done, she slices them in half and packs them with two pieces of whole-grain bread to make two small, open-face sandwiches. You can pick them up with your hands and they won’t fall apart, Peterson says. Using lean ground turkey or lean beef helps cut down on saturated fat.

Related: See Full Recipe and Nutritional Details in MyPlate

11. Food on a Stick
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11 Food on a Stick

There’s something primal about eating food on a stick, and an added bonus is that there are no dishes to wash afterwards. You can create healthy kebabs for lunch by skewering grilled fish with marinated vegetables. You can also make chicken satay skewers or a stick of mini-club sandwiches using small pieces of whole-wheat toast, lettuce, tomatoes and low-fat deli meat and turkey bacon. Skewers also work well to make fruit kebabs for dessert. Lunchbox Dad creator Beau Coffron makes his fruit kebabs using apples, strawberries and blueberries. For extra flair, cut the apple slices into star shapes with a cookie cutter.

Related: 10 Tricks to Save Money and Waste Less of Your Fruits and Veggies

12. Crunchy Salads
Photo Credit: iStock / Olha_Afanasieva

12 Crunchy Salads

You can spiff up your lunchtime salad with healthy toppings. Try adding sunflower, pumpkin, chia or shelled hemp seeds, says blogger Kendra Peterson. “A small amount of these seeds adds a bunch of nutrition.” Nuts and seeds are a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can help improve cholesterol levels. Other healthy salad additions can include couscous, dried cranberries (with no sugar added), quinoa, figs and almond slivers. Experiment with different types of salad greens as well, such as escarole, kale, arugula and watercress.

Related: 9 of the Healthiest Nuts (That May Help You Live Longer!)

What Do YOU Think?
Photo Credit: Victor Holguin/Demand Media

What Do YOU Think?

Do you bring your lunch to work or eat it in a café or restaurant? What are some of your favorite brown-bag lunches? Will you try any of these ideas or recipes? Share your favorite on-the-go lunches with us in the comments below.

Related: 20 Foods to Always Buy Organic (Even If You’re on a Budget!)

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