Healthier Living

10 Nutritious Lunch Ideas That Take Minutes!

Dena Gershkovich April 6, 2021

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You may be under the impression that you don’t have time to pack yourself lunch, but the truth is that preparing a nutritious meal doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Preparing healthy meals – whether to enjoy now or later – is really about following a formula. How elaborately you execute the below meal-planning method is up to you, but it’s certainly acceptable – and even advisable – to keep it simple. Below I’ve included 10 easy and delicious lunch ideas that require almost no cooking!

Components of a Balanced Plate

The MyPlate model established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that each meal contain foods in the following ratio: 1/2 plate vegetables and/or fruit, 1/4 plate protein and 1/4 plate carbohydrates. A small amount of healthy fat should also be included at each meal.

On the MyPlate model, the dairy food group is signified by a glass of milk on the side of the plate. Many find it more realistic to consume dairy as a snack (ie. as a yogurt or as a serving of cottage cheese) rather than with meals, which is why I typically focus on the vegetables/fruit, protein and carbohydrate portions of the plate when explaining the MyPlate model. I have found that it is most important to be mindful of these food groups when structuring meals, as these tend to contribute most to nutrition and satiation.

Food Groups

Each macronutrient has a different role in keeping us healthy. Therefore, it is important to make an effort to include each of them at all of your meals in the ratio specified in the MyPlate model. Below are some more details on why each food group is important.

  • Vegetables/Fruit: Vegetables and fruits contribute vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, among other things. Fiber is especially important, as it can help lower cholesterol, keep blood sugar levels stable, and regulate bowel movements. Fiber also helps keep us full.
  • Carbohydrates: You may have heard that carbohydrates are “bad,” but I’m here to tell you the opposite: carbohydrates are actually the body’s preferred energy source. In other words, your body will not be functioning at its best if you are not eating enough carbohydrates! Whole grains, like brown rice, farro, whole grain bread and whole wheat pasta are recommended, as these grains have plenty of heart-healthy fiber. Do not cut carbohydrates even it seems like the “cool” thing to do, as your body will not be working optimally if you do.
  • Protein: Protein is important for satiation, muscle growth, and muscle repair. Humans are essentially comprised of protein, so it’s important that we get enough of it. Protein can be found in animal-based products, such as fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy and meat, as well as in certain plant-based foods like tofu, beans and legumes (ie. beans, peas, lentils, peanuts). It is best to eat proteins that are low in saturated fat, as is the case with low-fat or non-fat dairy products, plant-based proteins, eggs, fish, and lean poultry.
  • Fat: Despite the popular misconception, always remember that eating foods that contain fat will not necessarily make you “fat.” Weight gain results when an individual consumes more calories than his or her body utilizes for energy. Fat helps with protecting our organs, producing certain hormones, keeping us satiated and maintaining healthy skin and hair. Notably, certain vitamins require fat in order for the body to utilize them, so it’s important to include an adequate amount of fat in your diet. Unsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado, are recommended over saturated fats, which include those found in fried foods, desserts, fatty meats, coconut oil and full-fat dairy products.

10 Lunch Ideas You Can Make In Minutes!

The above meal planning method will help you take control of your lunchbox. Keeping the MyPlate formula in mind, you can fill your plate (or container) with items that are nutritious as well as enjoyable. Though only you can decide which foods best suit your needs, below are some balanced lunch ideas that can hopefully provide you with some inspiration.

  • Whole wheat bun + avocado + tomato + lettuce + veggie patty + egg
  • Quinoa + roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, cucumber, avocado, crushed seaweed + tofu + low-sodium soy sauce (this one can be prepped ahead of time and stored in the fridge for the work week)
  • Whole-wheat English muffin + light cream cheese + lox + cucumber and dill salad
  • Grilled whole-wheat tortilla with cheddar cheese and scrambled egg + tomato soup + tossed salad with olive oil and lemon
  • Whole-wheat bread + hard-boiled egg + arugula + hummus or tahini
  • Farro + grilled salmon or grilled chicken + cauliflower
  • Whole-wheat tortilla chips/multigrain pita chips + lentils mixed with your favorite sauce + shredded cheese + avocado

Customizing Your Lunch

The healthiest way of eating is the one that you can sustain long term. By following the MyPlate model, you allow yourself to have food freedom while still honoring your body’s nutritional needs – this is the ultimate formula for nutritional success. Feel free to experiment with the above lunch ideas or change them completely to make them your own! Enjoy!