Is your freezer stocked with boxes of Lean Cuisine? Is your cabinet full of ramen and Cup Noodle? Are you in the habit of grabbing drive-thru food every day at lunch?
Healthy eating can seem like a full-time job. And if you already have a full-time job, whether it involves sitting at a desk or wrangling kids all day, you’re probably not into making room for another!
Here at IdealFit, we’re all about fitting healthy meals and exercise into women’s busy lives. We’ve got some awesome lunch ideas that will help you ditch the freezer-burnt frankenfoods, say goodbye to the empty ramen carbs, and keep you out of the drive-thru every weekday. You can eat better, save money, and feel great about how you’re fueling your body.
This is the most basic lunch idea we’ve got, and yet so few of us actually structure our portable meals this way! A lunch bowl is nothing more than a balanced meal that can either be eaten at room temperature, or microwaved together all at once. The idea is that you only need to pack (and clean) a single container.
Sounds simple, right? But if you’re anything like me, you find yourself at a loss when it comes to actually making lunch. You can’t have black beans and rice every single day! Let’s switch it up with some of these amazing lunch bowl recipes.
Try a few and get some healthy variation into your diet. And remember: Always prep at least two lunch bowls! Your meal prep time will go so much farther, and you won’t have to assemble lunch every single day.
- Thai Chicken Quinoa Bowl from How Sweet It Is. This is not your typical take-out Thai lunch loaded down with oil and a deep-fried spring roll. This bowl is packed with protein from lean chicken and quinoa, and packed with flavor from sweet chili sauce, lime juice, ginger, and garlic. Once you have everything tossed together, it will keep in the fridge for a few days, so you can make several bowls for lunch all week. It’s good heated up or cold right out of the fridge.
- Spring Veggie Bowls w/ Lemon Tahini Dressing from Eat, Live, Run. This is the ultimate light lunch that won’t leave you starving by 3pm. The rainbow of spring vegetables makes this bowl beautiful and so good for you. This recipe makes enough for four bowls, but I recommend keeping the ingredients separate in your fridge and assembling your bowl the day you plan to bring it for lunch. The lemon tahini dressing is so delicious, you’ll want to eat it with a spoon.
- Cauliflower Rice Fish Taco Bowls from Julie’s Eats and Treats. This is a low-carb option with plenty of protein and vegetables to keep you feeling full. If you haven’t tried cauliflower rice yet, this is your chance! It’s a trendy low-carb veggie swap that tastes amazing. This recipe makes two bowls, but you can double it to give yourself lunch all week. Not only is the spicy fish rub in this recipe amazing, the mango salsa in this dish takes it over the top. You’ll think you went out for lunch!
- Barbacoa Beef Bowls from The Wanderlust Kitchen. This one’s for the girl who’s always eating Chipotle at her desk. Making your own barbacoa will save you so much money! This beef can be made in the slow cooker with almost no effort at all, and the rice recipe tastes exactly like the one from your favorite fast-food stop. You can add almost any veggies you like on top, so this lunch bowl is totally customizable.
Mason Jar Salads
Recipes for these trendy salads have been popping up everywhere lately, and there’s a reason why: this method works so much better than dumping your entire salad into a Tupperware! Your whole salad stays crisp, fresh, and appetizing instead of getting limp and soggy.
The best thing about this salad-packing method? You don’t even need a separate container for the dressing. You can even make your own dressing right in the bottom of the jar!
It’s simple: dressing goes in first, then your crunchiest veggies, then everything else. Layer your ingredients so that the ones most prone to sogginess are at the top. For example: dressing first, then cucumbers, then chickpeas, then grape tomatoes, then feta cheese, and finally spinach.
The jar acts as a portion controller, and when you’re ready to eat, you pour everything out into a bowl. The liquids end up on top, and the greens end up at the bottom, nicely dressed! Why didn’t I think of this myself?!
Check out these favorites. Most proteins and veggies can be changed up depending on how you’re feeling and what you’re craving!
- Classic Greek Salad from The Kitchn. This is the kind of salad you might order at a deli… but way better and way cheaper because you’re making it yourself! This recipe layers cooked chicken, chopped cucumbers, savory cheese and olives, and plenty of salad greens, and tops them with a classic Greek oregano vinaigrette. The instructions include exactly how to layer the components for the freshest, crunchiest salad possible.
- BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad from Hungry Girl. This is a truly craveable lunch, yet it has less than 300 calories per serving! The BBQ ranch dressing is a match made in heaven, and it’s packed with veggies to keep you full all afternoon. Chopped chicken breast and Greek yogurt ensure that you’re getting protein with your meal. Be sure to make at least two of these mason jar salads–you’ll be wanting more!
- Zucchini Pasta Salad with Avocado Spinach Dressing from Sugar-Free Mom. This is another delicious veggie swap! Instead of pasta, this recipe uses long spiralized zucchini “noodles” as its base. But don’t worry: there’s still plenty of feta cheese, edamame, and creamy avocado dressing to fill you up. These salads last up to five days in the fridge, so make enough for a whole week’s worth of lunches! I think you’ll find yourself making this dressing for everything pretty soon.
- Chopped Taco Salad from Organize Yourself Skinny. This is the salad you need for days when you just want chips and salsa and cheese. With lean ground turkey, black beans, avocado, and tasty taco seasoning, these salads are just like your favorite Mexican fast-food… without all the grease. Chips are replaced with a crisp bed of Romaine, and protein-packed Greek yogurt takes the place of sour cream.
A bento box is the perfect solution to lunchtime boredom. If you’re a girl who tends to snack at her desk all day, a bento box gives you the chance to graze on a variety of foods that aren’t potato chips or chocolate trail mix.
Bento boxes are lunch containers just like tupperware, but divided into multiple small compartments. They’re available all over Amazon in every cute color and shape! Instead of one huge compartment to house a single dish (like the ubiquitous sandwich), you’re forced to pack small servings of multiple items, preventing boredom and varying your diet. Bento boxes also offer you the perfect way to eat up leftovers!
Some bento lovers get really cute with their packed lunches, especially when they’re sending them to school with kids (check these out!), but you don’t have to start cutting all of your food into cuddly animal shapes. Your bento lunches can be healthy and functional. Here are a few awesome ideas.
- Sesame Beef and Veggie Bento from Just Bento. This 440-calorie lunch is delicious and looks beautiful arranged in a bento box. The sesame beef is lean but super flavorful, and the additional veggies and brown rice make this lunch completely balanced to fuel you all afternoon. The author of this recipe is meticulous in her instructions, even including a prep timeline for this lunch, and her site features tons of amazing bento ideas!
- Frittata For One from Lunch in a Box. You wouldn’t think that eggs would travel well for lunch, but frittatas are one of those dishes that might be better leftover than freshly made! This frittata has sausage (you can use chicken sausage) and zucchini, and is served with veggie crudites and hummus, plus some mini whole wheat toasts for carbs. You don’t need to bother using a mini frying pan: just make a whole frittata and pack several lunches!
- Mini French Picnic from Bento Zen. This is the perfect bento for when you’re feeling snacky and don’t want one big heavy meal. It includes a mini ham sandwich with a brie cheese to spread onto the bread, tangy cornichon pickles, and fresh blueberries. This might not be the most filling of the bento lunches, but it’s fun to eat and great for a day when you’re headed out for a big dinner or don’t have time to sit down and devote to eating a full meal.
- Salmon and Marinated Shrimp Salad from Cooking in Sens. This is a protein-heavy bento box that will keep you full until dinner time. And it’s nothing boring: these shrimp are full of flavor because they’re marinated in an oregano dressing overnight before being served with salad greens and optional Thousand Island dressing. For an extra savory punch, the recipe includes some smoked salmon and sun-dried tomatoes. Delicious and sophisticated.
Homemade Noodle Cups
Remember the ramen noodles I mentioned at the top of this post? Every adult’s secret lunchtime shame? These recipes are a healthier, fresher, updated version of those 50-cent plastic packages with “chicken flavor.” This is what you want to eat when it’s freezing outside but you can’t whip up a whole hot lunch on the spot.
All you need to make your own cup noodles is a heat-proof portable container like this Pyrex and a selection of cheap, healthy, and delicious ingredients, most of which go a long way towards making lots of meals. At lunch time, just add boiling water to your container and seal it for a few minutes. The noodles cook and the water makes a delicious broth. Just remember to use thin rice noodles and not regular pasta!
Like most of these healthy lunch ideas, there are infinite flavor combinations for homemade noodle cups. Here are four of our favorites!
- Southeast Asian Pho from Food 52. This warming noodle soup includes chiles, ginger, lime, and cilantro. You can make it as spicy as you like! Like most noodle soup recipes, this one calls for a bouillon cube. Feel free to use an organic or vegetarian substitute, or just salt if you don’t feel like grabbing another ingredient. And you can always add leftover cooked chicken or shrimp for protein!
- Thai Coconut Curry with Shrimp from Serious Eats. Serious Eats has a whole detailed blog post about these homemade noodle cups! This might be their most flavorful recipe, though. Chicken broth, fish sauce, curry paste, and garlic-chili sauce combine to create a rich, decadent broth that will taste like take-out. This noodle cup is more filling, with coconut milk and shrimp for fat and protein.
- Spicy Kimchi Beef from Serious Eats. If you can’t get enough hot salsa on your chips and sriracha sauce on your fried rice, this is the lunch for you. It includes kimchi, a super healthy Korean pickled cabbage condiment. This is a great opportunity to try a trendy new food! The creator of this recipe uses beef jerky for protein–what a great idea. It rehydrates just like your noodles.
- Traveling Noodles from The Londoner. This recipe gives you a template to work from to create your own flavor combinations, but the example used is delicious. It includes miso paste, another healthy fermented product like kimchi! This makes for a super savory broth. You can add stir-fry veggies, leftover roast chicken, and some refreshing cilantro on top. If you want to get fancy, bring along half of a lime to squeeze over the top.
Let’s Wrap It Up!
My mouth is watering just thinking about all of these lunches. And I think your wallet will thank you when you stop spending $10+ on restaurants every day!
But your body will thank you, too. A balanced homemade lunch is so much better for your health (and your figure) than a burger and fries or a greasy burrito! These quick healthy lunches will be easy to fit into your day.
If you’re looking for a quick on the go lunch that takes literally seconds to make, then you’ll LOVE IdealLean Meal Replacement Shake!
On the days you just don’t have time to meal prep or you forget your food at home, rather than derailing your entire day by skipping a meal or snacking on unhealthy food, have a scoop of a meal replacement. It provides you with the nutrients you need to sustain you until your next meal.