Y’all...this post has been a long time coming. I wish I could say I’ve been working on this for monthhhsss and it’s absolute perfection, but that’s just not the case. The truth is, you just can’t rush creativity man! I’ve started to write on this particular topic at least 25 times and it just wasn’t flowing. So, I pushed it to the back burner until my brain said “yo girl! Let’s talk about lunch.” Thank goodness I’m blessed to be able to pick and choose!
I talk to so many clients that are lunch skippers. Either because they get busy and forget to eat, don’t plan ahead, or get overwhelmed at restaurants and just avoid the situation all together. Your body NEEDS that midday fuel people! We’re here to help with some fun ideas to keep your lunch exciting, delicious, and nutrient packed!
First, let’s start with a few tools to help with your lunch packing adventures! Of course you don’t NEED any of these items to pack yourself a healthy and tasty lunch, but these are some things that can be handy and helpful to have in your lunch packing arsenal!
Wax paper. I promise y’all sandwiches wrapped in wax paper just taste better! Plus you can microwave it for a quick warm sammy. You can find rolls of wax paper at any grocery store alongside the aluminum foil and other paper goods. To make your life even easier, you can pick up pre-cut pieces like these.
Plastic sandwich bags. I know, I know. Don’t shoot me for recommending plastic! But sometimes, they’re just what you need OK? I do my best to choose BPA free and to always opt for reusable when possible, but sometimes you just gotta use a dang plastic bag. I usually keep quart and gallon sizes in my kitchen.
Reusable bags. I have a wide variety of reusable bags that I’ve picked up over the years. I have a couple cloth bags that I love because I can just toss them in the washing machine! Lately though, I’m really into these silicone Stasher bags! These are also great for storing fruits, veggies and other items in your fridge ready to roll for meal prep. Bonus: they’re also microwave safe!
Glass containers. I feel fairly strongly about glass containers! Similar to the wax paper thing - food just tastes better out of glass. Plus, they don’t hold onto stains or smells from past foods! I’m currently in the process of swapping out all of my plastic storage containers for glass, but holy moly this can be an expensive process! I’m grabbing mine one at time as budget allows, but if you want to jump in with both feet and grab an entire set go for it!
BPA free plastic containers. If I’m going to use plastic containers I always make sure to grab ones that are BPA free and I typically don’t heat food in them. I just dump it into a glass or stoneware bowl and heat in that. Amazon has a wide variety of plastic meal prep containers that are great for packing lunches. I haven’t personally used these, but they have great reviews on Amazon!
Silicone cups. OK. If you listened to one of our very first podcasts on lunches, you know my love for these run deep. They’re intended purpose is for baking muffins and cupcakes of course (mmm a cupcake sounds so good right now!), but I really only use them this way once or twice every couple of months. I use them like tiny little portion containers instead. These are what my “adult lunchable” (more on this later) so easy! They’re super affordable, reusable, and dishwasher safe. And, if you have little ones they are great for giving them snacks. WIN! I picked up a couple packs for just a few bucks at my local TJ Maxx, but thanks to the magic of Amazon I’ve linked some here that look to be exactly like the ones I’m in a long term relationship with.
Condiment cups. These are great for dressings, sauces, dips. All the things you gotta have (let’s be honest, the sauces are everybody’s favorite part), but you don’t want to put directly on your meal when packing. I currently have these (another TJ Maxx find from years ago), but I’ve recently been eyeing stainless steel options like these, so I may make a swap at some point.
Lunch boxes. OK. So here’s where things can get interesting! I currently have two different sized lunch boxes, both of which I received as gifts (my friends know me well, what can I say). I used to have three, but sadly my favorite (large) bag said goodbye this summer with a torn strap. RIP favorite bag. You will me missed. And most likely replaced :p. Choosing a lunch box is 100% based on your personal preferences. What I generally consider is 1) will my containers fit inside sitting flat so all of my food doesn’t get sloshed around, 2) does it have organizational pockets to separate things out, and 3) is the fabric and design durable. Nobody needs to be buying a lunch box every month, am I right?! Oh, and of course it’s gotta be cute!
Reusable cup or water bottle. In my opinion this is really just a must for daily life. I drink so much more water out of a fun cup. Just me? I’ve had a wide range of bottles and cups over the years, but some of my favorites have been and still are this Bubba cup (Dana has this one two and LOVES it), my Ozark Trail stainless mugs (just as good as a Yeti and keeps things cold or hot), and Healthy Human water bottles.
Ice packs. These are a must for lunch packing if you have a ways to travel or don’t have ready access to refrigeration. Trust me when i say, ice packs are not all created equal! You don’t want one that thaws too fast - so be choosy. These Nordic Ice packs are the ones I personally like. Even though there are various kinds in my freezer, I find myself digging for them when packing lunch instead of just grabbing whichever one I come to first.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to the good stuff. THE FOOD! To be honest, most days leftovers from the night before are my lunch and I’m A-OK with that. It’s easy, I don’t have to think too hard about it, and if it was a super tasty meal, I look forward to getting to have it again! This is something I try to think through when I’m making my weekly meal plan. Most recipes make more than 1-2 servings, so this is usually an easy bet. If I plan my lunches out separately, they could take on a variety of forms. Some of my favorites are:
PB&J. Duh! If you’re a podcast listener, you know this. They’re cheap, easy, and oh so satisfying! They also don’t need refrigeration, which gives them major extra points. I usually try to pair with some type of crunch (Sun Chips or pretzels make repeat occurrences for this), and baby carrots as my veggie.
Taco Salad. Such an underrated meal prep option! Make a big batch of seasoned ground meat, or use beans as your protein if you want to make it vegetarian friendly (I personally prefer a mix of both) and you’re halfway there! I put all of my other salad goodies in a larger container, and then put my meat in a smaller, separate container so I can briefly heat it before adding it to the mix. For dressing, I like a dollop of salsa, a dollop of guacamole (you can get the individual to-go versions that make this super easy and travel friendly), and just a tiny bit of ranch dressing. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it folks! It may sound like a weird combo, but oh man is it delish!
“Adult Lunchable.” I can’t even express how often I make these for lunch. They’re incredibly easy and I end up getting a taste of such a variety of foods that it is super satisfying. These can really be whatever strikes your fancy! Think of it as an adult snack plate. I include at least 1 protein, a fruit, a veggie, and a whole grain in mine generally. An example that is super common for me is:
A few slices of rolled up natural deli meat (protein)
Slices of block cheese (protein)
Whole grain crackers (whole grain)
Cherry tomatoes (fruit)
Sliced mini cucumbers (veggie)
Baby carrots (veggie)
These are perfect for those days that you don’t have leftovers, didn’t cook anything in advance, or just need a no- cook meal. Get creative and find a few combos that you love!
Wraps & Roll-Ups. Completely customizable! Grab a tortilla, fill with that you like, and bam - you’ve got lunch! If you’re stumped on ideas, a quick search for “wrap” or “tortilla roll-up” on Pinterest is sure to get your creative juices flowing!
Deli Sandwiches. Pretty self explanatory with these. Choose your favorites and build away!
Topped Sweet Potatoes. Oh sweet potatoes, I love you so. They make an appearance in so many meals! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks - talk about multi-purpose! A super easy lunch option is to bake whole sweet potatoes or cube and roast them in advance - then top with flavors that strike your fancy! Shredded buffalo or barbecue chicken is an easy personal favorite. Make it even easier and use a rotisserie chicken tossed in a sauce of your choice instead of making your own. Other options would be taco seasoned meat, sloppy joe mix, or chili.
Chicken or Tuna Salad & Crackers. Classic and easy. These do require a little forethought to prepare in advance, but so worth it and perfect for summer months when you need a cool lunch option.
Chilis & Soups. Great options for winter months! Warm, cozy, and satisfying. Make ahead, portion out into several bowls for the week, and reheat when it’s go time! They’re also a great way to get in protein and veggies at the same time!
Quesadillas. Often forgotten, but oh so delicious. Just like wraps and sandwiches, they’re totally customizable! Pre-make, slice and refrigerate. Then just reheat for 45 seconds or so and you’re ready for lunch!
Casseroles & One Dish Meals. They get a bad rap, but not all are created equal. Be choosy and know what’s under the hood, but they can be a great one stop shop for lunches. A couple of our personal favorites are the Quinoa Enchilada Casserole from Damn Delicious (we pretty much love everything she makes) and Egg Roll in a Bowl from Mostly Homemade Mom.
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