Who didn’t love bringing an uncrustable, a bag of Doritos, and a cosmic brownie to school for lunch? It was lunch at its finest, I have to admit–in middle school. Now that we’re in college, eating healthy, keeping balanced meals, and making sure we can stay full throughout the day is our new priority. How do you pack your lunch as a grown-up? You’re in luck, I have some delectable lunches below, so tasty you wouldn’t even know its healthy for you. The key is to keep a balance in your meals between carbs, fats, and proteins. This is the best way to ensure you stay full and get the most out of what you’re eating to properly nourish your body. These can all be served cold, so simply pack a bag with an ice pack and you’re good to go. Keep reading to get these delicious recipes:
1. Chicken and spinach salad
Ingredient (4 servings):
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 box of bowtie noodles
1 1/2 cups of spinach
Dressing of choice
Salt and pepper
This meal is best served as a cold pasta salad which makes it a perfect option for meal prep–no microwave needed. Make your chicken first, in a sauteing pan, pour your chicken broth in and heat your pan on medium-high heat. Salt and pepper your chicken on both sides and place it in the pan to cook. Cook until center is no longer pink and internal temperature is 165 degrees. Once fully cooked place on a plate and shred using two forks.
While your chicken is cooking, boil your pasta until al dente in a separate pot for approximately 9-11 minutes. Once it is fulled cooked, run cold water over it to help in the cooling process.
In a large bowl, combine shredded chicken, spinach, and noodles with your dressing of choice. There is no specific measurement for this–use as much or as little as you’d like. Separate into four serving into containers and set aside until cool. Once fully cool, store in the fridge for 4-5 days. I love spicy foods to I highly recommend adding some peppers, chili flakes, or even hot sauce.
2. Snack box lunch
Snack boxes are quick, easy, and super flexible. It can consist of really anything you choose, although, the main goal is to make sure that it is balanced, filling, and, ideally, healthy. The best way to do this is to include one vegetable (with a dipping cup if needed) or fruit, one carb, one protein, and some form of healthy fat. After that, it is up to you for what else you would like. Of course, every lunch needs a dessert, so no one would blame you for sneaking in that chocolate chip cookie. Some examples of foods that could fall into these categories include:
Vegetable: Carrots, broccoli, celery, cucumber, bell pepper, etc.
Fruit: Grapes, raspberries, blueberries, watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, apples, etc.
Carbs: Crackers, pita chips/bread, a slice of bread, pasta, lettuce, wraps, etc.
Protein: Lunchmeat, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, tuna, etc.
Healthy fats: Avocado, peanut butter, cheese, dark chocolate, almonds, etc.
Pick one from each category and throw it into a container for a well-balanced lunch or study snack to get you through the rest of your classes. Another tip for those losing weight or those eating lighter, vegetables and fruits can count as carbs; so if you are dieting and attempting to cut out carbs higher in calories, these are interchangeable.
Wraps really are so malleable, and a step up from the tradition lunchmeat sandwich you made yourself in middle school. For the bread part, there are spinach and herb-flavored wraps, plain white or wheat wraps, protein wraps, or even use lettuce for a lighter portion (if you got the skills for it). Choose a lunchmeat first such as turkey, which offers the highest protein for the leanest calorie count. Although, you could add plenty of other proteins to bulk up your wrap. Some other options could include ham, pepperoni, salami, sliced chicken breast, and more. Though you should be mindful of meats like salami and pepperoni which are not the best healthy option due to being higher in calories and fats. Then top it with a slice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, light mayo and/or mustard, and anything else you desire. Have a side of fruits or vegetables to balance it out. There are no specific recipes on how to do this, it is really your choice and what you like.
4. Healthy chicken salad
Chicken salad is a recipe we see done and then redone, made from the least healthy to the most healthy you can get. In this version, we are attempting healthy, but tasty. Inspiration from @samanne.fit on Instagram.
Ingredients (4 servings):
1 lb of shredded chicken (store-bought or homemade)
3 stalks of celery
1 cup of greek yogurt (plain)
1/2 cup of light miracle whip
Optional add-ins: dried cranberries, candied walnuts, halved grapes
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Simply combine your shredded chicken with chopped celery, greek yogurt, miracle whip, and any optional add-ins you would like to try. It is such a simple meal to prep for the week. Options for sides could include pita chips or thins, or even some fruit for a sweet element to your meal.
5. Greek salad
What’s simpler than a salad where you throw everything in a bowl and go? Sometimes we just don’t feel like cooking. The only issue is that salads can be less than filling if not properly bulked up with enough veggies and fiber to hold you over.
Ingredients (1 serving):
Sliced grilled chicken (optional)
1 cup of lettuce
1/4 cup of a red onion (diced)
1/4 cup olive oil
Oregano, salt, pepper (to taste)
The lack of specific amounts for each vegetable is because oftentimes, in my opinion, salads are made by preference, some vegetables you prefer over others and some you only add cause its part of the recipe. I leave it to you to decide how much you would like. Lettuce is also not typically part of this recipe but the extra vegetable can bulk it up and help to keep you fuller for longer.
Combine onion, black olives, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, and feta in a bowl and mix. For the dressing, you can use whichever dressing you prefer. However, the last three ingredients provided above can help to create a simple dressing that will bring out the flavors in the vegetables. Pour olive oil, juice of one lemon, and seasonings in a bowl and stir. Not only is this better for you (olive oil is a healthy fat), but you actually know the ingredients that went into it–nothing processed.
6. Sesame noodles with chickpeas (vegan)
Time to mix it up and try for a vegan recipe. If you have a wariness towards recipes such as this one, you are missing out on the amazing and creative options that can come from a vegan diet. Just because its vegan does not mean it can’t be good, it just has to be the right meal. It’s all about finding what you like and making that work for you. In this quick and simple vegan meal, we are combining Asian flavors with chickpeas, veggies, and pasta.
A quick overview of the recipe: Use a spiralizer for one whole cucumber, one large carrot, and boil spaghetti pasta (whole wheat or regular) until al dente–this will be the base of your meal. Next, combine almond butter, lime juice, maple syrup, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes to make your dressing. I know, it sounds super weird, but the combination of flavors forms a tangy dressing with a little kick to it. One side note, to reduce sodium, replace soy sauce with coconut aminos, it tastes just as great but it so much better for you. In a dish, place veggies, pasta, chickpeas, and dressing (in a serving cup) for the next day. Super simple and easy; let me know what you think! Get the recipe here:
7. Taco salad bowl
I know, you’re tired of the chicken already! However, it can be used in so many ways and with varying seasons to where it feels like you are eating an entirely different meal every time.
Ingredients (4 servings):
1 lb of shredded chicken
1 packet of taco seasoning
1 can of corn
1 can of black beans
1 bag of lettuce
2 tomatoes (diced)
1 yellow onion (diced)
2 avocados (cut into halves)
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
Once you have cooked your chicken, add one packet of taco seasoning mix and 1/4 cup of water and let simmer for 4 minutes until thick and mostly absorbed. Separate this into four containers. Then top each one individually with the rest of the ingredients as follows:
3 spoonfuls of corn
3 spoonfuls of beans
1/2 cup of lettuce
Yellow onion as desired
Tomato as desired
Half of an avocado
Then leave a side of cheese and sour cream on the side to mix in when you are ready to eat. I also love topping this with hot sauce for extra flavor. This is a great variation to add to your lunch week that will give you a break from lunchmeat and sandwiches.
8. Caprese chicken
One more, with your favorite star ingredient: chicken! Have you ever had a Caprese chicken sandwich from Starbucks? So good, right? Well here is a healthier, cold version of a Caprese sandwich undone. This recipe is also slightly more involved to make the night before depending on your variation of the meal. You could choose to create a balsamic glaze for your chicken or simply use shredded and top with balsamic at the end. I prefer the latter for convenience purposes.
Balsamic dressing (as desired)
1 container of mozzarella cheese balls (cubed)
1 lb chicken
1 container of cherry tomatoes (about 15; halved)
2 avocados (halved)
3/4 cup of basil (chopped)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Place a saute pan on medium-high heat with cooking spray/oil. Season your chicken with salt and pepper and cube it before placing it into the pan. Cook until golden brown and crispy, ensuring that the inside is no longer pink. Set this aside for now. Chop all vegetables, cheese, and basil. In a large mixing bowl, place cooled chicken, basil, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette together and stir. Separate this into four servings and place over lettuce, if desired. Also, include half of an avocado on the side to be added later. A helpful tip: sprinkle lemon juice over the avocado to slow down the browning process. Include a size of pita bread or chips to complete the meal and give the feel of the original sandwich.