The holidays are over. The kids are back in school, and you’re back to the daily work grind. It’s time to get back into a routine, and that (hopefully) includes healthy eating. If you’re a busy mom or dad, no doubt you’ve got your kids’ lunches covered. But have you thought about what you’ll eat?
All too often, adults pack a healthy lunch for the kids, but run out the door without planning their own. Remember: You need fuel, too. To make it easier, here are some tips to pack a better lunch, plus 15 healthy recipes from registered dietitian nutritionists to help you get started and make meeting your healthy eating goals deliciously easy.
Get a (Fun) Lunch Box
It doesn’t have to be covered in Barbie or He-Man. But a fun, elegant or upbeat print on a bento box can make lunch more exciting, with variety packed into each compartment. For some, having a lunch box makes them feel like a kid again. It’s also portion-controlled, so there’s no guilt about finishing off the box.
Be a Pro at Packing
- Pack vegetables last so they are the first food you see and eat. Front-loading plenty of veggies is one of my favorite strategies to cut calories.
- Try mason jars for a sturdy and sustainable way to carry homemade soups and salads.
- Use small sealed jars to carry yogurt or peanut butter for dipping apples, hummus for raw veggie snacking, salad dressings or other sauces or dips.
Pack the Foods You Like
It may go without saying, but take something you’d like to eat. Nothing will send you to the vending machine quicker than knowing you have a boring lunch waiting in the fridge. And there’s no need to get stuck on sandwiches.
Start With Colorful Produce
Cliche but true, we eat with our eyes first. Color influences our perception of flavor intensity. Color is a clue that you’re getting the variety and nutrition you need. Add color, texture and nutrition by tossing red, green or black grapes into whole-grain salads. Use carrots to add crunch and beta-carotene to green salads. Add orange, green or red mini bell peppers to your lunch box for crunch, flavor and loads of vitamin C.
Use Fruits and Vegetables That Are in Season
- Citrus fruit is in season and bursting with flavor right now. Enjoy a vitamin C-packed, refreshing end to lunch with this Simple Citrus Salad With Coconut from Carlene Thomas of “Healthfully Ever After.”
- Stock up on leafy greens. From salads to wraps or stirred into soups, winter is the perfect time to enjoy leafy greens. Try this Cheesy Broccoli & Greens Soup from Deanna Segrave-Daly of “Teaspoon of Spice.”
- Before the season for California-grown grapes ends, grab some red or black grapes and make thisCashew Chicken Salad for a flavorful lunch filled with protein, heart healthy fats and sweet, nutritious grapes. Enjoy it as is or over salad greens or thin noodles.
Get Back to Basics.
- Try this method by registered dietitian Katie Cavuto for “Building a Better PB & J” and mash fresh in-season fruit instead of using jelly or jam that could be loaded with added sugar.
- Power through the workday with a protein-packed lunch. Add a salad to these Tuna Quinoa Cakes from Lindsay Livingston of “The Lean Green Bean.”
- Take leftovers. My Black Bean Fried Quinoa is filling and packages well for a lunch of leftovers.
Enjoy Hearty Winter Salads.
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a great salad. Leftover roasted winter vegetables with a simple vinaigrette can be a perfect lunch option. But you don’t have to stop there.
- Try a new spin on the classic Waldorf salad with this satisfying vegan Quinoa Waldorf Salad with walnut vinaigrette from The Plant-Powered Dietitian, Sharon Palmer, or a Salmon Waldorf Salad from Jessica Fishman Levinson of Nutritioulicious, LLC.
- Grain salads are versatile and nutritious. Try something new with this Sprouted Red Jasmine Rice Salad recipe from EA Stewart, The Spicy RD.
- If you haven’t heard, 2016 is the International Year of Pulses, and the world is celebrating the benefits of dried beans, peas and lentils. Now is the perfect time to incorporate bean salads. ThisEveryday Lentil Salad and Hummus Wrap from Dixya Bhattarai of “Food, Pleasure & Health” are chock full of fiber, protein and vegetables – ideal for lunch boxes. For your next meal prep, cook a batch of chickpeas to make these Chickpeas with Roasted Cumin Masala from Nita Sharda of the “Carrots & Cake” blog or this Easy Avocado Chickpea Salad from Kayli Dice of “The Plant Eaters’ Manifesto.”
Swap Out the Bread Every Now and Then.
Hearty whole-grain or sprouted grain breads hold up well in lunch boxes and can add protein, fiber and other nutrients to the meal.
- Ditch the bread a couple days a week, and try a collard green or kale wrap instead. These Collard Green Wraps from The Foodie Dietitian, Kara Lydon, are the perfect place to start.
- Nori – seaweed – makes for an easy way to wrap up lunch and satisfy a craving for sushi. These vegan Edamame Nori Rolls from Rachael Hartley of the blog and private practice, Avocado A Day Nutrition, do the trick.
So there you have 15 healthy lunch recipe ideas to get through the next few weeks at work – which is just enough time to adjust to the rhythm of the new year!