Back to School, Back To Basics: Healthy, Easy Lunch Ideas for You and Your Family

Whether or not you have kids at home, the back-to-school season tends to be a busy time of year, and also offers the opportunity for a fresh start. If you are looking to refocus on healthy eating this fall, improving your lunch-time habits is a great place to start. Convenience is key in the middle of a busy workday, which is why many of us end up hitting fast-food, grabbing leftovers or even skipping this crucial meal – and then snacking on less nutritious fare later in the afternoon.

Registered Dietitian, Alissa Palladino from Good Measure Meals shares three healthy, easy lunch options to pack for yourself and your family, reducing stress and allowing you to reap the benefits of a nourishing mid-day meal.

Sandwich

Simple and satisfying, a sandwich can easily be a template for a balanced meal. Here are some tips to optimize the nutritional benefits, whether you prepare it yourself or order it out:

  • Choose whole-grain bread, wrap or pita for extra fiber and nutrients
  • Fill with lean protein, such as turkey breast, grilled chicken, or tuna
  • Pile on the veggies – lettuce, spinach, tomato, peppers, onions, sprouts, cucumbers – the more the better!
  • Choose mustard over mayo for less saturated fat
  • Include a small amount of cheese, avocado, hummus or oil-based dressing for healthy fats, boosting flavor and increasing satiety
  • If you’re used to eating chips with your sandwich, try apple slices, berries or grapes on the side instead for additional vitamins and minerals
Salad

Salad is often a go-to meal when you’re trying to eat more healthfully, but it completely depends on how you build it. If your salad is loaded with toppings and heavy on the dressing, it can provide more calories, saturated fat, and sugar than you need. On the other hand, a skimpy salad that’s just lettuce and tomatoes is not only boring but lacks key nutrients and will leave you hungry (and hitting the vending machine) a few hours later.

Instead, make your salad into a nutritionally balanced, satisfying meal by following these guidelines:

  • Start with a base of greens (at least 2 cups of lettuce, spinach, or arugula) and add as many non-starchy veggies as you want (i.e. tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms, and carrots) for volume, plus vitamins and minerals
  • Include a lean protein (i.e. grilled chicken, turkey, tofu, salmon, shrimp, or lean beef) for satiety
  • Add a complex carb (i.e. black beans, lentils, chickpeas, corn, quinoa, or fresh fruit) for energy and fiber
  • Choose one or two higher-fat toppings for flavor and texture (i.e. nuts, seeds, cheese, olives, or avocado)
  • For the dressing, stick to heart-healthy olive oil plus vinegar, or an oil-based vinaigrette. Limit to a couple tablespoons.
Bento Box

Lunch doesn’t have to look traditional salad or sandwich in order to provide a nutritionally balanced meal. The “bento box” concept of combining several different finger-friendly foods is a great option for busy people with limited time to prep and perhaps even limited time to eat. It also works well for school lunches, those who prefer snack foods over the heartier fare, or anyone who loves variety. Simply select food from each of the groups below to create a meal that will keep you energized and satisfied.

Vegetables:

  • Raw veggies such as baby carrots, snap peas, cucumbers, bell peppers, celery, or baby tomatoes
  • Roasted, grilled or sautĂ©ed veggies such as broccoli, asparagus, string beans or zucchini
  • Side salad made with arugula, spinach and/or romaine lettuce

Fiber-rich Carb:

  • Whole-grain crackers, bean chips or air-popped popcorn
  • Whole-grain cereal or a grain-based granola bar
  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Pita bread or mini pitas

Protein:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Slices of deli turkey, ham, lean roast beef
  • Canned tuna
  • Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
  • String cheese or sliced cheese
  • Roasted chickpeas or edamame

Healthy fat:

  • Avocado
  • Peanut butter or your favorite nut butter
  • Nuts and seeds, such as cashews, almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds
  • Olive oil (use as a salad dressing, or to cook veggies)
  • Guacamole
  • Hummus

For more healthy recipes, nutrition tips, and inspiration be sure to check out the Good Measure Meals blog.


Alissa Palladino, MS, RDN, LD, ACSM-CPT

Alissa is a Registered Dietitian at Good Measure Meals where she helps people achieve and maintain their health goals. A veggie lover and avid runner with a number of half and full marathons under her belt, she believes the best form of exercise is the one you enjoy and the best nutrition plan is one that fits into your lifestyle.

Published: August 2019