The COVID-19 pandemic changed eating habits for many people—and the thought of going back to work every day might have you worried about whether your diet will change again.
A survey from the American Heart Association reveals that more than half of employees who eat out during the workday think it’s hard to choose healthy meals. Among the factors influencing unhealthy choices are stress and the higher cost of healthy food.
But a return to the routine of going into the office doesn’t have to mean rushed or unhealthy lunches. It helps to have some nutritious (and easy) go-to options you can pack that are healthier than the usual fast-food drive-thru, to-go, and delivery choices. As you prepare to go back to the office, now is a great time to start a healthy new habit.
Building Blocks of a Healthy Office Lunch
Before we get into these healthy office lunch recipe ideas, it’s important to understand how to build a healthy meal with the right basic building blocks. Certain foods are more likely to keep you feeling full or provide the energy you need to get through a long afternoon.
- Proteins. Proteins can be either plant-based or meat. They keep you feeling full for more time because it takes your body longer to break them down. Choose lean meats like fish (canned tuna, salmon), chicken, and pork, or go with hard-boiled eggs, beans, tofu, and cheeses for meatless protein.
- Complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are sometimes vilified, but not all carbs are bad. Complex carbohydrates with lots of fiber (fruits, veggies, and whole grains) give your body energy and keep you feeling full. Choose whole food options for carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain breads, pasta, and rice.
- Healthy fats. Fats sometimes also get a bad rap, but they are an essential part of our diet. The key is to eat healthy fats that offer benefits like vitamin D and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. You can get these in nuts, olive oil, fish, and avocados.
Tips for Quicker Meal Prep
If time is a factor, these tips will help you speed up meal prep so you can still eat a healthy office lunch, even in a time crunch.
- Prep your fruits and veggies ahead of time. Chop and prepare veggies and fruits to throw into a recipe or grab for a quick snack.
- Cook proteins in advance (ex: chicken breast). Once cooked, slice or chop proteins. Divide into small servings and freeze so you can thaw them out quickly for a recipe or to toss into a salad.
- Have the right containers on hand. Whether you choose to buy reusable containers or disposable ones, have at least five of the right size on hand for meals. Then prep food for the whole work week and stick it in the fridge.
- Whole grain wrap
- Grilled chicken or roasted chickpeas
- Low-fat feta cheese
- Red peppers
Put all the ingredients on the wrap, and stow them in the fridge or a lunch container with an ice pack. You can even make these ahead of time over the weekend or the night before, so you can grab one in the morning on your way out the door. Mix it up by switching out the veggies or adding some healthy pesto sauce.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- Diced or shredded chicken breast tossed in Asian sauce*
- Boston lettuce leaves, separated
- Shredded carrots
- Chopped green onion
- Chopped cashews (optional)
- Chopped cilantro
Toss your chicken in a simple Asian sauce by mixing soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sriracha for a little added kick. Put the chicken inside a lettuce leaf and top with the other ingredients. These are the perfect option for a low-carb or gluten-free diet.
Build-Your-Own Burrito Bowl
- Shredded chicken or pork (season with garlic, pepper, salt, and cumin)
- Brown rice
- Sliced avocado
- Pico de gallo salsa
- Chopped cilantro
- Shredded low-fat cheese
Mix in a lunch container for a cold lunch. If you prefer warm protein, mix the rest of the ingredients and microwave your chicken or pork before adding it to the bowl. This meal is a healthy alternative to your favorite local burrito joint. Skipping the tortilla and the high-fat ingredients like sour cream and queso sauce help keep it healthy.
Whole Grain Pasta Salad
- Cooked whole-grain pasta
- Sweet peppers (red, green, yellow)
- Sliced grape tomatoes
- Sliced olives
- Cheddar cheese, cubed
- Low-fat Italian dressing
Cook the pasta, cool in the fridge for a couple of hours, then mix all the ingredients. Divide it into lunch containers. Sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese right before you eat it. You can also add cold chicken, chickpeas, or white beans to this salad for some extra protein.
Tuna or Chicken Salad Pita Sandwiches
- Chicken breast (chopped or shredded), or canned tuna or chicken
- Plain non-fat Greek yogurt
- Low-fat mayonnaise
- Garlic salt
- Dijon mustard
- Chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds)
- Red grapes, cut into quarters
- Celery, chopped
- Pita bread
Mix all the ingredients except the lettuce and pita. You can place this mixture into a large container to dish it out as you go or into small single-serving containers. Prep lettuce and pitas by putting them in small containers to take each day (a bag or reusable container). When it’s time to eat, put the salad on the pita and top with lettuce.
Bonus: Protein-Packed Snack Box
That afternoon slump is real. If you find yourself hitting a wall by 3 p.m., it’s good to have a healthy pick-me-up ready. These make-ahead protein snack bowls help you get through even the longest afternoons at the office.
- Protein – 1 hard-boiled egg or 1 oz of sliced meat (ham, turkey) or cheese cubes
- Carbs – about 1 cup of chopped veggies, such as grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, carrots, celery, or snap peas
- Fats – 1 oz of nuts, such as almonds, cashews, or walnuts
- Dip – add a small serving (1-2 ounces) of hummus or low-fat ranch for dipping your veggies
Assemble your protein snack box in advance in a reusable plastic container with a lid, or buy disposable meal containers from your local warehouse store. Put the dip and the nuts in a separate container inside with a lid so it won’t spill, and the nuts will stay crunchy.
These healthy office lunch ideas can help you transition to office work without worrying about what that will do to your eating habits. It’s one less thing to think about as you get back into the swing of things!