A Dietitian's Guide to The Best Work Lunch Ideas
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Do you envy your colleague's lunch? Are you stuck with another boring salad that you don’t want to eat? Do you buy lunch out just because everyone else is? Yes? This blog is for you!
I’m passionate about lunch. I absolutely love every single part of the process: planning, shopping, making, eating (in particular). So, in an effort to rub some of that passion on to you, I’ve put together an all-inclusive list of things to think about when considering cheap lunch ideas for work.
How to plan work lunch
It's so easy to throw a noodle packet in your bag for lunch, so it’s really important to have some structure around what lunch should look like to save this from happening too often. Here are 3 things to consider:
Cost: It is usually much cheaper to make lunch than buy it, but, this isn't always the case. Many supermarkets offer amazing meal deals, where you can get a main, snack, and drink for £3, which can work out cheaper than if you're making lunch at home with lavish, expensive ingredients (halloumi everyday, yes please!). It's important to remember that you can easily bulk out your meals with lentils/legumes or vegetables to keep things better for your wallet and get your 5+a day. You can even bulk out your dinners and take the leftovers to work.
Time: Try to stay away from recipes that take a long time to make. Many recipes these days have an "approx. time to make" estimation on them, although this isn’t always very accurate it will give you a good indication of whether it’s likely to be time consuming or not. Pick something relatively quick and easy, with not too many ingredients, to avoid lunch prep becoming an extra chore.
Enjoyment: Eating is all about enjoyment, every meal is a meal worth getting excited for. Give lunch some well-deserved respect, lunch is what’s going to get you through the whole rest of the afternoon. Do you often rush through the workday without having much to eat? Do you get to 3pm and feel tired, worn out, grumpy? Likely, you didn't have a lunch that satisfied you. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but it does have to be something that you're actually going to look forward to.
Lunchboxes for Adults
I got my lunchbox about 6 months ago, and I've used it nearly every day since (you may have spotted it on my Instagram).
There are some important things to consider when thinking about which lunchbox or container is going to work best for you. The options and costs can vary quite a bit so have a think about your circumstances. It doesn't matter too much what you end up with, as long as it works for you.
6 things to consider when choosing a lunchbox for work:
Do you need a container that’s going to be in and out of the microwave every day? Think about options such as stainless steel, plastic, ceramic etc. Which suits your style of eating? Will you be thinking about cold lunch ideas for work? Or hot lunch ideas for work?
How are you going to be transporting you lunch? Will you be having lunch on the go? Do you put it in your bag? Will it ever be sitting on its side? Will it be thrown around? If you have food that’s saucy look for products that are leak-resistant, I don’t have them myself so can’t confirm that they don’t leak but Monbento , Worthbuy, and PuTwo all claim to do the job. If you mainly have sandwiches, lunchboxes like Black + Blum, Happy Jackson or Sistema might be better options.
Think about whether you usually transport foods that have a higher food safety risk e.g. rice and chicken. If your commute is long you might want to consider options that have ice-packs to keep food chilled, or, thermos flasks to keep food/fluid hot.
Does your work provide utensils or do you have to bring them yourself? Some lunchbox options come with compact utensil compartments. Honestly, I just bring my own stainless steel utensils because the small utensils are so fiddly and annoying to clean.
Always remember that you don't have to just have one container for your food. If taking lots of little containers instead works best for you than that's a great way to do it.
Bulk cooking vs batch cooking
Deciding on how you are going to structure your lunches is a really good starting point. Bulk cooking is essentially cooking food now and saving it for later. Batch cooking means cooking food as it becomes needed.
Bulk cooking is great if you want to save time and money. When you buy ingredients in larger quantities you tend to get a better deal. Getting all of the prep over and done with all at once is also a massive time saver, and you don’t have the chance to think “I can’t be bothered making lunch for tomorrow”. If you were cooking lasagna for two people, cooking it for six instead and then freezing four portions is a good example of bulk cooking. Some people prefer bulk cooking during the weekend and preparing lunches for the whole week. Others (like myself) have very limited fridge space and bulk cooking isn’t a realistic option.
Batch cooking has its own advantages. If you get bored eating the same thing day-in-day-out batch cooking is for you. It can be leftover, wraps, sandwiches, salads, anything really! You do need to make time each night to prepare your meals though, if you’re anything like me leaving it until the morning will mean homemade lunch is not happening that day. Batch cooking also usually means your food is more fresh, because it hasn’t been sitting around.
How to pack a lunch
Have you downloaded my free WellBelle plate planning template? (If not, subscribe at the bottom of the page to grab your link!). This super simple graphic is great for visualising how to balance your lunch meal. When planning your lunch, think about it as three different aspects. The goal is to have half of your lunch as non-starchy vegetables, quarter of your lunch as protein and quarter as whole grain/high fibre food.
Don't forget to think about the snacks you both take to work with you, or have in your desk drawer. Snacks are a super easy way to bulk up your fruit and vegetable intake for the day. Choose at least one (or more!), fruit and one vegetable snack, and make sure they are snacks that you will enjoy - check out the list attached for some snack inspo. If you find you are often getting really hungry in the afternoon try slightly increasing the protein and healthy fat content of your lunch.
Quick and easy lunch recipes - and how to make them healthy!
Here are some examples of the best lunch recipes for work. They all have elements which will help fill you up, keep you satisfied, and could easily be bulk or batch cooked. I love recipe books but right now I move around a lot so it's not practical having too many. Online recipes are my go-to, and why not? They are free, accessible, you don't have to store them...the world is your oyster when it comes to recipes online. Make the most of it!
See below for the links to the recipes plus nutrition related tips and tricks to help you get the most bang for your buck with your lunch.
Healthy Pasta Recipes for Lunch
Pasta is a great addition to your weekly menu. Pairing pasta with protein, fat, and fibre can ensure your blood sugar levels stay steady, you stay fuller after the meal, and ensure your bowel stay regular.
Protein is a really important component to any meal regardless of whether you follow vegan, keto, LCHF (low carb, high fat), or vegetarian diet patterns. Protein helps your body function all day every day, but so often people forget to include a source of protein in their meals, particularly when they have pasta. A rule of thumb is to make sure one quarter of your meal is protein, whatever form!
Fat helps to slow down digestion of carbs, this is really helpful in reducing the rapid increase in blood sugar levels that can occur after eating carbohydrates. Healthy fats are generally plant based fats e.g. olive oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, these are the best options to go for as the flavours mix well with pasta.
Fibre is what helps your gut do its job. Fibre is highest in foods like fruit, vegetables and grains. Most people don’t get enough fibre due to food being highly refined and processed, this doesn’t have to be the case though! Fibre is really easy to include, you just have to be aware of it and know how to include it. Choosing brown pasta over white pasta is a good starting point. If you don’t like brown pasta though, don’t panic, filling your plate with vegetables is going to give you even more benefits.
Pasta recipes are a fantastic option for lunch because you can eat them hot or cold, transport them easily and they're delicious . Try out this Mexican Penne Avocado, Penne Alla Norma or Lemony Courgette Linguine
Healthy Rice Salad Recipes for Lunch
Brown rice is whole-grain rice with the inedible outer hull removed; white rice is the same grain with the hull, bran layer, and cereal germ removed. Brown rice is a good source of whole grains and contains about 3.5 g fibre and 5 grams of protein in 1 cup. White rice has approx. 0.6g of fibre per 1 cup. The recommended daily intake for fibre is 30g/day.
Why does this matter? Fibre is important for bowel health. Feeling constipated? You likely need to up your fibre intake. Have a look at the nutrition information panel of rice when you're in the supermarket next. The different types of wholegrain rice, regardless of colour, have similar fibre contents. Find one that you will actually enjoy eating.
Rice based lunches are a great way to ensure you have enough energy to get you through the afternoon. Including protein, fat and fibre, as with pasta based meals will help you maximise the nutritional benefit of lunch. Try out this Mixed Bean and Wild Rice Salad, Mediterranean Brown Rice Salad or Brown Rice Salad
Healthy Homemade Wrap Ideas for Lunch
Wraps are such a great option for a quick lunch on the go. If you know you will be pressed for time at night or in the morning, tossing in to a container some lettuce, tomato, cucumber and protein sorts your lunch in less than 10 minutes. Keep a packet of wraps in the cupboard just in case, they have a great shelf life if kept in an airtight bag. If you have a bit more time these Chicken Fajitas are a favourite, along with Turkey/Chicken Hoisin Wraps and Chicken Salad Wraps
Healthy Soup Recipes for Lunch
Making soup is a fantastic way to play the "how many veges can I hide in this" game. Soup is such a warming, nourishing food particularly when the temperature outside drops. If you struggle to remember to drink water during the day soup is also a great way to get some extra fluid in.
Try opt for soups that aren't cream based, avoid using too much salt or stock and bulk, bulk, bulk with vegetables. Some great options to try are this Indian Spiced Pumpkin Root Vegetable Soup, this Pumpkin Soup or, this Tomato Soup.
Healthy Salad Recipes for Lunch
Salads are a bit of an all-rounder. They can be made year round and still be delicious. Don't ever fall into the trap of a boring salad, salad should never be boring! Once you are comfortable with the right base for a good salad you'll be away laughing.
As with everything else a good salad should be based on 3 main aspects:
1. Vegetables & fruit (E.g. spinach, pepper, avocado, tomato, spring onion)
2. Protein (Nuts and seeds, halloumi, feta, chicken)
3. Carbohydrate (pumpkin, sweet potato, orzo, couscous, Bulgur wheat)
If you try the recipes out, let me know how you get on in the comments below!
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