Do you need some fresh ideas for lunch?
Really, who doesn't? We all know that packing a healthy lunch is key. But let's be honest, it's not always easy to come up with something new and exciting to pack in your lunch box Every. Single. Day. That's why we've put together this list of 5 simple, delicious and healthy lunch ideas great for adults and kids alike.
We don't want you to take just any old food with you for lunch, so this article is packed full of easy tips so you can swap ingredients that are good for your gut. You need healthy lunch ideas not healthy lunch recipes. These guidelines will help you get more good food into your eating habits.
Lunch should satisfy, be tasty and give you the energy and focus you need to breeze through your afternoon like the rockstar you are.
Let's get started.
First, Eat the Gut Health Trifecta of Fiber, Fat and Ferments
At Olive My Pickle, we advocate eating fiber, fat and ferments together whenever possible. We call this the gut health trifecta and it's a synergistic way to eat. When two or more things converge and have a more powerful, cumulative effect together than they would individually, that’s synergy.
Fiber comes in two forms, soluble and insoluble. Most fiber rich foods contain approximately one-third soluble and two-thirds insoluble fiber. (1)
Soluble fiber attracts water and turns to gel in the gut. It is this gel that your microbiome subsists on.
Insoluble fiber acts as a broom within the digestive tract it sweeps through.
These are the reasons to be intentional about consuming enough insoluble and soluble fiber.
It’s crucial to consume fats with your meal in order to ensure nutrient absorption. Certain vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble vitamins, which means that your body can only absorb them from the digestive system if you eat them with fats.
A 2017 study (2) found that fats promoted the micronutrient absorption of vegetables specifically. When the subjects consumed more oil on their salad, they had higher absorbency rates than the subjects who consumed less oil.
Fat also creates satiety, which will sustain you throughout the afternoon. If you get tempted to caffeinate yourself or go for a sweet treat in the afternoon hours, eating a lunch with enough healthy fat will help you achieve and sustain your feeling of fullness and satisfaction.
The process of fermentation enhances a vegetable’s micronutrient profile, boosting B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K especially. When combined with fat, these boosted micronutrients are all the more bioavailable. Fats and ferments together are an example of dynamic synergy.
Packing a healthy lunch versus eating out
Bringing a sack lunch to work means you have full control over the ingredients you eat. It also helps you avoid going for the easy solution of fast food drive through. Not just that, packing a lunch is far more economical. Give yourself a raise by reducing the expense of eating our every day. With rising costs of living, this is a simple lifestyle adjustment that really adds up to big savings over the course of a year.
Let's get into our top 5 picks for our favorite healthy lunch ideas!
#1: The Gut Healthy Bento Box
What is a bento box anyway?
Traditionally, a bento box lunch is a Japanese-style lunch or quick meal that typically consists of rice, fish or meat, and vegetables. Bento boxes are usually divided into compartments, which makes them perfect for packing a variety of different foods.
It's not only a fun way to pack a lunch or meal on the go, but bento boxes are well known and pictures of them are found all over social media, especially Pinterest. If you're like us, we want to have fun and feel good about what we eat. Bento boxes accomplish that!
Bento boxes are not only well used when traveling and on road trips, they're used in everyday life including daily work and school for quick lunches for adults and kids alike.
How do I pack a bento box?
Bento boxes are great because they take the pressure off creating a main course for your meal. Focus instead on getting your macros covered: choose a protein, perhaps lunch meat or medium boiled eggs.
Add carbs in the form of berries, carrot or celery sticks or a pickle. Fats can include olives or cheese. These are just a few ideas. Getting a bento box will create new inspiration and is a fun way to mix up your lunch time routine.
#2: The Satisfying "Kitchen Sink" Salad
A kitchen sink salad isn't much different than a classic salad. A kitchen sink salad means you pull all of your available veggies out, chop them up and create a colorful salad in your favorite lunch bowl! You can even use roasted vegetables in your salad that are leftover from last night's dinner. This tip cuts down your prep time packing lunch.
Key components for your Kitchen Sink Salad:
Pick all or some of the following when planning your healthy lunch ideas.
Note: No two Kitchen Sink Salads are ever alike - that's the cool, creative piece of a balanced lunch packed with healthy ingredients.
Leafy greens: this is your base. Spinach, arugula or mixed baby greens are our favorites.
Supporting cast of fresh veggies: tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots.
Roasted leftover veggies from last nights dinner: broccoli, beets, green beans, sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, roasted red peppers.
Nuts and seeds: sunflower and pumpkin seeds, almond slices (these give a great texture).
Fruit: Blueberries, strawberries, chopped apples, pears, chopped peaches.
Meat: Chopped lunch meat, leftover chicken or turkey breast, leftover sausage.
Cheese: Add your favorite - grated or chopped.
Eggs: Medium hard boiled eggs. Boil up your week's worth of eggs on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you meal prep and have them ready throughout the week to grab for your healthy lunch ideas.
Ferments: Our favorite ferment to top your colorful salad with is kraut. Olives are another great choice and added bonus, they are packed with satisfying healthy fat.
The Dressing is Important
You do NOT want to use store bought dressing, especially popular ranch dressing, made with seed oils like canola, sunflower or vegetable oil. Seed oils are highly inflammatory and over-indexed on omega 6 fats.
A better choice is to opt for extra virgin olive oil and mix it with the brine from your ferments. This is not only a quick and easy lunch staple, it's a simple, tasty, economical dressing packed with flavor and probiotics.
When you're purchasing olive oil, choose an oil that comes from a single origin. Most oils come from multiple origins and are blended. This is problematic because these blends have a higher chance of being cut with lower quality oils, or worse, seed oils. There is less traceability and transparency with multi origin olive oils.
Our recommended brand is Terra Delyssa from the single origin of Tunisia. This is a widely available brand sold at Walmart and major grocery stores and for around $10 a bottle, its a great price.
#3 Sardine Salad: A Better Choice Over Tuna
Most of us grew up eating tuna fish sandwiches. But there are many compelling reasons why making the switch from your childhood favorite of tuna to sardines is the smart choice for your healthy lunch ideas.
Mercury levels: Tuna versus Sardines
Tuna contains high amounts of mercury. So much so that there are warnings not to feed tuna to children because the mercury content could damage their developing nervous system. For the same reason, pregnant women are advised not to eat tuna. Although there are ‘light mercury’ tuna options, it's better to avoid it altogether. The larger the fish, the higher levels of mercury they contain, and tuna is a large fish.
By contrast, sardines are small fish that eat plankton. The mercury level in sardines is negligible, the lowest of any fish.
Health benefits of sardines
One can of sardines contains the following:
- Omega 3 fats: Sardines have one the highest concentrations of heart-healthy omega-3s per 3 ounce serving, at 2 grams, of any other food on the planet.
- 19 grams of protein.
- High levels of B12.
- High in minerals, especially zinc.
- 50% of RDA for Calcium and 20% RDA of vitamin D for bone health.
Sardines are economical
For around $3 a can, you cannot find a more economical, healthy protein. Although this price is comparable to tuna, when factoring in the greater health benefits of sardines over tuna, and the absence of mercury, the choice for sardines is easy.
Taste comparison: Tuna versus Sardines
Every family tradition has a different tuna salad recipe. Whether it's pickles, capers, onions or celery that your mom added to the tuna salad you grew up with, you can prep your sardine salad identically. Many people don’t even notice the taste difference, sardines and tuna taste that similar to one another.
OMP Lunch Idea: Sardine Salad Recipe
We love a lot of acid to neutralize that fish taste a bit. If this recipe is too acidic, reduce the lemon juice and cut down (or eliminate) the onion.
1 can of sardines in olive oil (our preferred brands are Season brand or Trader Joe's brand. Be sure to buy boneless and skinless.)
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup of chopped sweet onion (to taste)
1/4 cup chopped Olive My Pickle's Kosher Dill Fermented Pickles.
One tablespoon mayo
No extra salt is necessary, the pickles add enough.
Black pepper to taste.
For a spicy version, simply swap:
Use Olive My Pickle's Spicy Dill Fermented Pickles
Use Primal Kitchen's Chipotle Lime Mayo
#4 Gut Friendly Healthy Lunch Grain Bowl
An easy grain bowl is the same concept as a Kitchen Sink Salad, but instead of using greens as your base, you opt for cooked whole grains.
Whole grains have gotten a bum rap from certain wellness circles, because they aren't low carb. Further, wheat is a grain, and wheat gluten can be a real problem for gut health because gluten can trigger inflammation and worse, leaky gut.
Another caveat about grains. Traditional cultures (non industrialized) would consume grains, but only after soaking them overnight. This simple step will predigest the grain and make digestion and nutrient absorption far more optimized. Many people that cannot tolerate eating grains or who are allergic, find that soaking them prior to preparation makes all the difference. (This also applies to legumes, which sprout when soaked overnight, making them far more easy to digest, including a reduction in gas.) Knowing your grains and your body helps when selecting which whole grains for your healthy lunch ideas.
A few of our favorite whole grains to cook ahead of time and add to our healthy lunch grain bowls are are quinoa, barley, brown rice and buckwheat.
Want more healthy lunch recipes that can be made in 5 mins or less? Check out this OMP Summer Apps blog filled with mediterranean flavors and healthy recipes you can enjoy any time of year.
#5 Gut Healthy Sandwich
We can't have a list of healthy lunch ideas and not include a sandwich. While it may not be the most creative idea, we have a few pointers to help you up your sandwich game and make make them more gut friendly.
Gluten Free Bread
Gluten free bread can be tough. (Literally!) Many gluten free breads taste more like cardboard and aren't worth the trouble. There are many GF breads available and a lot of this comes down to personal preference. A favorite brand of ours here at OMP is the Base Culture products, found in the freezer section of major grocery stores. Although more expensive, the GF factor, tastiness and clean ingredients of Base Culture products are worth the price because we really do love eating sandwiches that much.
A far better option made with wheat flour is sourdough bread. Because sourdough bread dough is made with a starter and fermented, this predigests the wheat in the flour and provides a host of health benefits.
First, it is much easier for the body to digest when compared to non fermented bread dough. When wheat is not soaked or fermented, it contains phytic acid, which combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the digestive system and blocks their absorption. (Nourishing Traditions, Fallon, 1999, page 25)
Whole grains also have enzyme inhibitors which can get in the way of digestion-- this is another reason why people can have a really hard time (stomach cramps, bloating, gas) when they've consumed grains not properly pre-processed (soaked, fermented) before eating.
Organic IS important
If you aren't eating a USDA Certified organic bread, then you are eating genetically modified wheat, grown using glyphosate pesticide (aka RoundUp.) Wheat is especially important to eat organic for this reason.
Bread Free Sandwiches
Using lettuce wraps as your alternative to bread or bun is totally an option! Get creative.
Building a Gut Friendly Sandwich
Choose a better bread: Gluten free, sourdough, organic
Opt for avocado oil mayonnaise. The traditional mayo we grew up on is full of inflammatory seed oils. Brands we love are Chosen, Acid League and Primal Kitchen.
We do not advocate using any vegan brands of mayo as they are typically seed oil based, often from canola oil, a GMO crop which is also heavily sprayed with glyphosate. (Same goes for vegan "butter" which is basically margarine, marketed as an innovative health food.)
Choose a better lunch meat: there are many "cleaner" options of healthier lunch meats, such as Applegate Farms.
Many lunch meats can contain high levels of nitrates, concentrated sodium, so they aren't a good choice for kids or adults.
Opt for a protein salad: use our sardine salad recipe, make a chicken salad sandwich or egg salad sandwich.
Veg that sandwich out! Tomatoes, micro greens, arugula and sweet onions are our favorite fresh vegetables to add in. Or ditch the bread--ever have a tomato stuffed with sardine salad or leftover rotisserie chicken salad... it's so good!
Remember those ferments: Sliced pickles or a spread of kraut make for a super flavorful sandwich. You are NOT limited to a Rueben sandwich when it comes kraut!
Here's another healthy lunch recipe that's also an OMP fan favorite. Our Keto-Friendly Recipe: Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Kimchi.
Wrapping Up your Easy Lunch Ideas!
Have we inspired you? Finding new healthy lunch recipes does NOT have to be overwhelming or mean a radical lifestyle change. It may just mean small, incremental changes, like opting for a better bread, or getting more creative with your daily salad.
If you're ready to get started making easy lunch recipes, first make sure your pantry is packed with the basics we mentioned above. Feel good knowing you're all set to grab and go, while creating a healthy lunch that's perfect for your gut health AND will give your body what it needs to do it's best.
Stock Up on Fermented Foods:
How do I eat fermented foods for my gut health?
Our quick guide has the answers. Get 20+ meal ideas, tips, hacks and snacks for your best gut ever.