5 Days, 5 Ways… How to Build a Better “On-the-Go” Lunch

Grab your lunch tote and get ready to liven up your midday meal! Whether you regularly eat at your desk, are packing for the beach or a picnic, or otherwise find yourself out and about, I’ve got 5 healthy and flavor-packed lunch ideas for when you’re on-the-go

1. The Quintessential Wrap

Easy, fast and healthy, wraps are a great idea for lunch. Start with a sturdy, whole wheat tortilla and then choose your flavor profile. The main rule is to create a barrier between high-moisture ingredients and the wrap, such as with cheese or a leafy green. The possibilities are endless when it comes to fillings, but here’s a few ideas to get you started.

When I’m craving Middle Eastern, I start by layering a mild white cheese on the base of the tortilla. Cheese adds a creaminess to the wrap, and also protects it from getting soggy. Next, I add a generous smear of hummus and a heaping handful of pre-washed slaw mix, which can be found in the produce section of your local grocer. Grilled chicken, roasted or fresh bell peppers, and kalamata olives come next, and if I’m feeling like a vinegary kick, jarred pepperoncinis. A few crunchy chickpeas add great texture (Biena or Saffron Road are brands you can find in bags at the store) but are totally optional. Roll it up and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

For another option, make a batch of my Curried Turkey Salad. It’s got all you need for a tasty wrap; crunch, creaminess, and healthy protein. Protect the tortilla by placing a layer of lettuce or hearty greens on the bottom.

For a super healthy Latin American-inspired grain wrap, fill your tortilla with quinoa, black beans, feta, corn, and a spoonful of salsa. It’s an excellent vegetarian option.

And don’t forget about your leftovers! Stuffing a tortilla with last night’s dinner is almost always a good idea, unless of course you had soup! But roasted vegetables, chicken and rice, shrimp or leftover grain salads all make for tasty wraps.

2. Greek Grain “Bowl”

Go Mediterranean with a layered Greek salad. Using an upcycled pickle jar (or any other upright container), begin by layering cubed cucumber, bell pepper and cherry tomatoes. Next add a layer of drained, canned chickpeas, then top with feta cheese and a hearty grain such as cooked barley or farro. For those that prefer gluten free, use quinoa- or leave the grains out altogether. In a separate bowl, mix up dried oregano, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, salt, pepper and olive oil. Pour into the salad jar so that the dressing settles to the bottom, pop on the lid and go! At lunch time give it a shake to mix and enjoy with a soft pita.

Just like the wraps above, grain bowls can be any cuisine you fancy. For example, use the same bottom layers as for the Greek salad, but opt for black beans in place of the chickpeas, and add a squeeze of lime juice and pinch of ground cumin to the dressing for a Mexican flare. Instead of a pita, enjoy with tortilla chips. I love to crush them up and add to the salad just after I shake it up. The salty crunch is addictive and adds great texture to the dish.

3. Super Food Salad

The best part about this salad is it can be anything you want it to be, or contain anything you’ve got in the fridge that needs using up, as long as you follow my two basic rules:

First, use a hearty green. That’s right, I’m looking at you kale. For salads on the go, it’s the ideal choice as it won’t wilt or release a bunch of liquid like lettuce will, leaving you with a soggy, sad lunch.

Second, add your dressing ingredients to the bottom of your container. (Hint: I save glass jars or sturdy plastic ice cream containers, such as Talenti, to use for salads). Start by pouring in a little olive oil, vinegar, a squeeze of citrus juice if you have it, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. 

Next, chop up your kale and other veggies. Try celery, sliced fennel, cucumber, shredded carrots, chickpeas or anything else that floats your boat (bell peppers, jicama, I could go on and on…). Toss in some dried cranberries or raisins, and nuts for crunch. Sprinkle shredded or grated cheese if you like and add a bit of protein such as smoked fish, shredded chicken, or a chopped hard-boiled egg. Combine it all in a bowl, then place it in the container on top of your dressing.

When ready to enjoy, turn it upside down for a minute or two, then shake gently. SO much better than take out!

Veggie Sandwich with Red Pepper Cheese Arugula on Crusty Bread

4. Sandwiches, Jacked up

I make sandwiches for my three kids almost every day for school lunch… that’s a lot of sandwiches, so I aim to keep it interesting. Here are a few ideas, which all start with a good rustic crusty bread. 

  • Grab a flavorful hard cheese, such as gouda or pecorino. Slice and layer on the bread. Add sliced apples and candied nuts, then smear a layer of grainy mustard on the top slice.
  • Stop by the olive bar or prepared foods section in the grocery. Pick up grilled vegetables, such as peppers, squash, eggplant (or do it yourself at home), and marinated artichokes. Layer the veggies on your bread with store-bought pesto, and fresh mozzarella cheese.
  • Cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers, tomatoes and onions. ’nuff said.
  • Fig jam, goat cheese or brie cheese, sliced turkey.
  • Try a funky Korean-inspired sammie! Use jarred kimchi, drained of excess liquid, sliced avocado, a squeeze of sriracha sauce, and protein of choice, such as sliced hard-boiled egg, sliced turkey, roast beef or grilled chicken.

5. Make a Homemade Bento Box

Sounds fussy, but it’s SUPER easy and is a way to really mix things up. The night before, make sushi rice according to package directions. While still hot, shake on a little rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and toss. This will make the rice sticky and flavorful. Form into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and place it into a container. Any container will do – it doesn’t need to be a designated bento box. Add sliced tofu or cooked salmon to the box (or another protein of choice), sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, steamed edamame, or other cut up veggies. My kids love a quick, homemade peanut dipping sauce for the veggies and to pour over the protein. It’s a cinch to put together – a spoonful of peanut butter, honey and soy sauce, and combine. Add a little water if it’s too thick. Put the sauce in a separate small jar. Pop in your lunch tote and you’ve got a fun and healthy lunch!

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