50 Healthy Lunch Ideas to Spice Up Your Lunch Hour

50 Healthy Lunch Ideas to Spice Up Your Lunch Hour

by Sue Jones
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Finding tasty, healthy lunch ideas that you actually have the time to make can sometimes feel easier said than done. Whether you work from home or in an office, finding a moment to whip up anything beyond a PB&J may feel like a miracle when you’re juggling what feels like one million different tasks at once. 

The truth is, there are so many homemade lunch ideas and healthy lunch recipes that will satisfy both your cravings and appetite without torpedoing your busy workday. Yes, they do take a little more work and planning than a ham-and-cheese or can of soup, but not necessarily a ton of active cooking time. You can often get away with just a few minutes of work to fix yourself a good, healthy lunch—it just requires thinking ahead, picking up a few clutch items on your regular grocery shopping trip, taking some clever shortcuts, or doing some healthy meal prep. (Think: cooking rice ahead of time for an instantaneous grain bowl, swapping homemade salsa for store-bought in a zesty taco meal, or baking sheet-pan batches of veggies on Sunday to use in your salads and sandwiches.) And, of course, it’s also helpful to choose a healthy lunch recipe that is actually realistic and exciting for you to make.  

While there are a few factors surrounding what makes a lunch meal healthy for you as an individual—more on that below—the first is making sure your meal will be satisfying and balanced. Generally speaking, a filling meal usually has three or four food different groups (fat, protein, starch, and fruits/vegetables), SELF columnist Jessica Jones, M.S., R.D., certified diabetes educator and cofounder of Food Heaven, tells SELF. That way, you get a balanced variety of textures and flavors to please your palate, along with different nutrients to provide you with a steady stream of energy, Jones says.

Another thing that’s always helpful to have in mind with bringing easy, healthy lunch ideas to life is that you shouldn’t fear making substitutions or tweaking recipes to suit you—including your taste preferences, budget, time constraints, dietary needs, and access to certain ingredients. “I think of recipes as a guide or inspiration,” Cara Harbstreet, M.S., R.D., L.D., of Street Smart Nutrition, tells SELF. “There are many ways to adjust recipes that still preserve the essence of the dish.” For instance, you might switch out quinoa for wild rice, turn the components of a salad into a sandwich, or choose a different variety of veggie that’s in season where you live. 

With those basics in mind, if you’re looking for some inspiration to help you figure out what will hit the spot midday, check out these 50 easy lunch recipes for same new and delicious healthy lunch ideas.

A note about the word healthy here: We know that healthy is a complicated concept. Not only can it mean different things to different people, but it’s a word that’s pretty loaded (and sometimes fraught), thanks to the diet industry’s influence on the way we think about food. At SELF, when we talk about food being healthy, sure, we’re talking about foods that are nutritious, filling, and satisfying. But we’re also talking about foods that help you connect with your culture, promote joy, and simply taste delicious. Some of those foods might fall into conventional ideas of what “healthy” is. And some might not. We selected these recipes with all of that in mind while also trying to appeal to a wide variety of nutritional needs and taste buds.

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