Healthy, easy lunch ideas that don’t require cooking

For many of my clients, lunch is a black hole in that it’s the meal that they are most likely to skip or that they struggle to plan.

I’ve observed some common challenges with lunch including:

  • Being bored with all of your lunch options
  • Running out of time to prep lunch, so you end up eating something random and not satisfying
  • Working right through when you should be eating lunch, so you’re hangry and dysregulated by dinner

If this sounds like you, here’s some strategies and meal “templates” with little to no cooking that you can explore to make lunch easier and avoid the 3 pm energy “crash” that often leaves you so hungry you snack your way to dinner.

How to motivate yourself to eat lunch if you tend to skip it.

These things may seem obvious, but if you haven’t tried them, you may want to.

  • If lunchtime is often filled with ZOOM meetings or calls could you block out time in your calendar, so you actually have time to eat something?
  • If you know you’ll be in the car or running around, can you plan a lunch that is travel friendly like a protein shake or things that are easy to eat in the car?
  • If you tend to work through lunch, but *could* break if you wanted to, can you send a really annoying alarm to tell you to take a break?

And yes, there is an element of self parenting here – particularly if you tend to grind away at work when you could take a break and go eat something.

This is where I find it’s helpful to remind yourself of how you want to feel?

Sometimes the outcome (e.g. not being ravenous and cranky at dinner with a headache) is enough to convince yourself to take the time to press pause on work and eat.

Other benefits of eating between bouts of work. Your brain can only focus on tasks for 90ish minutes, so you’ll do better work if you take a break. It’s also easier to focus when we’re fed.

Easy lunch “templates” and inspiration for planning lunch

Note, you could eat any damn thing you want and I highly recommend eating things you like. #duh I’m just offering some suggestions to get your wheels turning on what might make sense for you.

In order to decide what to eat, it helps to know what makes a balanced meal, so you feel satiated and get a mix of nutrients.

To have a balanced meal, you’ll want to include the following:

  • Protein (meat, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese) ~ 25 to 40 grams / meal
  • Starchy Carb (whole grains, potatoes)
  • Fibrous Carb (fruits & vegetables)
  • Fat (avocado, butter, oil, dips, nuts)

Using this framework, here’s some templates!

Template 1: The Snack Plate

These are basically grown-up lunchables. Throw a bunch of things that take little to no prep that you like on a plate and enjoy! If you want to be fancy, they can go on a charcuterie board or one of my clients puts everything in mini muffin tins, which I think is super fun.

  • Protein: Deli meat, tuna, hard boiled eggs, left over meat from the night before, tofu meat alternatives
  • Starchy Carb: Crackers, tortilla strips, pita
  • Fibrous Carb: Chopped raw veggies, fruit
  • Fat: Hummus, dressing, dips, cheese, nuts, olives

Template 2: Frozen Meal with Add-Ons

There’s nothing wrong with frozen meals if they make your life easier. The main thing is they’re sometimes light on something (e.g. low protein or starchy carbs)

The way around this is to just have easy things to add to it!

Some examples:

  • Frozen burrito or wrap with raw vegetables and dip, a side salad, or a piece of fruit, and protein if needed!
  • Frozen mac and cheese with air fried broccoli mixed in, a side salad, fruit, and / or an added protein source
  • Frozen pizza with a side salad, chopped raw veggies, fruit, and / or an added protein source.

Template 3: Leftovers remixed

You can just eat leftovers from the night before, but you may also want to make extras of something to use the following day.

Some examples:

  • Leftover chicken could be added to a salad, sandwich, or wrap.
  • Pasta could be turned into a pasta salad with chicken, chopped raw vegetables, and a dressing.
  • Leftover potatoes can be reheated and eaten with a veggie omelet.

If you’re better at planning dinner vs lunch, consider how dinner can help with lunch prep.

Template 4: Sandwich, Wrap, or Pita

In many ways, this is just a different way to eat a snack plate while also combatting boredom.

Pick a starch (bread, wrap, tortilla, pita) and then turn it into a mega sandwich. Add a protein (eggs, chicken, turkey, tuna, soy vegetarian meat alternative), fat (cheese, spread, mayo, avocado), and veggies (sprouts, lettuce, tomato, sauerkraut) and you have a balanced meal!

To keep things interesting, you can eat your sandwich hot or cold. This has endless options.

You can also add some raw veggies + dip, a salad, or fruit on the side.

Template 5: Giant Salad

This may be obvious, but this can be an easy option for a lot of folks, so I’m including it.

Also, it doesn’t need to be “diet food.” You can make a really satisfying salad if you include a mix of ingredients that you also happen to really enjoy. 

Examples of salad ingredients using the protein / carb / fat / fiber framework:

  • Protein: Deli meat, tuna, hard boiled eggs, left over meat from the night before, tofu meat alternatives
  • Starchy Carb: Tortilla strips, croutons, or bread on the side
  • Fibrous Carb: Fruit, raw or cooked veg, precooked beets or lentils
  • Fat: Dressing, dips, cheese, nuts, olives

Finally, don’t forget that breakfast foods can be eaten at lunch. This includes omelets, cottage cheese / yogurt bowls, or loaded oatmeal, etc.

Tips to increase enjoyment and decrease boredom at lunchtime

I didn’t include dessert or less nutrient dense foods like chips in the template, BUT they can be added to ANY meal to increase enjoyment factor.

If you know you’ll enjoy a meal more if you add a cookie, some chips, etc, go for it. Enjoyment is a legitimate reason to eat something.

How to use the lunch templates to have structure without being bored

Regarding reducing boredom, the beauty of a template is that you can swap ingredients. Use ham instead of chicken. Use different nuts or a different flavor of hummus. Pick a different flavor profile for your meal. Use a tortilla instead of bread or different kind of bread, and so on.

Also, notice how these ingredients can be combined to make different meals (e.g. a salad OR a wrap, a snack plate OR a sandwich.

There’s not one right way to do this. Choose what you like and what makes things easy.

P.S. If you need some support developing sustainable nutrition habits that align with your goals be it more energy, finding a sane approach to weight loss, or better performance in the gym, this is a lot of what I help my nutrition coaching clients with.

Click here to learn more about nutrition coaching!

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