Looking for lunch box ideas? Look no further than this post featuring lots of lunch in a box ingredients!
Veggie sandwich / Yogurt and granola / Fruit with mint
Every so often I get requests for lunchbox ideas from those of you who eat your lunches anywhere but home. I refer people to search for posts from “Spring 2010 when I packed my lunch everyday for my internship.” I realize that is a vague response because those posts are hard to find! So here is a post summarizing my favorite lunch box ideas for adults – all real examples from my working and on-campus days.
And if you’re looking for ideas for kids who don’t like school lunches, check out my e-book with 75 kids lunchbox ideas (great ideas for adults too!)
Lunch In A Box Ideas
When packing lunches, I aim for the following nutrition information stats:
- A balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats (I will still feel hungry if one of these is missing)
- Something vegetable (even if it’s just a few greens on a sandwich)
- Around 500 calories (it’s gotta fill me up!)
- A variety of textures, flavors and options (I’m so disappointed if I just have one thing and it’s gone fast)
- Leftovers (a big one!!)
- Nut butter (peanut butter, almond, or sunbutter)
- Deli meat
- Canned fish like tuna, salmon or sardines
- Cottage cheese
- All kinds of fruit
- Whole grain bread
- Cooked grains like brown rice or millet
- Starchy veggies
- Nut butters
- Flax/chia toppings
- Olive oil dressing
My lunchboxes fall into a few big categories:
- Hearty Green Salads
- Fishy Salads or chicken salad
Depending on how hearty the entrée is, I start with that and pack sides of fresh fruit, a simple salad, a whole grain, yogurt and/or a dark chocolate : )
By far my most popular lunchbox item is yogurt – I find it so filling and it sits heavy in my stomach. I have never cared for deli meat that much, so I often pack yogurt as my protein item or top a sandwich with tempeh, cheese or smoked salmon.
I am a huge fan of throwing some mixed greens in a tupperware with some pre-chopped veggies as a side salad. I often just drizzle on some olive oil as dressing to keep things simple. The greens wilt a little but nothing to spoil them. Making my own dressing is fun, and I do pack it from time to time, but it’s too much work for me to pack everyday.
If you’re a big fan of meal prep, there are so many ideas! I would recommend having some pre-cut veggies to toss in like cherry tomatoes, carrots, or bell peppers along with dips like hummus or packaged guacamole.
Following are healthy lunch ideas as examples and links to the posts I ate them in for more information!
Hummus + veggies on whole grain bread plus plain yogurt with pecans and jam plus cantaloupe and mint
Tempeh and jam is one of my favorites! I just slice the raw tempeh and smother on a thin layer of jam.
Tempeh + Jam with peppers, hummus, yogurt and granola
Wraps are another fun sandwich alternative!
Tempeh, Nuttzo and Jam on a tortilla plus a salad with hummus + goat cheese
Nut butter on whole grain bread with salad and goat cheese and a pear. Homemade dressing on the side!
Arugula, goat cheese and jam with peppers, carrots, yogurt and granola
Smoked salmon sandwich with apple and a big salad with homemade dressing
Bean dip spread with arugula plus yogurt, chia seeds, orange and a fig
Nut mini sandwich with grapefruit and a hummus salad
Sharp white cheddar with jam, leftover sauteed veggies and orange
Grilled tofu with pear and Biscoff cookie
Hearty Green Salads
Salad with tempeh, rice and hummus with watermelon + chocolate
Big raw veggies salad with avocado, yogurt/granola and Dakota bread hunks
Salad with avocado, fresh fruit and yogurt/granola
Greens with veggies, grilled eggplant, goat cheese and lentils plus tortilla (Food For Life brand) and some leftover pumpkin bread
Hummus salad plus yogurt-granola and kiwi
Leftovers and Mixed Plates
Leftover baked beans, cottage cheese with flax and butterscotch chips, watermelon and leftover veggies
Hard boiled egg with mango, big cracker and veggies with homemade curry hummus
Millet salad, leftover dinner veggies, apple and yogurt
Leftover cold noodle salad with veggies on top, yogurt and an orange
Leftover tempeh orange stir-fry with crackers and an orange
Leftover cooked cabbage, veggies and nut butter, yogurt/granola and fresh fruit
Millet and lentils with veggies, crackers, clementines
Leftover greens, carrots, yogurt/granola, apple, crackers
Canned salmon or tuna salad is a favorite. Prepared with chopped carrots/celery/peppers, a tiny bit of mayo and mustard and often, curry powder.
Salmon Salad + Yogurt/Granola + Kashi Crackers + Grapes
Sardine salad! Can be served with scoopers or on a sandwich
Here on a sandwich with fresh fruit, snow peas and chocolate
My Favorite Lunchboxes
By far my all-time favorite lunch box (literally) is this Built NY one.
Benefits of Built NY:
- Stretchable (great for big tupperware)
- Smashable (ideal for the end of the day)
- WASHABLE (a must for any lunchbox)
Lunchboxes For Kids
But for my kids I prefer a bento boxes! Truly ideal for both adults and kids, they are quick and easy to pack because you just use the one main container. I find bentos easy lunch boxes to wash too because again, there’s just one big thing to wash instead of a lot of tiny lids or wasteful baggies.
This is the Pottery Barn lunchbox we use for the kids. While the metal bentos are nice, I like the taller sides here for holding more of one thing instead of a tiny bit of a bunch of things. Sometimes they even get a surprise in their lunchbox!
Want to learn more about what my kids eat? Check out this post: What My Kids Eat.
While I’d much rather save the time of having to pack a lunch, I do love opening up a lunchbox and enjoying everything I thoughtfully prepared for myself the night before : )
Love this post! I bring my breakfast and lunch to work every single day so these ideas are super helpful! Plus I pack lunch daily for 3 kids and they would enjoy many of these ideas also.
lisa fine says
Great round-up Kath! Very cool to see so many ideas in one place. I remember reading those posts when you were at work and in school, so it’s fun to see them shared again.
This will definitely make it easier in the future for referring readers in need of lunch ideas. I imagine it took a while to put this together, but it’s definitely worth it.
THANK YOU for sharing these lovely lunchbox ideas. Puts my Cambell’s Cup of Soup and a mini Honey Crisp apple to shame for today. Can’t wait to go home tonight and try to mimic one of these great meals!
lovin that bag! I’m a 5 day a week homemade lunch girl myself.
Hey, I usually associate tempeh with savory flavors. Tempeh and jam? Is that a common combination I’m just not aware of? It would never cross my mind to pair the two! 🙂
Me too, Tonya! And I’ve always pan seared my tempeh…
Jane @ Not Plain So Jane says
Great post. I generally try to follow the same guidelines whether I pack my lunch or eat at the hospital cafeteria!
I miss hearing about your classes! Oh but then again, now I get to hear about Maze!
This is probably the post I’ve ever read!! Thank you so much!
Anele @ Success Along the Weigh says
OMG, can I just say how much I LOOOOOOOVE this post!?!? You rock girl! So pinning this!
I always thought hummus was a good meatless protein source too, but almost every brand I buy only has 1 or 2 grams of protein per 2 tbsp! Seems like it is a better fat source than protein source. Isn’t that odd? I feel like everyone (me included!) has used it as a protein replacement but I was so shocked to see the low protein content.
Still delicious, though 🙂
I think making it yourself with fresh beans probably would make it lean more towards the protein side – but I suppose we all don’t have time to do that every time
Holy yum!! Such great ideas! I am personally a leftover girl, but I like the idea of veggies and homemade hummus for a snack. 🙂
Tempeh and jam! You just blew my mind. I love reading food combinations that I know I would not come up with on my own. Thanks!
Lindsey @ Pas de Deux says
Thanks for this fun round-up, and glimpse of your “past lives”! I tend to be a hearty salad, plus a side of carbs and fruit kinda girl. I’m planning to make your sardine salad for my own packed lunch later this week. I’ve had a can of TJ’s sardines for months, and finally have celery and carrots on hand to make a tasty salad.
Ahhh…raw tempeh sandwiches, how I’ve missed seeing you featured! 🙂
You turned me on to built lunch sacks years ago, and I’ve now got a whole collection of various sizes and designs…they are the best!
Terrific work on this tutorial, Kath!
Yum. Thanks for this lunch box post. I always have such high aspirations for packing awesome lunches and then I get busy and end up throwing whatever random food I can into my lunch box and running out the door.
Lisa @bitesforbabies says
We have a lot in common…my diet is very similar and I have the same lunchbox, love it!!!
This is such a great reference! These are also great picnic ideas for when the weather get’s nice outside.
Katie @ Peace Love and Oats says
Great ideas! I think the hardest part for me at law school is that I can’t refrigerate anything so I get nervous about bringing yogurt!
jenna k says
i’m in school too, so i face the same problem. i put mine in with an ice pack at 9am, and it’s still fine to eat around 4pm! that’s when it has juuuust started to move towards room temperature, but only just. i usually save it for a snack, but it would still be perfectly cool at 1pm for my lunch!
You can also try a freezable lunch bag – http://www.amazon.com/PackIt-Freezable-Lunch-Bag-Forget/dp/B004SIX9YY/ref=sr_1_2?srs=3037845011&ie=UTF8&qid=1363794116&sr=8-2
I have one and LOVE it! It keeps food cold all day.
[email protected] says
I freeze my individual yogurts overnight, then bring them to school. They should be thawed 4-5 hours later, and once stirred, have the consistency like frozen yogurt:) you can bring an ice pack a little icepack if you are nervous about temps. It works great!
Kaila @healthyhelperblog! says
Great ideas! I always have to pack up food for one engagement or the other so this is really helpful for some inspiration!
Carly @ Snack Therapy says
Loving this post. I eat lunch away from home most days and I get so bored with the food I pack sometimes. I love having a fun, delicious lunch to look forward to!
Natalie @ will jog for food says
Tempeh and jam sounds very interesting! I’ll have to try it 🙂
Amanda, RD- The Nutritionist Reviews says
I pack my lunch everyday and appreciate the tips. Thanks!
This post is super awesome! So helpful and so fun to read 🙂 Thanks for doing what you do!
Great post! Lots of great ideas. I pack my breakfast & lunch everyday for work.
Claire @ Health Nut Claire says
Great post! Especially for a college student, haha.
I wasn’t one asking for ideas, but this post has given me some good ideas. I got into the habit of Amy’s frozen meals at work everyday and I’d like to get away from that.
lynn @ the actor's diet says
my husband and i just stopped in a rest stop w a vintage lunchbox collection and were talking about our favorite boxed lunches yesterday! http://theactorsdiet.com/2013/03/18/apricot-tree-restaurant/
I love my Built lunchbox! I’ve had it for four years or so and I love that I can just throw it in the washing machine if it gets nasty!
Bruna @ morgbu.com says
WOW! Thank you so much for posting this, I needed some extra ideas… Will sure add those to my list of options 🙂
Wow!! So many amazing lunch ideas. This post is a godsend 😉 I’m pinning this so I can come back to it later.
Great Post! Do you have any tips for keeping things cold? What are some general rules for food safety when you pack your lunch and won’t be able to keep it in the fridge?
A few ice packs in an insulated lunch box should be just fine to get from fridge to lunch. I usually just stuck one of those blue packs in my box. Going from breakfast to dinnertime might be a bit more challenging without a cooler.
Check out this freezable lunch bag. I have one and love it! There are many days that I leave at 9 am for school and still have cold yogurt at 6 pm. My classmate recommended it to me… and several of us commuters all bought one and fell in love!
Cindy Love Childers says
Kath, this post is WONDERFUL! Quick question for you if you have time to answer. Before you guys started the Great Harvest Bakery, where did you get all this yummy looking bread? We are in Virginia Beach and sadly 🙁 there is no Great Harvest near here or I’d probably by all my bread there! Just wondering what you did pre-bakery. Did you make all your bread? Do you recommend certain chain grocery stores specific breads, etc? These breads just look so much better than what I find at my local grocery store. They all look very homemade/rustic. Thanks! Cindy
We got it from the Great Harvest where Matt worked 🙂 Before that, I would get random grocery store bakery bread from places like Fresh Market or the Harris Teeter bakery. I never really found a mass-produced bread I liked very much (surprise, surprise)
Sarena (The Non-Dairy Queen) says
Great post Kath! It’s always great to get new ideas or lunches!
Nice round up–but I just have one thing to add as a PSA to others: don’t be that person that eats fishy salads in a traditional office setting!! Haha. It is such a pungent smell that sticks around the cubes all day. So if you are going to eat your fish, take it away from your desk!
Sara @ fitcupcaker says
Great lunch ideas, Now I need to go eat something 🙂
Very helpful! Keep up the great posts.
Can you tell me where you got those adorable green and orange spoons featured in some of these pictures? 🙂
They’re from Crate + Barrel
[email protected] says
I’ve packed soooo many meals over the years! Until I graduated college last May, I packed Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & 2 snacks Monday-Friday. Sheesh! Lots of great tips 🙂
Elise @ Expeditions of Elise says
Packed lunches are so fun! This summer I’ll have to bring my lunch to school every day (no dining halls in the summers) and I’m so excited to play with summer flavors in my lunches. Fresh fruits and veggies galore!
Right post at the right time,Kath! I love you!
I like to prep 2 or 3 things on Sundays (chili, soup shredded chicken in the crock pot, homemade meat sauce, chicken breasts for salads) and pre-pack them in single serve tupperware to use for lunches all week long. It’s nice to have a few different options so you don’t get bored. Cut up veggies, fruit and yogurts are my go-to side items as well!!
[email protected] says
I totally need to try tempeh and jam!! You don’t seem to eat a whole lot of tempeh these days, have you just lost touch or you trying to reduce your soy intake? – just me being nosey!
Just forgot about it without packing lunches much. We had it for dinner last week!
Live Love Yum Well says
You don’t mind the heavy feeling from yogurt or a certain food? I would think that’s a bad sign – slows the body and digestion down?
Love the variety!
Not at all!! It’s fullness and satisfying. There’s nothing worse than feeling empty, in my opinion
Great ideas – THANKS!
Kat @ Kat's Health Corner says
I have never thought of pairing tempeh with jelly or nut butter! Genius. And I thought it was weird that I sometimes eat tempeh raw with some mustard or ketchup on the side!
jodea @ chillichocolatelove.com says
Wow, those are amazing and put my small rotation to shame!
Renee King says
I too love my built in NY lunch box. I used to use it when I would take K on picnic lunches. It fit my lunch and his lunch too. You should try that with Mazen when he gets a little older and it gets warmer. Picnic lunches at the park are so much fun with babies, other babies, and your mom friends. Thanks for the healthy lunch ideas
Great post! Reminds me of my 5 minute packable lunch post series!
My favorite part of this post is the title’s nod to SNL, which made me giggle 🙂
I’m doing my dietetic internship right now which is fun because reading about yours (it feels like long ago now!) is what made me what to go back and be an RD!
Hi, I love the fact that even when you’re packing lunches you’re trying to get the balance right between protein, carbohydrates, fats, vegetables, around 500 calories and a variety of textures. Seriously it’s just wow. Don’t know how you manage it.
Amy Ramos says
Thank you for this post! Now I have TONS of lunch ideas for the next few weeks.
Oh and I spot a common theme-a piece of chocolate is not just a necessity, it is a requirement! A gal after my own heart!
Anna @ On Anna's Plate says
Toooooootally singing D*ck in a Box now, thanks to your title. Oh well. 🙂 Thanks for the lunch ideas– every other semester, I bring my lunch to school, post-teaching, and these are some really great ideas!
Jenny Michelle says
I LOVE your lunch ideas! I’m always looking for new ideas, so this is perfect. Many posts don’t have a lot of options, but you packed a ton in one post! I’m obsessed with grapefruit lately…Texas grapefruit is so juicy and sweet (:
Thanks for an awesome post like usual!
Sarah (The Simple Dietitian) says
I remember eating tempeh and jam sandwiches ALL the time after seeing them so often on your blog. But then I totally forgot about them. Thanks for the reintroduction! 😀
Spice Chicken says
Thanks for the great ideas. One of my go-to lunches is a whole wheat tortilla spread with refried beans, topped with a sprinkle of feta and a few generous handfuls of greens (arugula, spinach, etc.) — tasty and eminently packable. I also really like sardine salad with grated carrots, chopped scallions, soy sauce, and a drizzle of sesame oil instead of mustard/mayo or yogurt.
BEST post ever!!! Thank you Kath, this is so helpful.
Have you been to Starr Hill Brewery, South street brewery or Devil’s Backbone? What did you think?
I haven’t been to Starr Hill yet. DB is great. South Street is more brew pub than brewery. Blue Mountain is my fav.
Man oh man, I wish I could be that disciplined. Sometimes I’ll make your overnight oats and take them to work for breakfast. But, usually I just end up grabbing a Chobani, Larabar and piece of fruit and head out the door. Then once I eat that for breakfast I’m starving by 1:00, which is when I end up spending money at Subway across the street or the pizza place right below us or the Mexican restaurant down the road…none of which are the healthiest and most cost-efficient choices. I need to be disciplined like Kath! Come pack me lunch! Because I know you are looking for more things to fill your day with 😉
I absolutely LOVE this post. It’s filled with so many different lunch combinations I can’t wait to try! Thank you once again for sharing your creativity! You are always inspiring my sister and I in our own kitchen!
You have terrific meal ideas. But how do you post so may of the, and who eats all of the stuff you show? Are you preparing different meals for ten or fifteen people every day?
These are all lunches I’ve had over time
Alex @ Raw Recovery says
This is such a great post…so helpful and comprehensive and I love the pictures. Thank you for taking the time to do this! Great summer picnic ideas too 🙂
Loved this! I’ve been kinda stuck in a rut with lunch ideas so this was perfect timing.
Great post! Thank you for all of the delicious ideas 🙂
I never thought to eat tempeh raw like that! I always thought it had to be cooked. I will have to try that tempeh/jam sandwich!
Kath, I’m really enjoying your new format of your blog since you made the change. This was a great and helpful post. I usually have to pack a lunch and dinner so these ideas are helpful and good building blocks.
Thanks, Kath! This is a great reminder that I can put together something healthy everyday and of how enjoyable that can be!
Wow, this is really helpful! Thanks so much for the great post!
And it also occurs to me that when Mazen starts preschool in 3 years or so I’d love to see your school lunch ideas for him!
Ella P says
Brava! thank you for this lovely post, so useful.
I eat tempeh with jelly too, nice to see I am not the only one 😉
( I have tofu & jelly as well, ehm…)
Great meal ideas! It is so helpful to have visuals of complete lunches. I will definitely refer back to this post when I need inspiration.
I love this post! Great lunch ideas 🙂 Thank you, Kath!
Hey Kath, I am not sure why, but your page shows up enlarged and “not right” on Mozilla Firefox. However, when I use Chrome, it is A-OK.
Do you know why?
But anywho, as a student who is on campus nearly all day and doesn’t like buying meals for budget and health reasons, LOVE THIS POST.
I’m really not sure why. Do you have the latest version??
Thank you so much for this post, Kath! I’ve already read it three times since yesterday 🙂 I always pack leftovers myself (or a peanut butter and banana sandwich if I am stuck!) so it’s great to see some new options. Also, the carb/protein/fat thing is great to keep in mind. It’s very easy to overeat in a desk job so it’s important to pack foods that will satiate! Cheers!
Great ideas for lunches! I work 12 hour shifts and I try to pack all my food for the day or night and sometimes it gets pretty redundant. It’s always nice to see what healthy foods others are packing. I love the look of the bread you show in your pictures. I love my breads and those look great!
Sara @ sarasmiles says
I don’t think I will ever have to think of another lunch to pack for work ever again. This post is great-thanks so much Kath!!
This post is very inspiring! It makes me more excited about packing my lunches. 🙂 Thank You!
Thanks for this post! I’ve been looking forward to it! It was very helpful. Now I just need to find some tempeh…
I’ve been reading about PB2. Do you consider that real food?
Sounded interesting but too processed so I wanted to hear your thoughts.
I think it’s on the minimally processed side since nothing is added to it just subtracted, but I much prefer real peanut butter. It has those healthy fats for a reason : )
Thanks for the ideas!!! However, is raw tempeh safe to eat? Do you heat it first and just eat it cold? http://www.tempeh.info/faq/faq.php I always thought it was something like raw chicken that you had to wash your hands after even handling it raw!
Yes, it’s OK to eat raw
Erin @ The Elliptical Chronicles says
I whole-heartedly believe that since leaving my job and therefore eating lunches at home, my food intake has been so much more nutritious and full of variety. Mainly because I have access to so much more cooking and ingredients. Granted, none of my packed lunches every looked anything remotely as beautiful as your awesome lunch creations pictured above! Great ideas!
This is SO HELPFUL! I’m a student, always pack my lunches, and often feel like I eat the same thing all the time. Thanks for posting 🙂 🙂
Wonderful ideas! My daughter’s starting Kindergarten next year and I was lamenting the quality of school lunches. Luckily she is totally on board with bringing a lunch.
Hmm I’m wondering if you keep the yoghurt that you packed in a fridge or something? Cos usually dairy products can’t withstand room temperature?
All these dishes look delicious. You always create such a healthy variety of foods. It can be difficult to put lunches together that are well-balanced. Do you have a preference between the two yogurts- Oikos or Siggi’s? Which one do you recommend?
I love them both for different reasons. Oikos is smooth and runny and Siggi’s is so thick. Siggi’s flavors are great because they are much lower in sugar. I only eat the plain Oikos.
Thank you! I noticed that Siggi’s is very low in sugar so it seems much healthier. We will have to try Oikos in plain. I’ll bet it’s yummy if you add fruit and granola to it then!
Roar Sweetly says
This post is amazing. What wonderful suggestions for lunch. I love it when I discover a like-minded blog, and have added you to my reader.
Emily - It Comes Naturally Blog says
This post inspired me to try tempeh and jam – fab! http://itcomesnaturallyblog.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/cheesy-blackberry-tempeh-sugar-free-jam/
Lunch in a Box says
Haha, I’m restarting my bento blog and surfed on over here because of your post title. Nice lunches, Kath!
Kathryn Grace says
So many good choices, and not the usual litany of lunch fare either. Thank you for a vibrant, colorful page full of ideas for healthy lunches. I shared it with peeps on my (almost) new Facebook page, Cooking with Whole Grains & Whole Foods.
Great food tips. I really like them and ejoyed while I read them. Thanks for sharing them with us.
Brian Robben says
Love the effort you put into this post by showing many different options. I’m going to try some of these!