the art of packing lunch
"Wasn't it easier in your lunch box days?"
Yup, I just quoted Taylor Swift (haters gonna hate). Anyway, it's a completely relevant quote, because this post is all about lunch boxes and how to pack a lunch you're excited to eat.
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a mom that packed my lunch for me every single day. My lunches ranged from triple decker PB & banana & walnut sandwiches with lots of honey and cinnamon (being a competitive swimmer means you have a bottomless pit of a stomach), to collard wraps stuffed with quinoa, to fried rice.
Regardless, I was always excited to eat lunch and I never had to worry about meal-prepping.
In college, I was away most of the day in classes or at an internship. I would bring leftovers for lunch sometimes, or salad, but it got increasingly more difficult. As my first 40+ hour/week internship started, my health declined party because I was absolutely terrible at packing lunch.
By the time my second internship rolled around, I definitely got better. I relied on pre-cut kale and an assortment of salad toppings to create salads in my office kitchen (I got major props from my co-workers for my kale-eating habits), but I still hit up the Whole Foods hot bar more often than I'd like.
So how do we pack a lunch that we're excited to eat and not spend too much time or effort doing it? Well, keep reading to find out.
How to Pack Your Lunch (As a Grown Up)
1. Invest in a handy lunch box.
Bento-style lunchboxes come in handy because it allows you to carry just one container and have everything pre-portioned and separated. One compartment for snacks, one for the main meal, one for sides...
Find a lunchbox that you like and that works for you. This might take some tries. Either buy them from a place with a good return policy (like Costco) or give them/sell them to your friends and family if you end up not liking them.
2. Pack things you like eating.
OK, Captain Obvious, you might be thinking, DUH. But before you turn on the major sass, listen up: a lot of people pack lunches that are quick and give them sustenance, but don't necessarily sound appealing or are things that they find joy in eating.
Example: Is it easier to pack a ham and turkey sandwich or easier to create a mushroom ravioli dish at 7am when you're rushing out the door?
The key to this is bringing leftovers from the night before or meal-prepping so you don't have to even worry about putting something together the morning of. Plus, if you pack something you like, you'll be less likely to choose eating out over eating the lunch you brought.
3. Pack enough food.
Make sure everything is balanced, but also make sure you have enough food. Feeling hungry/snacky at work is the worst. The ideal combo for me is something with fat + protein + a fruit, or a protein bar as a snack or on the side (because I know I'll be hungry later).
Snacks I keep at my desk: VT Smoke meat sticks, mixed nuts, and RX bars.
4. Keep condiments at your desk.
If your office doesn't have them, that is. I used to keep sample-sized salad dressing packets, hot sauce, extra virgin olive oil, Himalayan sea salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, sample-sized hemp hearts, and lemon juice at my desk.
It sounds like a pantry but it comes in handy when you've realized that your lunch has way less flavor than you'd like.
Other things I like keeping at my desk: Pukka ginger lemon tea, a jar of nut butter (or single serve packets of nut butter), and unsweetened dairy free milk. If you have a communal freezer, keep frozen fruit and veggies in there — those come in handy if you need something to add to yogurt or salads.
5. Pre-pack or prep as many things as possible.
I hate meal prepping. I don't love cooking a big batch of something at the beginning of the week and eating the same thing every single day, mostly because I know I probably won't actually feel like eating it.
One thing that I do do that saves me a ton of time is prepping all the fruit and vegetables at the beginning of the week.
When I buy kale, I'll cut, wash, dry, and pack it all away in a Tupperware container (or Ziploc bag) with paper towels to keep out the moisture. This keeps it fresh for up to two weeks (if you change out the paper towels after week one).
Carrots are also handy to cut ahead of time (I don't buy baby carrots — they're more expensive and kind of freak me out) and making a ton of hard-boiled eggs ahead of time is also a quick and easy form of prep.
Single-serve products are also your best friend. Either pre-portion it ahead of time so you can grab and go, or buy them already portioned (though this tends to be more expensive and uses more plastic, so use your best judgment based on your budget and time).
Examples of things that work great in single-serve: Trader Joe's guac to-go (really awesome if you don't have ripe avocados), nut butter (I like Artisana, Nut Butter Nation, Georgia Grinders, and Wild Friends packets), trail mix/nuts (I portion it out into mini Tupperware portions), collagen, and coconut/MCT oil (great to add to coffee).
Snack: Almonds and/or fruit or a bar
Lunch: Salad + protein + fat
Snack: Almonds and/or fruit or a bar
Quick Breakfast Ideas
- Smoothie/smoothie bowl
- Eggs + fats (avo, nut butter, tahini, smoked salmon)
- Chia seed pudding
- Dairy free yogurt bowl with sweet potatoes or grain-free granola
- Grain-free (no)atmeal or 5 minute breakfast bowl
- Breakfast salad
- Grain free breakfast baked goods
- Breakfast egg casserole
- Bulletproof coffee
- 2-ingredient Paleo pancakes
portable lunch ideas
- VT Smoke & Cure meat sticks, jerky, or any other type of meat stick
- RXBars, Perfect Bars, or any other sugar-free, minimally processed protein bar (see my top 7 protein bars here)
- Dairy free yogurt + nuts + fruit
- Fruit + nuts
- Guac/dairy free cheese/hummus + vegetables