One of the real enemies is the midday meal. With our crazy busy schedules, many of us barely have the time to make dinner—let alone pack our own lunch. As a result, we resort to grabbing or ordering takeout, which a 2013 study published in BMJ discovered averages a staggering 836 calories a meal! And don’t think you’re in the clear if you’re into those big salads: Many green meals that seem like healthy lunch ideas actually lack the necessary protein and healthy fats to satisfy your hunger pangs beyond that 3 p.m. meeting, leaving you at risk for diet-derailing cravings. Some have as many calories as a Big Mac!
Instead of ordering online, spend an hour of your weekend meal-prepping for the week ahead. Below, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite healthy lunch ideas and organized them into a two-week menu plan that makes it easy to use the same ingredients in multiple meals—that way you can save time and money, and lose weight at work!
Plus, we ensure each meal is under 400 calories, which will help you keep your diet on track. That way, you cut your average grab-and-go meal calories by over half—a savings of 2,180 calories for a five-day workweek. Work an average of 50 weeks a year, and that’s 109,000 fewer calories consumed—or more than 30 pounds a year!
1. Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Nutrition: 331 calories, 18 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 400 mg sodium, 33 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 9 g protein
We love this take on a classic pasta salad because there are more antioxidant-rich veggies than pasta! Cherry tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, and crumbled feta—key ingredients of the heart-protecting, weight-maintaining Mediterranean diet—are the base for this delicious dish. And the best part? Once you prep the veggies for this salad, it will be easy to throw together the following meals, which require many of the same ingredients.
2. Tuna and Chickpea Pita Sandwiches
Nutrition: 381 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 618 mg sodium, 60 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 11 g sugar, 31 g protein (calculated with all low-fat greek yogurt and mini whole wheat pitas)
This pita pocket is lightened up with the use of low-fat Greek yogurt in place of hefty mayo. This swap allows the flavors of the tuna and chickpeas to be the stars of the show—and helps lower the calorie count. Canned tuna is one of the cheapest and leanest sources of protein and is full of healthy fats like omega-3s. The consumption of these essential fatty acids has been connected with reduced levels of inflammation, a common culprit of weight gain.
3. Chickpea, Farro & Greens Salad
Nutrition: 390 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 823 mg sodium, 42 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 13 g protein (calculated with 1 cup each chickpeas and cooked farro, ¼ cup each feta, kalamata olives, pumpkin seeds, and 4 Tbsp dressing)
This hearty salad is a basic blend of protein-rich farro and mixed greens. The garnishes—which range from kalamata olives and feta to pepitas and chickpeas—take it to the next level when it comes to taste and, most importantly, nutrition. This meat-free meal is a surprisingly great source of iron, a nutrient that keeps your metabolism humming. Just one serving of this salad provides 30 percent of the day’s recommended intake.
4. Grilled Chicken & Hummus Open-Face Sandwich
Nutrition: 400 calories, 13 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 532 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 44 g protein (calculated with 1 slice sprouted whole grain Ezekiel toast instead of wrap, 4 oz chicken per serving)
Because wraps will use up a significant portion of your 400 calories (140, on average), we like to turn this wrap into an open-face sandwich. Just smear a layer of hummus onto a toasted slice of Ezekiel whole grain bread, layer on some cucumbers, feta, and tomatoes, and then top with slices of grilled chicken breast. If you’re feeling up to it, you can simply make your own hummus with the leftover chickpeas you have from the previous day! Not up for the extra cooking? No biggie; just make sure your store-bought hummus is ETNT-approved.
5. Spinach Artichoke Quiche Cup
Serves: 3 (4 cups each)
Nutrition: 325 calories, 16 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 890 mg sodium, 18 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 25 g protein
Most quiches are burdened by excessive amounts of heavy cream and a trans-fat-laden crust—but not this one. These portion-controlled quiches dispense with the heavy dose of dairy and unnecessary crust and instead get their flavor and substance from antioxidant-dense artichoke hearts, spinach, and aromatic onion. Better than the fact that this recipe takes mere minutes to whip up is that you can easily freeze the rest of the batch for future lunches or even for on-the-go breakfasts! If you’re normally in a hurry in the morning, don’t skip out on the most important meal of the day and learn how to choose the best breakfast for your body goals.
6. Baked Tofu Sushi Bowl
Nutrition: 395 calories, 16 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 826 mg sodium, 50 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 20 g protein (calculated with 1 tsp honey, ½ cup brown rice per serving)
Enjoy the taste of sushi without all the unnecessary calories from extra rice! This bowl is a perfect balance of carbs, fiber, and protein. The perfect high-protein substitute for raw fish (which, unfortunately, isn’t the best lunch box protein) is the extra-firm tofu used in this recipe. If you’re going to eat tofu, make sure it’s non-GMO and organic, like House Foods’ Organic Tofu (you can pick it up at Costco). The reasoning is because GMO soy products may contain traces of pesticides, which have been known to disrupt the composition of your gut—an ailment linked to health issues that range from depression to weight gain.
7. Asian Noodle Salad
Nutrition: 373 calories, 22 g fat (3 g sat fat), 650 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 12 g protein
There’s almost nothing better than a spicy noodle salad—well, except for an on-the-go version that can give you a six-pack! The red peppers in this mason jar salad are packed with vitamin C, a nutrient that’s been proven to counteract stress hormones that trigger belly fat storage. And don’t forget the edamame; these beans provide a vegan source of protein and fiber that will stave off stomach rumbles by slowing digestion and stabilizing blood sugar. This is one salad you’ll definitely keep in your weekly lineup!
8. Chicken, Avocado & Red Pepper Pizza
Nutrition: 399 calories, 15 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 456 mg sodium, 31 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 33 g protein (calculated with small naan, ⅕ avocado, 3 oz chicken breast per serving, and without bacon or chipotle ranch sauce)
This meal is the bridge between Asian flavors and the Italian flavors you’ll have for the rest of the week. You’ll use up the rest of your avocado and red peppers in this dish, and then you’ll grill up some chicken which will be used in the following dishes. This personal pizza provides the perfect amount of indulgence while serving up enough healthy, monounsaturated fats from the avocado to keep your brain off your hunger pangs so you can focus on your work. And did we mention the 33 grams of protein? This macronutrient aids rapid weight loss efforts by boosting calorie burn and preserving lean muscle mass.
9. Grilled Chicken Melt with Pesto & Sun-Dried Tomato
Nutrition: 395 calories, 17 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 395 mg sodium, 18 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 35 g protein (calculated with chicken breast)
Nothing screams perfect summer meal more aptly than this Grilled Chicken Melt with Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato Spread. Instead of calorie-laden spreads like mayo or Russian dressing, this sandwich gains extra flavor with a tablespoon each of sun dried tomato and basil pesto. It’s full of slow-digesting protein from the chicken breast and some healthy fats from the mozzarella cheese to help maintain blood glucose levels and speed nutrients through your system. And you thought you couldn’t eat sandwiches while dieting!
10. Caprese Pesto Pasta Salad
Nutrition: 372 calories, 16 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 300 mg sodium, 39 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 14 g protein (calculated with ¾ cup spaghetti)
Instead of the orecchiette this recipe calls for, just use your leftover spaghetti from the Asian Noodle Salad! This simple pasta salad is supplemented with ripe grape tomatoes and creamy mozzarella balls. Mozzarella is one of our favorite best low-calorie snacks because it’s full of satiating fats as well as calcium, a mineral which has been connected to boosting your body’s ability to metabolize fat more efficiently!
11. Carnitas Bowls
Nutrition: 400 calories, 12.5 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 430 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 40 g protein
Who needs Chipotle when you can whip up your own burrito bowl at home—and have enough leftovers for lunch for the whole week? Whip up a batch of this blogger’s carnitas, pair it with some satiating beans, crispy lettuce, corn and rice, and you’ll be feasting on high-protein lunches all week.
12. Pulled Pork Stuffed Sweet Potato
Nutrition: 355 calories, 12.5 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 340 mg sodium, 34 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 28 g protein (calculated with 1/2 serving pork from Carnitas Bowls, 1 cup iceberg lettuce side salad)
A sweet potato is the queen of the slow carbs, meaning your body digests them slowly so they can keep you feeling energized and fuller for longer. Not to mention, sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients known as carotenoids, which can help you burn fat. These antioxidants help to stabilize blood-sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat. Nosh on this vitamin B6-rich meal to give you more energy to burn at the gym after work, and then check out these sweet potato recipes.
13. Carnitas Lettuce Tacos
Nutrition: 380 calories, 19 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 250 mg sodium, 16 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 38 g protein (calculated with a serving of pork from Carnitas Bowls, Greek yogurt instead of mayo)
Who doesn’t love finger food? Save the calories—and carbs—by subbing out your tortilla shells for romaine, bibb, or iceberg lettuce. To up the staying power of your meal, top off your tacos with some healthy monounsaturated fats from an avocado.
14. Carnitas Stuffed Peppers
Nutrition: 400 calories, 18 g fat (7.5 g saturated fat), 370 mg sodium, 18 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 43 g protein (calculated with a serving of pork from Carnitas Bowls, 1 cup low-fat cheddar cheese, 2 peppers per serving)
Reaching your weight loss goals will be easy peasy when you eat these delicious stuffed peppers for lunch. Just add a serving of carnitas, some onion, corn, and even leftover rice into a vitamin-rich poblano pepper, top with a sprinkling of cheese, and broil in the oven. Teeming with slow-digesting healthy fats and muscle-building protein means you won’t be rummaging through your office snack drawer during that 3 pm slump.
15. Pulled Pork Posole
Nutrition: 310 calories, 12.5 g fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 465 mg sodium, 22 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 28 g protein (calculated with 1/2 serving of pork from Carnitas Bowls, regular corn instead of hominy, low-sodium chicken stock)
For your end-of-the-week meal, nothing is easier than throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and letting it simmer on the stove. This low-cal pulled pork posole is the perfect recipe for using up all your leftovers.
16. Thai-Inspired Ground Turkey Skillet
Nutrition: 270 calories, 11.5 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 440 mg sodium, 18 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 25 g protein (calculated with 2 red bell peppers, low-sodium Tamari, grapeseed oil, honey, bibb lettuce, 1 cup brown rice)
Buy a little over one pound (think 1.25) of ground turkey at the beginning of the week and watch it transform into five amazing lunches. Start off the week with this simple turkey skillet inspired by Thai flavors. We like serving it wrapped in lettuce and with a side of brown rice. Using lean ground turkey lowers your calorie and fat content so you get more bang for your nutritional buck when you’re on a calorie-restricted diet. It’s a simple swap that helps everyone cut calories.
17. Turkey Meatball Gyros
Nutrition: 400 calories, 15 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 700 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 8 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 38 g protein
You could always purchase a pre-made Tzatziki sauce, but this recipe shows you it’s super easy to make at home (and it’ll save you from those store-bought sodium bombs). Using pantry staple Greek yogurt as its base means you can whip it up with what you probably have on hand. Add a little dill and parsley—which will be used up in tomorrow’s lunch—and you have a creamy, protein-packed dip that elevates your meal.
18. Greek Zucchini Fritters & Leftover Meatballs
Nutrition: 400 calories, 17 g fat (6 g saturated fat), 800 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 39 g protein (calculated with 1 serving of both meatballs & tzatziki sauce from previous recipe, 1/2 cup feta)
As you’ll soon see, zucchini is like duct tape—it’s pretty versatile. This week, we’re using the carotenoid-rich fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit!) in two ways. First, it’s shredded up and combined with an egg, feta cheese, and herbs in these delicious fritters. Serve with some leftover tzatziki sauce and a couple meatballs and you’re looking at a gourmet meal for only 400 calories.
19. Zucchini Boats
Nutrition: 373 calories, 13 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 670 mg sodium, 39 g carbs, 12 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 29 g protein (calculated with 1-1/2 cups ground turkey instead of brown rice)
Zucchini—take two! Hollow them out and stuff them with ground turkey, beans, a medley of veggies, and top with cheese. Here’s a shortcut: always keep a bag of frozen corn in your freezer to whip up meals like this in a jiffy. And while you’re at it, just stock up on all our healthy pantry staples.
20. Ground Turkey Chili
Nutrition: 360 calories, 9 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 690 mg sodium, 47 g carbs, 14 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 27 g protein (calculated without additional toppings)
Starting to see a pattern here? The end of the week means another soup to use up all your leftovers. And these ingredients were just begging to be made into a spicy turkey chili. It’s not only full of satiating fiber and protein, but this recipe also calls for metabolism-boosting chili powder to get your calorie-burning furnace revving.
21. Veggie Quinoa Salad
Nutrition: 400 calories, 19 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 645 mg sodium, 50 g carbs, 9 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 17 g protein (calculated with ⅓-cup quinoa per serving, ½ oz peanuts per serving, and 1 serving dressing: juice from ½ lime or 1 tbsp, ½ tsp honey, ⅛ tsp sesame oil, ½ tbsp avocado oil, 1 tsp freshly grated ginger, ½ tsp fish sauce)
This week may look intricate, but once you prep all the veggies for this salad by following the recipe in its entirety, you’ll have the same produce chopped and ready for each of the following days. Just reduce the amount of quinoa you make to a ⅓ cup serving, and whip up a smaller batch of dressing (which we describe above in the nutrition information). Quinoa bowls are some of our favorite meals because they’re full of high-fiber veggies and lots of plant-based protein to keep your energy levels stable throughout the afternoon.
22. Chicken Satay Salad
Nutrition: 350 calories, 17 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 385 mg sodium, 17 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 30 g protein (calculated with warm water instead of, ⅓ cup smooth peanut butter, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp Sriracha instead of sweet chili sauce, 1 serving veggies from Thai Quinoa Salad, 1 chicken thigh per serving)
Make your favorite restaurant appetizer at home with this easy recipe. The flavorful chicken will last all week long, bulking up your veggie dishes with lean protein to fuel your muscles and keep you feeling full. It’s paired with a delicious peanut sauce that doubles as a salad dressing and dipping sauce.
23. Summer Rolls
Nutrition: 400 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 540 mg sodium, 29 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 30 g protein (calculated with 1 serving peanut butter sauce and sub shrimp for 1 chicken thigh from Chicken Satay Salad, 1 serving veggies from Thai Quinoa Salad, 2 spring roll wrappers)
Refreshing cucumber, crispy lettuce, fresh cilantro, and creamy avocado all wrapped up in rice paper wrappers and dipped in an indulgent peanut sauce—there’s only one way we could describe this powerful recipe: as a belly fat-blasting hero.
24. Cold Peanut Noodle Salad
Nutrition: 390 calories, 10 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 300 mg sodium, 58 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 17 g protein (calculated with 2 oz serving whole grain spaghetti, 1 serving peanut butter sauce from Chicken Satay Salad, 1 serving veggies from Thai Quinoa Salad)
Contrary to traditional weight loss mantras, pasta isn’t your enemy. In fact, whole wheat spaghetti is actually a low-glycemic carb, which means your body digests it slowly, keeping your blood sugar from spiking and hunger pangs at bay. It’s never more true than when it’s paired with the healthy fats] found in the peanut sauce and high fiber foods like veggies.
25. Chicken Satay Lettuce Wraps
Nutrition: 340 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 480 mg sodium, 16 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugar, 29 g protein (calculated with 1 serving peanut butter sauce and 1 chicken thigh from Chicken Satay Salad, 1 serving veggies from Thai Quinoa Salad, bibb lettuce)
It’s Friday! What better way to celebrate than with these fun chicken satay lettuce wraps? Again, this recipe is great for using up any leftovers you have from the beginning of the week: everything tastes better when it’s wrapped in buttery bibb lettuce.