Packable Lunch Ideas for When You’re On the Go
Words Jennifer Geddes
When you’re making lunch to take to the office, or to bring along on your errands, or to pack into your kids’ lunchbox, keep in mind that a healthy midday meal is a must for maintaining high energy levels and a steady mood. And yet, it can be tempting to just grab a snack instead, when prepping a good-for-you lunch can be almost as fast and so much more satisfying.
To the rescue: Lots of easy, packable lunch ideas including anything-but-boring salads, soothing soups, wholesome grain bowls, and much more. Even better, these delicious and healthy options are quick to make, and they’re even more appealing when they’re packed in sturdy, good-looking containers that you can carry with confidence, knowing they won’t leak or spill.
Check out these recipes and tips for on the go lunches that’ll power you through a busy day.
Healthy Lunch on the Go Recipes
Your on the go lunch gets a whole lot easier once you get into the habit of batch cooking and strategic prepping, and it gets a lot more fun too when you start throwing together outside-the-box combinations. And when you pack up your lunch in a lightweight, durable container that cuts down on single-use plastic—plus it holds your sandwich together, keeps your salad in perfect condition, and fits your other lunch foods just right—your midday meal hits new levels of deliciousness. Here’s some inspiration:
Salad Lunch on the Go
- Chopped Greek salad: The beauty of chopped salad is that it’s often filled with sturdy veggies (cucumbers, olives, tomatoes) that won’t quickly wilt if you have to duck into a meeting halfway through lunch. Pump up the protein here with some canned beans, grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, or chunks of seared tofu.
- Roasted cauliflower kale salad: This easy roasted-veggie salad is a true standout thanks to the intensely flavorful dressing drizzled over the kale. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds on top echoes the nutty sauce, but you can sub in another crunchy option, such as toasted pecans or pine nuts.
- Grilled fruit mix-ins, including pineapple and even avocado, are an unusual and delicious way to amp up healthy packable lunch ideas like salads, and they work just as well in grain bowls or sandwiches. No grill? Use a stovetop pan or your broiler.
Soup Lunch on the Go
Homemade soup is so satisfying, and it’s a great way to use up languishing produce in your crisper drawer.
- Perfect pureed soup: Roast veggies, add liquid, whiz soup with an immersion blender, garnish—and voilà! Smooth and creamy pureed soup for the win.
- Black bean soup is one of four different varieties you can make if you master a simple vegetarian base.
Keto Lunch on the Go
Want to focus on protein-filled, low-carb options? These keto lunch recipes are your go-to:
- Poached chicken, shrimp or salmon: These easy-to-prep proteins make a versatile base for your lunch. For example, you can slice chicken to roll up in tacos or place over a salad; nestle shrimp with veggies in summer rolls; or flake salmon to mix with whole grains or layer on top of salad greens.
- Hard-boiled eggs are the ideal keto food as they contain protein and are endlessly customizable. Try egg salad made with Greek yogurt, or sliced egg on toast topped with microgreens and everything-bagel spice.
Vegetarian Lunch on the Go
If meat isn’t your jam, try these tasty, veg-forward packable lunch ideas:
- Nutty quinoa is an excellent backdrop for grain bowls or stir fries, or for sprinkling over a salad to get an extra hit of protein.
- Watermelon and feta is a classic sweet and salty pairing that’ll light up your taste buds. Pack this combo in a two-level salad container so you can marinate the feta in a tangy dressing and then add it to the fruit.
- Homemade hummus is levels above store-bought, and easily made in a food processor. Smear hummus on a spinach wrap with shredded carrots, slices of baked tofu and red pepper strips and then roll it like a cigar.
Vegan Lunch on the Go
Plant-based lunches are a healthy and eco-conscious option. Here are ideas for a flavor-packed vegan lunch:
- Overnight oats: This nutritious, low-maintenance meal isn’t just for breakfast. You can add savory mix-ins (think avocado, nuts, tofu) to turn it into a tasty and filling lunch.
- Veggie chips are easy to bang out with a mandoline slicer, and they’re the perfect add-on to a salad or a hummus sandwich at your desk.
- Roasted sweet potato salad is equally tasty when served warm or at room temperature, and you can make it ahead to save time in the morning.
Sauces and Dressings on the Go
Adding a sauce or dressing to your on-the-go lunch can seriously amp up the flavor, not to mention the nutrient content—but the liquid can also make your food soggy if you don’t pack it separately. Solution? Make your sauce or dressing at home, and pack it in a mess-free, no-drip silicone squeeze bottle so you can mix it into your lunch right before you’re ready to eat.
- Tahini lemon dressing is a clutch vegan sauce that’ll greatly improve plain salad greens or raw veggies.
- Green Goddess dressing is an all-time classic that works just as nicely on grilled salmon, grain bowls, pasta salad and roasted veggies as it does on green salads.
- Tahini sauce is equally fantastic when drizzled over falafel or mixed into a grain bowl.
- Aioli sauce adds a garlicky, lemony punch to chicken, seafood, roasted potatoes or a veggie sandwich.
Snack Ideas on the Go
That 3 p.m. meeting won’t feel like a drag if you add some quick snacks—in their own perfectly portable and leakproof container—to your packable lunch ideas:
- Roasted chickpeas are just the nutty, crunchy, salty hit you need to stay on task (and away from the vending machine) between meals.
- Choco-peanut bites: Make a batch of these sweet and chewy orbs to stash in your desk, car, purse—or wherever you tend to feel hangry.
- Berries, snap peas and other crunchy fruits or veggies make refreshing snacks any time of day, and they’ll stay fresh and dry if you pack them in a container with its own built-in colander.
How to Pack Your Lunch to Keep it Cold
Truth: Sometimes you just can’t find space for your lunch in that too-small work fridge. Or maybe you’re zipping around town without access to a cold spot where you can stash your meal. To keep your food fresh, surround it with ice or cold gel packs until it’s time to eat.
By sandwiching your healthy on the go lunch between two cold sources and then toting it in an insulated bag, the temperature can be kept lower than 40 F, which is the safe zone when eating a packable lunch on the go, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
You can even go green with your cold packs by reusing old water bottles. Fill these vessels and freeze them, then lay one on either side of your 2-cup divided container. Bonus: When it’s lunchtime, you already have icy drinks at the ready.
How to Heat Lunch on the Go
Your best bet when it comes to heating your healthy on the go lunches is to pick a container that’s safe for microwave use. You can also divide your packable lunch into sections and then reheat just the grains or protein portion of your meal.
This two-part container allows you to store (and heat) pasta in one section and store some steamed vegetables in the other—plus it’s leakproof, thanks to the locking clips, and has handles that stay cool after microwaving. The box even looks like ceramic, making your lunch so chic. This portable salad container has separate sections to keep your wet and dry ingredients apart until you’re ready to eat, and you can also use it for foods like chili or soup—so you can keep mix-ins or toppings apart and reheat the rest.