Five Tips To Packing A Healthy Lunch (Plus recipes!)

Now that summer’s winding down, kids are heading back to school and lots of parents are heading to work.  Packing your lunch can save money, and it can help you make smarter nutritional choices as well. Here are five tips to packing easy, healthy and fresh lunches everyone will innovative recipes to try!

1) Choose whole ingredients.

Unhealthy lunches often include processed food with high amounts of carbohydrates, trans fats, sugar, salt, food coloring and nitrites.  While chips, cookies, cupcakes and deli meats are commonly marketed as lunch options, they’re filled with empty calories and other unhealthy ingredients.  When you choose “whole” foods, like unprocessed proteins, fruits and vegetables, your body will thank you!

2) Balance your meal.

Because processed foods are often high in carbohydrates, they cause your blood sugar to spike when you finish eating and crash in the mid-afternoon, worsening the 2 p.m. slump that leads many people to drink sugary energy drinks or hit the vending machine for yet another unhealthy snack.  Balancing your lunch with protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates will help prevent the afternoon energy crash, and it’ll ensure you’re getting a well-balanced midday meal.

3) Addition = Subtraction.

A simple way to make your lunch more nutritious is to include at least three servings of fruits and vegetables in each lunch.  The more servings of fruits and vegetables you add, the more unhealthy options you’ll subtract from your lunchbox.

In addition, filling up on produce means your stomach will have less room for unhealthy choices later in the day.  It’ll also ensure you’re packing in as many vitamins, minerals and grams of fiber as possible!

You can add lettuce, tomatoes,  spinach, cucumbers, peppers and other fresh vegetables to sandwiches and wraps. Opt for sliced raw vegetables instead of chips and fresh fruit instead of cookies, and soon your lunch will have the healthy makeover it deserves.

4) Put time on your side.

We know the rush to get to work or school in the morning can make it difficult to pack a healthy lunch as you’re trying to get out the door.  But there are a few ways to save yourself time in the morning so you don’t feel pressured to make unhealthy meal choices.

You can use dinner leftovers to make healthy lunches the following day.  For example, adding last night’s salad greens to your wrap, using last night’s roasted chicken to make a healthy burrito bowl or taking leftover fruit salad as your dessert are healthy (and economical!) ways to pack a lunch that’s both nutritious and expeditious.   

Also, consider packing everyone’s lunch the night before so you can prepare a thoughtful lunch that’s easy to grab-and-go in the morning!

5) Think outside the bread.

Sandwiches are easy lunch options, but depending on what’s in between the slices, they can be less-than-healthy choices.  By opting for a more creative lunch, you can often decrease carbs and calories, and create a meal you’ll look forward to enjoying on your break.  Looking for non-sandwich ideas?  Try lettuce wraps, salads, burrito bowls, crackers and cheese, pita and hummus or raw vegetables dipped in tzatziki sauce to make your lunches healthy and enjoyable.

Here are a few creative, nutritious lunch recipes to try!

Skinny Burrito In A Jar

Lemony Kale Chickpea Avocado Salad

Vegan Black Bean & Sweet Potato Salad

Smoked Salmon Lettuce Cups

Root Vegetable Buddha Bowls  


At Golden Gate Urgent Care, we have six Bay Area locations open seven days a week to help you and your family stay as healthy as possible!  If you need us, make an appointment online or simply walk in.

Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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