Let’s face it. I love bread, sugar, processed foods. I am the poster child for stress eating, and come Shark Week, bring out the potato chips and baked treats. No really, I love my four main food groups—pasta, potstickers, potatoes, and pie (ok, dessert in general).

Just before Halloween, I decided to reset my body by using Orenda’s Clean, Burn, Shape 10-day cleanse. Previously I had tried the 2-day sampler which my trainer gave me and was impressed with the results—a five pound loss! (Sadly, life got in the way and it didn’t last.)

Nevertheless, I figured I had nothing to lose except weight (inflammation) and perhaps curb my sugar addiction, start some new healthy habits, and break some bad ones. I thought of this as a jump start to weight loss through clean eating.

So, how did it go?

It was tough—ten days of grain-free eating—mostly vegetables, legumes, a bit of fruit, drinking tons of water (half my weight in ounces), supplemented with Burn capsules, Clean drink supplement powder, and Shape protein shake powder. No meat, bananas, grains, potatoes, dairy, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners. Here’s the approved shopping list. Thank goodness, I was still able to have caffeine in the form of coffee and tea.

My Challenges
I had a few challenges along the way. Like what do I make for the family? I ended up making food items that I can do auto-pilot and without tasting (gasp! sacrilege for a chef, I know). I even encouraged my daughter to cook for herself as well. Then there was a birthday celebration at a Brazilian steak house, which almost undermined everything, but I made it through with the help and support of friends. I was able to stick to the safe portions of the salad bar.

I also encountered some unexpected speed bumps such as fatigue/sluggishness; withdrawal symptoms (jitters); mild constipation (maybe I needed some more fiber and/or magnesium); sensitivity to cold (I’m usually hot-blooded, but during the cleanse I wore a lot of layers as I felt cold a lot). As annoying as it was to have to go to the bathroom frequently, at least it was for getting rid of excess water instead of the other.

The Results
I stuck with it and lost a total of nine pounds in ten days. Yay! A number of people noticed that I looked less bloated. “You look like you lost a lot of weight,” said a Zumba teacher only 3 days in. I was even able to fit comfortably into some pants which had been very snug around the waist and was able to fit into a dress that I wore before I got married.

I partially sabotaged my efforts within the first 3 days after the cleanse by making some poor food choices. I went out for breakfast with a friend and had country fried steak, eggs, hash browns, biscuits, and gravy. (I didn’t eat even half, but felt ill the rest of the day.) The next day, I went out for Korean BBQ and gorged on ssamgyupsal (pork belly) and kalbi (Korean beef ribs). Sure, I had some veggies too, but the theme was meat, meat, meat. The following day I went out for Italian—fresh baked bread with garlic and olive oil, pappardelle alfredo with shrimp, and lobster/seafood fra diavolo with pasta. It’s no coincidence that pappardelle comes from the verb, pappare, which means “to gobble up.”

The damage—I gained back five pounds. So all in all it was a net of four pounds lost.

Strangely enough, I wasn’t craving sugar. In fact, I didn’t have any sweet treats until after a week post cleanse. I’d be lying if I said that my sugar addiction was cured, however. I had a taste of dessert (a mini sour cherry pie and a carmelita, which was a caramel, chocolate, shortbread concoction topped with a granola streusel), and picture me moaning and closing my eyes in ecstasy. It also didn’t help having a mini-crisis that drove me to eat eight pieces of Halloween candy (thankfully small-sized). But I’m all good now. My sugar cravings are much less than before I started the cleanse.

Lessons Learned
I’ve learned to deal with my sugar cravings as well as figured out ways to eat more fruits and vegetables. I noticed that the sweeter vegetables (carrots, yellow pepper, cherry/grape tomatoes) helped with the sugar cravings and kept me from feeling deprived. Some other strategies to combat the sugar urge—drinking water, deep breathing, nibbling on something crunchy but healthy.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still nervous around sugar. I worry if I start again, I won’t be able to stop. However, I am more aware of the triggers which make me want to turn to junk food for comfort—stress, feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness, anxiety. Once I identify what’s bothering me, the craving decreases a bit.

Yay or Nay?
All things considered, my friend and I decided we would try to do this quarterly even though it’s not cheap! ($160 plus shipping and handling) I think overall the concept of jumpstarting one’s weight-loss plan is good. The fact that it’s not cheap makes one less likely to cheat, at least not during the program.

Tips for Success

  • Do it with a friend (or few) for accountability, support, friendly competition (if that motivates you). If all else, it’s comforting to be able to kvetch with a fellow sufferer. Another bonus of doing the cleanse with a friend is being able to swap soup (for example, my friend made a creamy carrot soup while I made a zingy kabocha squash soup).
  • Figure out combinations that you can rely on without thinking. My no-brainer go-to was guacamole and carrots and cucumbers, as well as honeycrisp apples with a handful of raw peanuts for dessert.
  • Homemade soups are your friend. I made two different soups—kabocha squash soup and a broccoli chick pea soup.
  • Be willing to experiment/try new things. For instance, I enjoyed using different spices such as cayenne, chili powder, and cumin for zing. I also discovered adding apple cider vinegar in some soups gave it some more soul.

What I’d like to try next time…

  • Be better prepared with more food options/combos and plan my menus better
  • Eat mostly organic vs. conventional
  • Drink high pH bottled water, or at least better filtered water than I currently have
  • Figure out a better way to transition back to having meat again (i.e., don’t go to Korean BBQ) as well as slowly incorporate some healthy grains.

Final Thoughts
Although I was encouraged to move onto the 30-day program, I knew that with Thanksgiving coming up, there was no point. The 30-day is slightly more relaxed in that one can have a bit of meat as well as some nuts, and have a “rest day” on Days 8 and 22. Nevertheless, it’s a much bigger commitment than I am ready for—at least right now.

Even though the cleanse is over, I’ve vowed to incorporate some of the practices such as drinking as much water as I can and focusing on eating more fruits and vegetables. I will continue to work on eating less meat, as well as avoiding grains, sugar, and dairy.

Make no excuses: If you want to be ripped, you need to eat like it.

In between your superhuman squat sets, and tricep Tuesday’s, you need to feed the beast. If you haven’t gone down to the supermarket in recent weeks (and instead typically feast on fast food and take out), then now is the time to start.

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of foods that will put the right proteins, carbs, vegetables and fats into your daily diet. Once you’re stocked up, check out our tips on how to eat to get ripped, what a ripped guy orders at a restaurant, and what a ripped guy doesn’t eat.


  • 97% lean ground beef
  • Bison
  • Fish
  • Flank, sirloin, or round beef, trimmed of fat
  • Greek yogurt (like Oikos Triple Zero)
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Shrimp
  • Skinless chicken breast
  • Turkey breast
  • Whole eggs

*A palm-size serving of most meat has about 25g of protein, but check food labels whenever possible.


  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Beets
  • Berries
  • Oats
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Whole grains (such as quinoa, faro, millet, and spelt)

*A fist-size portion of rice or potatoes has about 40g of carbs.


  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Mixed greens
  • Red peppers
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Zucchini


  • Avocados
  • Coconut oil (virgin)
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil (extra virgin)
  • Seeds

*A tablespoon of oil has about 15g of fat.


  • Apple-cider vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Herbs
  • Hot sauce
  • Spices


  • Mrs. Dash seasoning blends for all types of foods
  • Fresh or powdered garlic and/or onion for proteins
  • Minced peppers (jalapeño or habanero) for proteins or salads
  • Cumin or cayenne pepper for proteins
  • Cinnamon on morning meals such as oatmeal
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves in protein shakes
  • Za’atar, herbes de Provence, Italian seasoning, Creole seasoning, or Chinese five-spice powder for roasted proteins or vegetables
  • Fresh cilantro for vegetable-based entrees


  • Hot sauces (Tabasco, sriracha) and pastes (sambal oelek)
  • Lemon juice
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Fresh salsas with little/no added sugar
  • Low-sodium soy sauce

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Drop-Pounds-Fast Diet: Your Shopping List


Shop only once this week. Use a list to get everything you need, so you won’t have to go into dangerous territory—the supermarket—during your diet week. Here’s everything you need to lose 5 pounds this week.

Breads and grains:
Small bagels
Whole-wheat tortillas (6-inch size)
Microwaveable brown rice
Plain instant oatmeal

Dairy and eggs:
Fat-free cream cheese
Light string cheese
Fat-free veggie cream cheese
Liquid egg whites
Trans fat–free margarine
Nonfat vanilla yogurt
Fat-free milk

Smoked salmon
Turkey sausage
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3-ounce can albacore tuna
3-ounce pork chop
3-ounce sirloin steak

Fresh produce:
1 bunch asparagus
Small baking potato
Dill (for salmon)
1 onion
1 lemon
1 orange
1 grapefruit
1 cup green beans
1 pear
1 ear of corn
Baby carrots
Fresh salsa
Red bell pepper
Romaine lettuce
Salad greens (mesclun or baby green mix)
Melon (cantaloupe or honeydew)

Frozen items:

Snack aisle:
Black-bean dip
Plain popcorn (microwave or kernel)

Pantry staples:
Black pepper
Dijon mustard
Nonstick cooking spray
Balsamic vinegar
Low-fat salad dressing (your choice of flavor)
Light Italian dressing
Tomato sauce

Ground flaxseed

Quick and Easy Grocery List for Healthy Lunches


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“What’s for lunch?” If you answered “fast food” or “whatever I can grab out of a box”, then it’s time to reimagine that lunchtime menu. Check out our quick and easy grocery list for healthy lunches.

Many of us are in the habit of planning for dinner, but when it comes to planning healthy lunch ideas, we sometimes fall short. After all, it comes in the middle of the day when you’re likely in the middle of a hectic schedule. Who has time to make lunches that taste good and nourish the body?

You do. We’re sharing this grocery list for healthy lunches to make it easy for you to assemble nutritious meals that nourish the body and satisfy the appetite. The clean eating foods below give you the ingredients you need to assemble DIY sandwich, wrap, or salad recipes. We’ve also included additional links for recipes you might like to try.

Looking for more healthy lunch ideas? Discover delicious dishes in these links, and then add the ones you like to the quick grocery list below.

21 Clean Lunches That Can Be Made in Under 10 Minutes
5-Day Clean-Eating Lunch Menu
DIY Skinny Salad-in-a-Jar

Breads & Grains

–Whole grain tortillas
–Whole grain or whole wheat sandwich bread
–Quinoa (Cooked quinoa is a protein-filled addition to salads and wraps. Also, recipes like Skinny Quinoa Stir-Fry make yummy leftover lunches.)


–Lettuce and/or spinach (Use these greens in salads, on sandwiches, or in wraps. Spinach can also be used to make healthy smoothie recipes like Superfood Smoothies.)
–Salad toppings (Find healthy salad topping ideas here.)
–Avocado (Add this heart-healthy fruit to salads, like Spring Salad in an Avocado, or use it in sandwiches or wraps.)
–Fresh Fruit (Enjoy fresh fruit as a side or incorporate it into healthy lunch ideas, like Skinny Fruit & Yogurt Salad)
–Fresh vegetables (Lunchtime is the right time to nosh on a fresh veggie side or to add them to sandwiches or salads.)

Low-Fat Dairy

–Feta cheese, reduced fat (Use it DIY salads or in recipes like Spring Mix with Roasted Pears and Feta.)
–Mozzarella cheese sticks, reduced fat (Snack on cheese as a side or roll it inside two or three slices of a healthy deli meat for a DIY roll-up.)
–Greek yogurt (This protein-packed addition is a healthy replacement for mayo. Try it in recipes like Clean-Eating Chicken Salad.)

Meat & Fish

–Deli turkey or chicken, nitrate-free & low-sodium (We like Boar’s Head brand.)
–Chicken breast (Prepare an extra breast when you’re making dinner, and then use it the next day in DIY lunch sandwiches or salads.)


–Ketchup, no sugar added, or make a batch of Healthy Homemade Ketchup
-Ranch dip (Try our healthy SkinnyMs. Ranch Dip)

Visit SkinnyMs. on Pinterest. We share delicious recipes and nutritious meal planning ideas, including Healthy Salads and Easy Recipes.

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The essential school lunch shopping list: Everything your pantry needs to make packing lunch easy | Back to School Lunch Guide

One of the most popular requests that we get is for easy school lunch recipes. While we’re happy to oblige — from gluten-free school lunch ideas to creative ideas for how to pack veggies in school lunch, sandwich alternatives to high protein school lunch ideas (and pretty much everything in between) — the truth is that the magic isn’t in the recipes. Rather, it’s in your pantry.

When you pack your pantry and fridge with the versatile ingredients on our essential school lunch shopping list, pulling together a creative school lunch — or 180 of them — becomes much easier. Get the list and tons of ideas for how to use each item below.

This is our annual update of a post originally published in 2016.

Related: DIY Lunchables, because hello cheaper and healthier.

The Essential School Lunch Shopping List:

Protein is the primary part of any good lunch, not just because kids need it to grow strong. It also goes a long way to keeping you full and balancing blood sugar, which helps kids endure a long, active school day without crashing. Most parents fall back on animal protein, but there are plenty of dairy and plant-based protein sources, too, that are especially great when combined (one of our favorite healthy yogurts + a seed butter sandwich). Even chia seeds have a surprising amount of protein, so you can use them to boost the overall protein content of your kid’s lunch as well.


I cannot live without eggs, much less pack school lunch 180 times without them. Mostly, I make a big batch of steamed eggs (they’re like hard boiled, but so much better and easier!) to slice or turn into egg salad sandwiches. Or I halve them to serve alongside veggies and hummus, ham roll ups, or even a muffin like in this fantastic gluten-free lunch idea.

On those (rare) mornings when I wake up early, I might even scramble eggs — sometimes with pesto (yum!) — for an egg sandwich or breakfast-for-lunch treat. Another great idea: these make-ahead Spinach Egg Bites.

Lunch meat

Lunch meat is the easiest way to add protein to a school lunch; sliced ham, turkey, roast beef, and turkey pepperoni also save me during the school year. Sandwiches are great, but sometimes I just roll them up plain or with a slice of cheese to go with pretzels, pita chips, or our favorite healthy tortilla chips to change things up. It’s quick little changes in presentation like this that make lunch feel more exciting.

Canned tuna

Seafood is a super healthy protein, but with all the talk about mercury it can be hard to know if canned tuna is safe. Your best bet is to stick with a safe brand like Safe Catch or Wild Planet, which also makes a tasty canned chicken (it’s true — we tried it!).


Beans are a wonderful, (mostly) kid-friendly, plant-based source of protein and hummus is a great way to serve them easily. For little kids especially, hummus paired with a bunch of veggies and pretzels or crackers makes a great lunch main; if you have an older kid who needs more heft, include a cheese stick, a hard boiled egg, a few slices of turkey pepperoni, or use dinner leftovers to throw together this Chicken Hummus Bowl.

Also, my kids love hummus sandwiches. When I’m in a rush, it’s just bread and hummus; when I have more time, I’ll pile on veggies too. A few companies like Hope Foods have also started making “hummus” using lentils and black beans, so look out for those as well.

One more thing: If you’re looking for a creative way to serve hummus, you have to check out this brilliant DIY Mason Jar hack. So smart!!


Canned beans are a pantry staple that I pull out just as much for lunch as I do for dinner. Black beans and thawed frozen corn get turned into a quick black bean salad or salsa for topping leftovers, and chickpeas get tossed with chopped veggies to make a salad or with rice to make a quickie grain bowl. I also love making roasted chickpea snacks that are sweet, but secretly give a boost of protein. A win-win.


Cheese is a great source of protein and, when presented right, can serve as a lunch main. In fact, one of my older son’s favorite lunches used to be a “cheese plate lunch,” which includes: hunks of two kinds of cheeses, pickles, grapes and apples, sliced baguette, and sometimes ham. (He’d still love this today, by the way, but has developed a lactose intolerance — boo!)

You can also add cheese to a lunch box-friendly salad like in this Chopped Greek Salad or lunch box Caprese Salad.

Cream Cheese

This is not a major source of protein by any stretch, but I include it here to encourage you to think beyond meat and nut or seed butter as the go-to sandwich spreads. My little one loves a cream cheese and jelly sandwich and his number one favorite school lunch is cream cheese and shredded carrots or sliced cucumbers.


If you have a filling carb, like maybe these make-ahead (and freezer-friendly) Ham and Cheese Muffins, yogurt, particularly protein-rich Greek-style, can serve as a filling accompaniment. You can also turn Greek-style yogurt into a fun and healthy lunch box dip that goes great with pita chips and maybe some leftovers. If you’re looking for some new brands to count on, here’s our list of favorite yogurt brands to pick up at the supermarket.


Many of you probably think of quinoa as a carb. Though it certainly functions that way in cooking, quinoa is actually a protein-rich seed that you can use to make cold lunch box salads, fill wraps or burritos, or turn into quick and easy lunch box grain bowls.

If you’re worried about how your precious eater will react to eating quinoa, start by serving it at dinner first (make enough to have leftovers for school lunch) and definitely use our tutorial for how to cook quinoa, which yields a fluffy, mild-tasting quinoa that kids are much more likely to accept.

Cottage Cheese

If your kids eat it, cottage cheese is a nice way to switch things up. You can serve it sweet or savory. My kids like it best with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey on top.

Nuts and nut butter (if allowed)

For years, parents have relied on nuts and nut butter — peanut butter in particular — as an easy, healthy, plant-based source of protein. There’s no reason to abandon peanut butter if it’s safe for your child and allowed in your school. PB&J’s are great, but also think beyond the sandwich. My kids love this Peanut Butter and Jelly Chia Pudding that we found at Minimalist Baker and I often make these No-Bake Energy Bites that we found at Gimme Some Oven with peanut butter.

If peanuts and tree nuts are not allowed in your school, pleasenut-free spreads abide by your school’s food allergy policy. They are made to make everyone safe, and there are plenty of that you can use as an alternative.

Tofu and edamame

If you’re not big into a vegetarian diet, maybe you didn’t know that tofu and edamame are both protein-rich soy. You also may not know that soy is high in estrogen, as well, and that some people feel a diet very high in tofu is actually unhealthy. In countries where soy is eaten in smaller quantities though (as in, not eaten in a huge veggie burger made to compete with the size of our huge hamburgers), tofu and edamame can be both delicious and a healthy hit of protein. So cube it up or throw some thawed frozen edamame into your little one’s lunch box to change things up every once and a while.

Related: The new (no) peanut butter and jelly sandwich: 6 easy, healthy nut-free spreads for school lunch ideas.

Carbs go without saying, right? After all, sandwiches are the staple of most school lunches. You probably don’t need all that much help with this one, but the big takeaway is to think beyond the sandwich. You can also roll things up in a tortilla, layer things over grains, dress up pasta, serve things alongside chips, or let your eater pile things onto crackers to keep lunch interesting.


You have this one, I know, but sometimes move beyond sliced sandwich bread. Leftover sliced chicken with baguette. Ham and cheese on a pretzel roll. Garlic knots with sliced pepperoni or salami on the side. These small adjustments make a big difference when you have nearly 200 lunches to pack. And of course, there’s always gluten-free bread, too, if your child can’t tolerate the big G.


My kids are happy to eat room temperature quesadillas, so I often use tortillas for that (because spinach goes down without a fuss when it’s all melty with cheese), but you can also use tortillas to make wraps (veggie and hummus), tacos (leftover roast chicken or pork with chopped tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa), burritos (leftover rice or quinoa with black beans, cheese, and sliced avocado), and roll ups of all kinds (even just peanut butter or sunflower seed butter and banana!).


I used to make these lunch box grain bowls only when I had leftovers, but my kids love them so much that I’ve started making and freezing big batches of quinoa specifically to make them. I freeze the quinoa in small quantities in sandwich-size storage bags and quick thaw them in the morning. Then I layer on whatever else I have on hand and drizzle the whole thing with a dressing. If you make our favorite easy vinaigrette at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge, this will always be a quick and easy lunch box solution.


Whenever you make pasta for dinner — which is, what, once a week? — always make extra for lunch the next day. It’s a no-brainer, especially if your kids are like mine and thrilled to see pasta with butter and peas (the frozen kind) in their lunch box. Here are our directions on how to cook pasta ahead of time if you want to cook a batch specifically for school lunches.


Who doesn’t love a good cracker appetizer? Skip the sandwich and take inspiration from your favorite h’ordeuvres instead or crib one of these 24 fast, healthy ideas to top crackers for kids.

Pretzels and pita chips

Serve deli meat with a side of pretzels and watch the same ingredients that get left behind in a soggy sandwich get gobbled up. Or skip the meat and make a meal of one of these protein-rich lunch box dips with a favorite carb dipper on the side.

Related: 9 healthy dips for school lunch sandwich alternatives that your kids will love.

Fruit is a gimme in any lunch box: Unless you have a fruit refusnik (I hear they exist), most kids have some sweet fruit that they love, or are at least willing to eat. To keep it interesting, though, try not to just pack apples day after day. . . after day. There are so many more options, and even super creative ways to pack fruit in a school lunch.


They come in several colors and you can easily pop ’em in your mouth — perfect for little eaters. Look for seedless and serve them plain or maybe even dipped in chocolate. Yes!


Of course, apples. But don’t get stuck in a rut. Buy apples of all different colors, cut them up into fun shapes using cookie cutters, or serve them with a peanut butter dip, which you can also make with seed butter, by the way.


Pears are just as delicious as apples and can be served in many of the same ways, so why not change it up when you can.

Dragon Fruit

It’s crazy, I know, and probably on the expensive side, too, but when you need to get out of a rut, try picking up an unusual tropical fruit for your kids to try. The amazing look of this black and white speckled fruit (above) may at least get kids to give it a try.

Prickly Pear

This is another exotic fruit that I pull out every once and a while. The bright pink color always mesmerizes my kids. The only catch: It can stain too.

Star Fruit

Of all the exotic fruit you might grab, this is the best, because stars! Little kids will delight in how this looks (if not tastes) in their lunch box.

Passion Fruit

I admit that this one is tricky, but my older son loves it, and you can easily include it by cutting it down the middle and packing an entire half. They can scoop the oozy, flavorful pulp right from the fruit into their mouth or maybe mix it into some plain yogurt. The texture alone makes it feel like a science experiment!


We’re totally obsessed with mango in my house and cannot imagine anyone not liking the flavor. If you or your kids are not sold, though, maybe a fun presentation will help? Follow our quick video tutorial on how to cut a mango and then pack one of the scored halves, cut side down, in your little one’s lunchbox. Maybe they’ll become a mango fan after all.


Kids and bananas, right? To keep it from getting brown and mushy, just cut one in half and pack it in a hard sided case. Your kid can peel and eat at lunch time.

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries

Though they are (way) better in summer, most places have access to some variety of berries all year around. Skip them when they are hard and sour, but my kids love them even when they are just a little bit sweet. Sometimes, I’ll pack them with a side of citrus sugar for dipping. Just be aware that texture-sensitive kids may not like when berries get squashed: My kids prefer berries that are slightly more sour, but firm enough to keep their shape in a lunch box that gets thrown around. Go figure.


Pomegranate arils save me in the winter when it’s apples and pears, pears and apples, over and over. My kids have grown so fond of these tart seeds that I’ve taken to serving them alone with a spoon to scoop them up. (Thank goodness for prepackaged arils so that I don’t have to extract all those seeds myself — though if you like the challenge and it saves money, here’s how to cut a pomegranate — and other hard to deal with fruit too).

Cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and other stone fruit

When in season — which, I admit, is only for a relatively short part of the school year — there’s nothing better than packing fresh stone fruit. Most of these fruit can be cut in half, pitted, and packed plain for a delicious treat. As for cherries, my kids manage the pits themselves, but if you’re packing lunch for a little one, consider pitting them ahead of time with the awesome cherry pitter (there’s such a thing!) that we use to help get kids excited about helping in the kitchen.


You can usually find some kind of melon nearly all year around. Cut the melon in cubes ahead of time to have it ready and waiting in your fridge. And — here’s a tip — use a melon baller to change up the shape! I know that it may seem like a small thing, but it’s exactly these kind of small changes in presentation that can make a big difference to little ones.

Related: 7 creative ways to pack vegetables for school lunch so that kids actually try them.

Ah, vegetables. Probably not the most popular part of lunch, but as I see it, an essential thing to pack every single time. I know that it can be frustrating to pack up good veggies only to have them come back (or maybe “secretly” land in the cafeteria garbage bin), but if you can afford to take the chance, packing them every day makes the point that veggies are an important part of a balanced meal — even at lunchtime.

Also, if your kids eat some veggie at lunch, it releases some pressure for them to eat a day’s worth at dinner when they are tired and you’re (possibly) hovering over them. Even just a little bit of autonomy to decide what veggies they will and will not eat out of your line of sight might make a really positive — if slow moving — impact.

To keep the veggie thing interesting and hopefully pique the interest of your independent lunch eater, make sure that the veggies are fresh, crisp, and colorful. Remember: We eat with our eyes too! And don’t be afraid to add flavor: sprinkle on some salt, top with a dash of sesame seeds, add a dip, and find other ways to make veggies as appealing as possible. Here are some creative ways to pack veggies in school lunch.


Many kids like avocados because they’ve been eating them since they were very little. If your child qualifies, don’t be afraid of browning — there is a way to pack avocado in a school lunch so that it stays fresh and appealing. Just follow my foolproof how-to for the details.

Bell Peppers

These are a go-to for me because they are such an easy way to add vibrant color to my kids’ lunchbox.


Change up the way you cut these: “wheels” one day, “sticks” another, sometimes the peel on, sometimes the peel off. Keep changing it up or experiment until you find what works.


The number one lunch box veggie in my house: shredded carrots. Somehow, serving them that way gets my kids to eat them every time. I make shredded carrot and cream cheese sandwiches a lot, and sometimes even toss the carrots with a little oil, vinegar, salt, and raisins for a quick salad. Of course, we sometimes do carrot sticks and “wheels” too.


I know this is unconventional, but my older son loves radishes. If you have a kid who likes spicy food (interestingly, quite a number of kids with sensory challenges like spicier food because it’s a strong sensory input), give radishes a try. Slice them thin to keep the flavor more mild or cut in half and serve with softened, salted butter as a dip. Oh la la.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are easy to get all year long, come in varied colors, and they are the perfect “snack” size for lunch boxes. Plus, they’re sorta sweet. Mmm. If your child likes a classic tomato mozzarella salad, drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt over cherry tomatoes and bocconcini, those small round balls of mozzarella for a fun shaped lunch box salad.

Snap or Snow Peas

Between the two, you can find these in the market for a good part, if not all, of the school year. Both can be sweeter than bitter and served raw. Hey, it’s worth a try: If your kid eats them, that’s one green veggie down.


A classic for good reason. Serve plain, alongside hummus, or smeared with nut or seed butter and dotted with raisins.

Related: The best healthy back-to-school snacks (that happen to be gluten-free too!).

There are (way) too many snack foods in the supermarket to mention here, plus I’ve mentioned a whole bunch in the carb section since things like pretzels and pita chips help keep me out of the sandwich rut. Fill in your favorites, but I wanted to share a few maybe unexpected items that are a little healthier than typical packaged snack foods so that you can go beyond those fruit snacks, cheddar bunnies, and cookie snack packs. This list of best back-to-school snacks is helpful too.


Popcorn can be super healthy, especially if you make it at home, which is super easy with our tutorial on how to make DIY microwave popcorn. Popcorn totally feels like a snack to kids, and no sugar. Perfect.

Lentil, bean, or (even) quinoa chips

If you’re going to pack something crispy, salty delicious, why not make it something made out of a healthy, high-protein ingredient like lentils, beans, or quinoa. We’ve been longtime fans of both the Beanitos Bean Puffs and Simply 7 Quinoa Chips that we included on a list of best high protein snacks. The quinoa chips are still available, while Beanitos replaced the Bean Puffs with 100% baked Mac N’ Cheese Crunch, which are also packed with fiber and protein. And even I cannot get enough of the Maya Kaimal Chickpea Chips that were a big healthy snack food trend a couple of years ago.

Homemade granola gars (or our new favorite allergy-friendly granola snacks)

Making homemade granola takes some effort, but not as much as you may think, and you can freeze the granola bars to have on hand. These are our favorite granola bar recipes, but if you just don’t have the time — or inclination — try our new favorite store-bought granola snacks (hint: they’re totally allergy-free, which makes them safe for any school). I also love the allergy-free granola bites from Made Good that I included in my list of fantastic on-the-go snacks.

Squeeze pouches

I might be beyond baby food squeeze pouches, but we still buy snacks that come in the same convenient packaging. Not all squeeze pouches are as healthy as they seem, so definitely check the label. My kids love the Mamma Chia Squeeze Packs and GoGo Squeez Yogurtz that I included in my list of favorite on-the-go snacks and, bonus, neither require refrigeration.

Dried fruit

While you don’t want to overdo dried fruit, because it’s actually pretty high in sugar, its natural sweetness can serve as a satisfying sweet bite in a lunch box. My kids love cherries, apricots, cranberries, and mango best. If sugar is something you watch, look for all-natural dried fruit that doesn’t have added fruit juice or other sweeteners. My kids — yes, even the 1o-year-old — still loves the Peeled Apple Clusters that we includes on a past back-to-school snack list, but if you ask me, all of their stuff is great.

Freeze fried fruit (and veggies too!)

Freeze dried fruit and veggies are great because they are relatively low in sugar and retain much of the fruit or vegetable’s original nutritional make up. Plus, it’s like space food (or at least that’s how you can get a skeptical kid to try it!). We’re fans of Crispy Green snacks, which we included a past list of best back-to-school snacks.

Tags: back to school, food allergies, food products, fruit, lunch, school lunch help, snack foods, snacks, vegetables

Tags: back to school, food allergies, food products, fruit, lunch, school lunch help, snack foods, snacks, vegetables

52 Creative (and Easy!) Ideas for Lunch at Work That’ll Make Everyone Jealous

I try to pack my lunch for work as often as possible. But there have been weeks in which I buy it, ignoring my dwindling bank account. Because, truth be told, I’m only human and going through the effort of thinking up ideas for lunch at work and making my own food seems like a lot at 7 AM.

Yes, this is even though I know it’s good for my wallet and for my health. And yes, even though I know that the healthier you are, the more productive you are. (Nothing like a junk food coma to slow you down hours before an important deadline.)

So, in effort to break my bad habit (and yours!), I’ve put together a list of 52—52!—ideas to inspire you. And because I’m just like you when it comes to making excuses, I stuck to three rules when selecting each recipe:

1. It Needs to Be Cost-Effective

There are recipes out there that look and taste great, but the ingredients required are absurdly expensive. And here you were trying to save money. If you’re buying them in bulk and can use them for several different meals, that’s great. But if not, you might as well have just grabbed it from the restaurant down the street.

2. It Needs to Be Easy to Make

Just as you want to keep the cost down, you also want to keep the time it takes to make it low as well. Nobody wants to spend hours every night preparing lunch for the next day. That’s a habit just asking to be broken. So, with the exception of slow cooker options, they’re also pretty fast.

3. It Needs to Be (Somewhat) Exciting

No, I don’t think every lunch needs to be a gourmet meal. And I don’t think every bite needs to be the most mind-blowing sensory experience ever. But you also don’t want to pack a lunch where you’re just like, “Eh, I’m just not in the mood for that.” And then you pretend you didn’t bring it and you go buy a better one (admit it—you’ve done it).

So, check out the list below for some lunch ideas that are bound to make you the most enviable person at work and prevent you from breaking the bank.

Easy Lunch Ideas When You Want a Salad

Here’s the thing about salads. Sometimes, they include a lot of ingredients. And while it’s a great way to incorporate tons of nutrients and keep your palate intrigued, it can be awfully annoying and tedious to prepare.

So, here’s a trick: Do all your chopping and dicing at once. You can prepare bulk amounts of the salads below and then save them in an airtight container in order to keep it fresh all week. Or, take it one step further and save them in several smaller portions you can just plop in your lunch bag on the way out the door. Efficiency at its finest, folks. (Another bonus tip: Store the dressing separately to avoid it making any of your leafy ingredients soggy.)

1. Asian Quinoa Salad

This salad’s not only delicious, but it’s pretty, too. If the number of ingredients in the dressing overwhelms you (understandably), pick up something similar to this Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette.

2. Avocado Chicken Salad

This chicken salad has four ingredients. Four! Plus avocado. Point made. You can also make it into a sandwich or a wrap, which makes this quite the versatile recipe.

3. Smashed Avocado Chickpea Salad

A vegetarian twist on the salad above, this one uses chickpeas instead of chicken, so you can still get a great source of protein. Smash away!

4. Brussels Sprouts Salad With Apples, Pecans, and Manchego

Brussels sprouts are a great alternative to lettuce for a greens-based salad (maybe because they look like tiny heads of cabbage). And as someone who studied abroad in Spain, I can tell you that Manchego cheese is the best. Want a hack for this salad? Many stores sell sprouts that are already chopped and bagged, meaning you can just open and dump into a bowl.

5. Cherry-Almond Farro Salad

Farro’s a grain with a ton of fiber and will help to fill you up (so you aren’t ravenous and stealing from the office candy drawer 30 minutes later). And the cherries are the perfect sweet and tart addition.

6. Chopped Kale, Farro, and Chickpea Salad

This combination of foods is the perfect protein and fiber powerhouse. While the recipe calls for red miso paste, you can easily substitute another dressing for that (because who has red miso paste?). But if you do have it, go for it!

7. Chorizo and Tomato Salad

A reminder that simple doesn’t always equal boring. The chorizo adds some smoke and spice to really make this salad pop.

8. Lentil Salad With Goat Cheese

You had me at goat cheese.

9. Soba Salad With Honey Ginger Dressing

It’s a salad made with—wait for it—noodles. Plus, if you want, you can reuse that dressing you bought for the Asian Quinoa Salad.

10. Strawberry Fields Salad

Go ahead. Tell me you aren’t singing the Beatles’ song right now. (Straw-BER-ry Fi-iields For-EV-ah.) It’s not a requirement to listen to it while you’re eating this scrumptious salad. But it should be.

11. Succotash Salad

This salad’s fun to say and yummy to eat. Don’t stress about shaving the kernels of corn from the actual cobs. You can use frozen or canned corn to expedite your way to a tasty dish.

12. Taco Salad (in a Jar)

Sure, the jar is cute, but the best part about it is that it’s holding a yummy yet healthy taco salad inside. You can also do this with a burrito!

13. Three Bean Salad

This recipe has three main ingredients, and they’re all beans. Talk about easy. And fibrous. Beans—they’re good for your heart and for your lunch.

14. Watermelon, Tomato, and Cheese Salad

You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how well watermelon and cheese goes together. And when summer comes around, you’ll be craving something this refreshing.

Sandwich Ideas for Lunch at Work

Sometimes you just want to eat your lunch with your hands. Sandwiches are a handheld favorite, but your go-to can end up being a snore. Take yours to the next level by using one of the alternatives below. Trust me: It won’t leave you wishing you had chosen something else.

And for those that may not hold together well during your commute, pack the outsides (i.e., the wrap) and the insides (i.e., whatever you put in it) separately and throw it together when you get to work.

15. Apple Sandwiches With Almond Butter and Granola

Talk about non-traditional. You’ve probably spread peanut butter (or almond, or cashew, or ) on your apple slices before, but have you ever thought of making your apple into a sandwich? Yep, mind blown. But this is the perfect lunch if you’re craving something sweet but don’t want to crash later.

16. Avocado Tea Sandwiches

How cute and simple are these? Plus, it’s OK to bring fish to the office if you’re not microwaving it, right? Report back.

17. Crunchy Peanut Butter Wrap

Need I say more? You’d be nutty not to try this one. (Someone requested dad humor, right?)

18. Hummus and Veggie Sandwich

The combination of vegetables (and fruit—ahem, avocado) in this sandwich provides a variety of textures to keep your palate excited.

19. Peanut Butter, Pickle, and Potato Chip Sandwich

Yes, you read that right. I did not accidentally write “pickle” instead of “jelly.” These flavors actually do work together, and the chips are a crunchy bonus.

20. Pear-Walnut Sandwich

Cinnamon-raisin bread for a sandwich? Yep.

21. Red Pepper, Goat Cheese, and Fresh Mint Wraps

This wrap has four ingredients (not including some extra salt) and the contents have strong and complementary flavors. Plus, it takes less than 10 minutes to prepare.

22. Smoked Gouda and Apple Butter Sandwich

So simple, yet so tasty. And yes, cheese and apples go together. Perfectly.

23. Southwest Hummus Wrap

Hummus is the perfect ingredient to really tie the ingredients of this wrap together and make every bite the perfect fusion of flavors.

24. Sweet Potato, Chickpea, and Quinoa Veggie Burger

Sure, these may take a little extra time to prepare. But if you prepare a bunch of them at once, all you have to do is grab one out of the freezer or fridge and throw it in your bag with a bun and some toppings!

25. Taco Truck Tuna Sandwich

How can you not like something that has the words “taco truck” in it? That’s what I thought.

26. Turkey and Apple Pita Pockets

These savory and sweet ingredients result in some pretty tasty pockets. Note: the pockets must be made of pitas; they cannot be made from denim.

27. Turkey, Smashed Peas, and Pesto Sandwich

Pesto adds the perfect punch of flavor to this well-rounded sandwich.

28. Ham and Arugula Sandwich With Cranberry Chutney

The cranberry and mustard are the perfect match for the savory ham and slightly bitter arugula.

Easy Lunch Recipes (When You Don’t Want a Salad or Sandwich)

Did you know that lunch has no rules? That’s right. It doesn’t have to be a salad or sandwich. So when you’re craving something different, whip up one of the meals below. Here’s a hint: Make a few extra servings, and the time it takes to make will be well worth your while.

29. Buddha Bowl

With hard-boiled egg, salmon, and edamame, this bowl is packed with protein. With or without the noodles, it will leave your tummy satisfied.

30. Burrito Bowl

What’s that you say? I can make my own burrito bowl? Why yes, yes you can.

31. Chicken and Asparagus Lemon Stir-Fry

Cooking the chicken and asparagus in lemon juice, garlic, and soy sauce takes the main ingredients from relatively bland to super savory.

32. Kale, Spinach, and Pear Smoothie

A smoothie for lunch? Yes, just go with it. And yes, it’s green. But before you say “blech,” give it a try. I promise, it doesn’t taste like grass.

33. Mini Frittatas

Weekends aren’t the only time for brunch. (But leave the bottomless mimosas for your days off.) Yes, these require some oven time, but make a bunch in advance and you’re set for the week.

34. Rice Cake With Nut Butter and Banana

Another lunch for someone with a sweet tooth—also for someone who needs to put together a lunch quickly.

35. Roast Beef Roll-ups

Easy to make, easy to eat. Substitute any lunch meat if roast beef isn’t your thang.

36. Salad-Stuffed Avocado

Usually avocado is a topping, but in this recipe, it runs the show as a fantastic and edible vessel for your salad (though I wouldn’t eat the peel).

37. Shrimp and Broccoli Stir Fry

Not just take-out food. You can make your own healthy version and gobble it up all week (or at least a few days). And on the side, maybe you can have some rice (see below).

38. 10-Minute Veggie Fried Rice

Or, you can eat this all on its own. Yum.

39. Superfoods Smoothie

This may be made with blueberries, but you certainly won’t feel blue after you drink it. (Hint: you can also use other berries, too.)

Casserole and Slow Cooker Work Lunch Ideas

Speaking of making things in bulk, casseroles and Crock-Pot meals are a great way to do this. My slow cooker is one of my favorite kitchen items. You can find some very reasonably priced options on Amazon.

Making a casserole or using the slow cooker not only provides you with enough food for days, but it also requires a longer time to cook, meaning the flavors have enough time to blend together perfectly. What better way to spend your Sunday afternoon than surrounded by delicious food?

40. Beef and Barley

This hearty meal is the perfect lunch during the chillier months (or during the summer when your office building’s AC makes your cubicle feel like an icebox).

41. Buffalo Chicken Bowl

Sometimes all you need for an exciting meal is hot sauce. And the meat soaks it up even more when it’s in a slow cooker for a couple hours.

42. Butternut Squash, Carmelized Onion, and Spinach Lasagna

Putting a sweet twist on your traditional lasagna. Caramelized onions are everything.

43. Chicken Enchilada Casserole

What’s better than chicken enchiladas? Chicken enchiladas that last for days.

44. Coconut Sweet Potatoes and Wild Rice

If you haven’t added coconut milk to a dish before, you’re missing out. It adds a different flavor profile to all ingredients in the dish, especially in the potatoes and rice.

45. Hawaiian Pulled Pork

Pineapple and pork? You better bet it’s a perfect pair.

46. Sausage and Bean Casserole

Cannelini beans, also known as white kidney beans, are just as much a star of this recipe as the sausage is.

47. Smoky Three-Bean Bake

Another three bean dish? Yep. This one has a smoky flavor from the bacon and paprika.

48. Springtime Minestrone

Not all soups are just all broth. In fact, this one has tons of greens and beans. As long as you have a secure vessel to transport this liquid lunch in, this is a great option.

49. Tomato Lentil Soup

Again, so much more than broth here. The lentils are packed with fiber and protein and soak up all the flavor of the tomatoes.

50. Turkey Chili

While this is a solid recipe, there are a bunch of other great chili options. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, whip up some cornbread to go with it.

51. Vegetable Curry with Sweet Potato and Chickpeas

Curries are optimized in slow cookers—all the spices have ample time to blend together and make one awesome-tasting meal.

52. Vegetable Parmesan Quinoa

The great thing about quinoa? It absorbs all the flavors it’s cooking in.

Now you have tons of these great recipes to make your lunch something to look forward to. Need something to put it in? Here are some awesome and unique ways to pack it. But hey, a paper or plastic bag is just fine, too. What matters most is what’s inside, right?

Happy lunching! Let me know which recipe you like best on Twitter.

Photos courtesy of .

List of healthy foods

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