Clean eating lunch ideas – at work, at school, and at home

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Eating clean on the go can be tricky at the beginning. Especially for lunch, which is an important meal of the day and needs to be filling enough to carry you until the evening. For most of us, lunching doesn’t happen at home, so your meal needs to be portable, easy to prepare and easy to eat. A tall order? Not so much with those few clean eating lunch ideas.

Eating clean at work

Salads

Healthy quinoa saladLet’s start with this, as it’s easy to pack, doesn’t need reheating, full of nutrients and easy to prepare. I used to cook a bowl of brown rice, millet or buckwheat at the beginning of the week, and just add leftovers and raw salad veggies on the day. With a little mayonnaise or salad dressing in a small container, bob’s your uncle, lunch is served.

The beauty of them is that you can add really what you want. Back then I was using whole grains as my base, but these days I’m loading them with proteins and healthy fats. Are you a sweet tooth? Add some grapes, apples or any seasonal fruit for a sweet and sour taste.

Salads in a jar

Salads in jarsYou can even prepare them ahead in canning jars for the whole week. There’s a knack to it to make sure the leaves don’t get soggy, so make sure you layer your ingredients up in the right order:

  • Always start with the dressing at the bottom.
  • Then add your less absorbent ingredients, like onions, carrots, peppers, sweetcorn.
  • In goes the more absorbent stuff, like whole grains and proteins, in layers.
  • And finish with your leafy greens.

When it’s time to eat, empty the jar in a bowl, and toss. Ta-da! I also find them particularly appetizing in the jar, especially if you’re going for a good mix of colors in your vegetables.

Another bonus is that the most perishable vegetables will happily keep a few days longer when stored like this in your fridge. No more brown, soggy lettuce!

There are plenty of awesome suggestions out there, so get some canning jars and start layering.

Left-overs

Meatball with saladMy old favorite. I always try to over-cater the night before, so I don’t have to worry about lunch the next day. It’s all cooked and ready to go. I try to stay away from having to warm my lunches, so I’ll quite happily turn my leftovers into a wholesome salad. I simply add a few leaves of lettuce and a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar of choice.

If you prefer warm food, just make sure you pack your leftovers in a microwaveable container. Saves you having to transfer it to a glass or ceramic bowl at work.

Takeaways

Convenience food manufacturers have long sussed out that there was a massive market out there at lunch. Luckily, some of them now start to cater for the healthiest folks as well. So it’s possible to find clean sandwiches and wraps. Be vigilant though, not everything labeled “healthy” is clean.

Aim for brown, whole wheat, rye bread or similar. Check the filling and go for a minimal list of recognizable ingredients. These should be perishable foodstuff, so if not kept in the fridge section and to be eaten within 24 hours, it is sure to be loaded with additives.

Sushi is another fairly clean option. It contains a limited list of ingredients, all identifiable, and it’s fresh. Most of the additives will be in the soy sauce though. It’s probably not the best clean food out there (unless you make it yourself, of course), but once in a while, I personally think it’s OK.

Home-made sandwiches…

Home-made sandwich…are fine of course, and let you be in control of what you put between your slices of bread or in your wrap or pita bread. Start with the whole wheat variety for you “outer”, and enjoy whatever clean filler you fancy.

Home-made sushi and other summer rolls are also a good option. Although they take a bit longer to prepare, they can be a welcome change from your traditional sandwich. And are still portable and easy finger-food.

What to put in a clean eating lunch box?

Kids need to eat enough at lunch to keep them sharp all afternoon. Regardless how healthy and clean that lunch box looked when you prepared it, if it doesn’t get eaten, it’s no good. Here are a few suggestions to get your kids to have a clean lunch box *and* actually eat it.

Involve them

Lunchbox filled with clean healthy foodI can’t say it enough. If they’ve chosen their food and prepared their lunch pack, they’re far more likely to eat it. My girls prepare their lunch boxes the night before, with my help. Looks like something like this most days.

I found that a good variety of bite-size food works best for my primary-school kids. And investing in decent, leak-proof and fun Bento boxes was a must. I use silicone cupcake molds too keep the food separate and add a bit of fun.

Go along with their tastes.

Colorful tomatoes in a trayIf the only fresh vegetable your child will eat is cherry tomatoes, stick with it. Change the varieties, you can get yellow, green or even purple ones these days. Vary the dressing, give them humus, cocktail sauce, garlic mayonnaise etc. (all home-made or carefully selected, of course).

Make sure to add one source of protein, this will keep them going for longer. Whether it’s loose in the box (a matchbox piece of cheese, a hard-boiled egg or a few pieces of jerky), or layered in their sandwich (brown bread of course).

Prepared-ahead options

Crust-less quichesI like to prepare batches of savory muffins or crust-less quiches during the weekend and pop one of those in my kids’ lunchboxes. That’s their “main course”. And it saves times compared to preparing fresh sandwiches every day.

Tickle their taste buds

Most children like a bit of crunchiness, so let them have a little crunchy something. Popcorn is a safe option, easily made at home with a little salt or sugar/cinnamon. I sometimes find very plain and basic corn chips, tortilla-style, and this also works for us. You can make your own chips, but I’ll admit I don’t quite have enough hours in the day to make fresh ones during the week.

However, I do make sure there is a little healthy “treat”. It can be cocoa-coated hazelnuts, salted almonds, roasted corn kernels or a home-made cookie. Just something a little bit more indulgent and “snack-like”. (Notice how all of them can be made in batches ahead of time)

How to master clean eating family meals?

Not all lunches are on the go, and you might find yourself having to entertain friends or family at the weekend. While still wanting to stick to your clean eating food. And while not necessarily wanting to sound like a complete health-freak either. Sounds familiar? I think we’ve all been there. But from experience, as daunting as it may sound, it’s actually not that hard.

Appetizers

Tomatoes and dipsThink crudités and dips, maybe with a small bowl of plain tortilla chips for the ones needing some crunch. For the veggies, baby zucchini, carrot, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, mange-tout and baby corn are my go-to snacks and look great together. For the dips, try a garlic mayonnaise, hummus or a yogurt-based dip like tzatziki.

Starters

Mixed salad with cheeseGo for a lovely, colorful, hearty salad. The kind of salad with lovely greens at the bottom. Followed by various chopped veggies like beetroot, sweetcorn, peppers or any other. Covered with some more “meaty” ingredients, whether it be cheese, chicken, sweet potato or avocados.

Feel free to add some seasonal fruits for a zing. I like grapes and apples, for their sweetness and their crunchiness, respectively. But when I get the chance, mangoes and papayas also find their way in. Or pomegranate, for the color.

Main course

Roast meat with vegetablesKeep it simple. Forget about pastries and fancy fare. A meat, fish or another source of protein, some vegetables, and a starch. Can be all cooked together if your oven is big enough: think cottage or shepherd’s pie, stuffed eggplants, chili con carne etc.

Or cooked separately. A roast is a good option as the side dishes are versatile and let you be as clean as you want. For the starch, forgo bread and offer roast potatoes, rice or any other whole grain. I tend to roast sweet potatoes with onions, quartered, and carrots. Drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary. It hits the spot with the kids, who like the sweetness of it, and with the grown-ups, who like the traditional feel of roasted vegetables.

Desserts

Clean eating doesn’t mean ditching all the sweet treats. It does mean making sure that only healthy, clean ingredients find their way into your dessert plate. There are loads of lovely clean recipes out there. Cakes are an option, but once the heavily-refined cake flour is out, they tend to use less processed flours like almond or coconut. These lend themselves to more dense and moist cakes. Think brownies rather than sponge cake.

Fruit saladYou’ll find more choice in terms of puddings. A lot of them, like chocolate mousse, only need to be refrigerated and can be prepared ahead of time.

Otherwise, make a large, colorful fresh fruit salad, and add a little bit of orange juice. Or bake some cored apples with cinnamon and raisins for a winter warmer.

 

What is your go-to clean lunch?

The above might have given you pointers as to what to have for lunch, but feel free to share your own menus with us, please! Let’s make sure that lack of inspiration is *not* an excuse for having some industrial additive-laden food at lunch.

If you’re feeling stuck for breakfast ideas, check my post here. And if at snack time, you feel most inclined to buy processed food, get some ideas here.

8 Comments

  1. Tom

    April 24, 2018 at 8:12 pm

    Hey,
    Excellent article.
    Eating clean is something I most definitely need to start doing. At the moment I am one for convenience or fast foods at lunch times when I am at work.
    I have put on so much weight by not really watching what I am eating and I need to lose it by working out but more importantly eating healthy.
    Thanks for sharing this information, I am going to start by eating more salads when as work and some low calorie meals when at home.
    What is your favourite meal to have at lunch and dinner?
    All the best,
    Tom

    1. Isabel

      April 25, 2018 at 7:15 pm

      Hi Tom, and thanks for kind words. As with most things, I find that the hardest is to actually start. They say that weight loss is 70% what we eat and only 30% working out, so if you start watching what you eat, it should come off.
      I love my salads for lunch I must admit. I’ll load my bowl with my favorite vegetables and I’ll add something “meaty” to keep me full, like chicken, eggs or avos. Because I don’t eat much starch these days, I also make sure it contains some healthy fat to keep my calories up. But you might be happy just to add some whole grains or a slice of brown bread with it, depending on your own preferences? Wholewheat wraps are also a nice way to have a “portable” salad.
      For dinner, my husband usually cooks so it’s meat or fish, with loads of vegetables. One of my favorites is slow-cooked chicken (in the pan, but cooked at low heat over 1 hour) and eggplants and/or courgettes, sliced and just cooked in the juices from the chicken. With cajun spices.
      Keep well,
      Isabel

  2. Joo

    April 25, 2018 at 2:17 am

    Absolutely love this post! We’re cleaning up our diet this year, to help my eczema kids heal from inside out. Already doing lots like sugar free, dairy free and gluten free, But your post still provides so many countless ideas for us! I especially love your salad jar, where you layer the different types of food so that it doesn’t get soggy.

    1. Isabel

      April 25, 2018 at 7:03 pm

      Hi Joo, and thank-you! Yes, we’re also a dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free and loads-of-other-stuff-free family here, so we have to be a bit more creative to keep everybody’s taste buds happy. The salad jar is such a versatile solution: you can make it ahead of time, add whatever you want, it looks appetizing and is ready to eat in a flash. What’s not to like… If you start preparing some, let us know what your favorite recipe is, please!
      Take care,
      Isabel

  3. Mary

    April 25, 2018 at 9:57 am

    Thank you, I’m always looking for good easy healthy ideas for my lunch. I’ve just started cooking ahead for my lunch in the weekend and freezing the meal. That way all I have to do is take it out in the morning and by lunchtime it’s defrosted. After salads during the summer I’m loving my hot casseroles and pies now the cooler months are setting in.
    Are you going to post some recipes?

    1. Isabel

      April 25, 2018 at 6:44 pm

      Hi Mary, yes, a little bit of planning goes a long way when one tries to eat real food. There sure will be recipes to come, so watch this space! Let me know if there are some particular ones you’d like me to post.
      Keep well,
      Isabel

  4. Jill

    April 25, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Hi Isabelli,
    What a fabulous post. Such great ideas for lunch. Am going to try them all.
    Thank you.

    1. Isabel

      April 25, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks, Jill, glad you found a few useful ideas! Let us know which ones become your favorites, please.
      Eat well,
      Isabel

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