As a busy mom of two babies, the weekends fly by without all chores being accomplished. Even though I love to eat well, meal planning sometimes is not always practical every weekend for our family. If I do not accomplish meal prepping during the weekend, these lunch ideas are usually creatively assembled with on-hand pantry items. 

  

Fortunately, lunches can be quick, easy, and nutritious with only a bit of forethought. The following quick and easy lunch ideas are great for on-the-go families:

(FYI: This article is not sponsored, I mention brands I use and love.) 

Soups 

It’s that time of year again. Yay, fall! Soups are an easy dinner option. Leftovers may be used the next day for lunch. Soups are also a great way to eliminate food waste. Vegetables that need to be used ASAP can be thrown into the soup. 

Some canned/box soups are a great backup plan if you are in a pinch. I usually pair the canned soup with other vegetables or a sandwich or wrap. For soup, I love Amy’s Organics or Pacific Foods brands. 

Chili 

Chili is an all-in-one meal that may be eaten alone or topped on the potato for loaded baked potatoes. Experiment by adding chili on top of a sweet potato or other types of fall squash. I sometimes add butternut squash or butternut squash soup base to a turkey white bean chili.

Chili is a versatile, savory dish that may be eaten with or without meat. Hello, meatless Mondays! I use canned Amy’s Organics black bean chili in a pinch and add more black beans and chili seasonings to the mix. 

Like soup, pack chili leftovers in a thermos or a glass bowl for quick heat up in the microwave. Soup and chili are easy to cook in large quantities. Using your pressure cooker or slow cooker also can make it a practically hands-off meal. 

Chicken, Tuna, or Egg Salad

Having a well-stocked pantry is essential for grab-and-go days. Remember meal prep starts before going to the grocery store.

Make chicken, tuna, or salmon salad from canned chicken or fish. Mix whatever condiments you prefer, or use plain Greek yogurt. Grab an apple, grapes, or mandarin orange to accompany this salad. Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit also pairs well with chicken, tuna, or salmon salad. 

To make the chicken or fish salad a complete meal, pack whole grain crackers, wrap, or bread to use however you prefer. Also, consider dried vegetable chips such as carrot or plantain. Or, add the salad on top of leafy greens for a salad option. Pack the dressing on the side. 

Try this chicken salad recipe if you have a little time in the evening or the morning. 

For egg salad, use pre-boiled eggs, either boiled yourself or purchased. Use egg salad like chicken or tuna salad. If making a sandwich, bring all elements separately and create at lunch to avoid unwanted soggy bread. Remember the greens! Cherry tomatoes or celery on the side are also a nice touch. 

Salads

Salads really may be anything that is on hand. For busy weeks, buy salad mixes to eliminate the prep. Also, leftover roasted vegetable from dinner make great salad toppings. The salad is fiber and protein-packed by adding canned or premade beans or lentils. 

My favorite topping for salad is hummus. Hummus changes the salad’s taste, and allows for use of less dressing. You can also try serving it on the side with pita, crackers, or veggies. 

A trail mix of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit provides a fulfilling crunch, especially if they are flavored.

For extra protein, add the meat of your choice or boiled eggs. Dried meats can also be used to add flavor and protein.  

Most premade dressings that accompany the salad mixes contain high amounts of sugar. If so, avoid using it and bring a salad dressing of your choice. 

To flavor salads, top with herbs and/or spices such as cilantro, green onions, or parsley. I like to use the juice of canned artichokes for a dressing base to provide flavor. If I use olive juice, I’ll add olive or avocado oil to compliment the intensity. A vinaigrette is three to one ratio of oil to vinegar. I garnish my salads with a sprinkle of Himalayan salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast for a cheesy-like flavor.

Grain Bowls 

Grains are very versatile. Cooking enough grains for several meals will save time and effort. Ready-made rice or quinoa packets are available if traveling or with no-prep time. Create a grain bowl by adding whole grains, protein, vegetables, sauce, and toppings.   

Protein may be lentils, beans, or meat. Vegetable suggestions are roasted vegetables, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, onions, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, or any vegetable you enjoy. Try a Mediterranean or stir-fry mix in the frozen section. 

Sauces are what give the most flavor to these grain bowls. Experiment with different seasonings depending on the style of bowl you are making, such as Mediterranean, Mexican, Hawaiian, Moroccan, or Japanese. Check out these recipes for sauces – Hulk Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Atomic Mustard Sauce, Peanut Sauce 

Other toppings for grain bowls are nuts such as slivered almonds, sesame seeds, or cheese if you can tolerate it.

I hope these easy-to-assemble ideas for lunch help your week go a little smoother.  

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Leila (Lay-la) Irvan, MS, NDTR, CLT, is a dietitian with 15 years of experience in wellness, nutrition, and the arts. She specializes in nutritional support for mental health or neuro-nutrition. As an expression of her creativity, she supports The Unconventional Dietitian brand by writing, photography, and content creation for desktop publications and social media platforms. When not working, she spends time with her husband, Kris, and two sons, Benjamin and Gabriel.