It’s National Pack Your Lunch Day; a time to celebrate the simple act of bringing your lunch to work. It’s also a great time to reimagine the routine: packing easy healthy lunches for work can save money without being boring. With lots of nutrient-dense flavor and variety, a packed lunch can rival the tastiest take-out.
With just a handful of homemade lunch ideas and tips, you can transform your workday lunches. Joining your colleagues at the local buffet to eat a day’s worth of calories in one meal doesn’t have to be a regular event; it can be a special occasion. And when that fast food drive-through calls your name, reach instead for a delicious packed lunch. When you regularly pack easy healthy lunches for work, you’ll reap both financial and wellness benefits.
Why Pack Your Lunch?
Last year, restaurant sales totaled $863 billion. Americans spend an average of $3,000 per year going out to eat. Consider all the times at work when you ate out for lunch. Did those meals leave you feeling your best? Were they always time and money well-spent?
Crunch the numbers: On average, it costs $11 to dine out for lunch while packing costs just $4. If you pack easy healthy lunches for work four days per week, you could save over $1500 per year! Stash that extra money in an emergency fund, save it for retirement, or use it to take a fun vacation.
Saving money isn’t the only reason to celebrate National Pack Your Lunch Day. There are also health benefits. Consider the drawbacks to some common alternatives to homemade lunches:
- Drive-through fast food is an easy, cheap, and quick way to squeeze in lunch during a busy day at work, but there are numerous negative health effects. Refined carbs and soda—the centerpiece of most fast food meals—cause blood sugar spikes, which increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Those same meals often contain up to half a day’s worth of sodium, which raises blood pressure and leaves you feeling bloated. Even mental health and fertility can be affected by eating too much fast food.
- Pricier fast-casual establishments and popular takeout spots may seem like they offer healthier options such as whole grains and salads, but thanks to enormous portions and hidden unhealthy ingredients, the meals often pack more calories than fast food. Plus, it can be hard to make a healthy menu choice when creamy soups, rich pastries, sugary beverages, and extra sour cream compete for your attention.
In a lunch world full of oversized portions, sodium, saturated fat, additives, and processed ingredients, easy healthy lunches you pack yourself are almost always the better option. They’re nourishing and they help maintain steady energy levels for getting through all those afternoon meetings and projects.
Here are some secondary health benefits of packing easy healthy lunches for work:
- By skipping the drive-through, takeout run, or daily food delivery, you cut down on vehicle emissions. An idling car in the drive-through is particularly bad for air quality.
- Time spent driving to pick up food or awaiting lunch delivery can now be spent moving your body, ideally outside. With up to 80% of Americans spending most of their workday at a desk, do your best to avoid the risks of sitting too much. Eat your homemade lunch, then use part of your break to stretch, do a bit of yoga, or go for a walk.
One final note on the “Why”: Like any positive change, packing easy healthy lunches for work may need some convincing, but it doesn’t require perfection. You’re not going to get it right 100% of the time. And that’s OK! Forming healthy habits is a journey, not a destination.
Tips & Tricks for Packing Your Lunch
Ready to join the packed lunch club? Here are some of our favorite ways to regularly have easy healthy lunches for work:
Plan and Prep:
This is the foundation for healthy packed lunches. As we discuss in this post, taking time to meal plan and meal prep will successfully yield a week’s worth of homemade lunches. Say goodbye to spontaneous drive-through trips. Say hello to easy healthy lunches for work.
(Re)Heat & Serve:
Combat food waste by showing leftovers some love. When you double the recipe for one night’s healthy dinner, there’s no need to come up with new homemade lunch ideas. Soup, pasta, salads, grain bowls, and other one-dish meals are particularly easy to pack for lunch. Last night’s dinner leftovers don’t end up in a landfill, they become tomorrow’s packed lunch.
No Microwave? No Fridge? No problem:
Safety First: unless it’s shelf-stable, food shouldn’t be left at temperatures between 40 °F - 140 °F for more than two hours.
- To keep a hot homemade lunch hot, fill a wide-mouthed thermos with boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes. While that’s happening, heat up your lunch; soups and stews work best. Then, dump the water and add the heated food. It’ll stay steaming hot for hours.
- If you can’t refrigerate a cold lunch at work, pack it in a cooler and put it in the fridge the night before. A chilled cooler will keep food colder for longer. Just before you leave in the morning, add a few strategically-placed ice packs.
Cold lunch ideas for work:
When cold lunches seem boring and unsatisfying, and you don’t have access to a microwave at work, what happens? Too much unhealthy fast food and pricey takeout happens. A cold lunch may not be as aromatic as a hot one but with a few hacks, it can be just as filling and delicious. And there’s a bonus to the microwave-free approach: no one can ever accuse you of stinking up the office with smelly reheated food.
Here’s a great first step: usurp sandwiches, the long-reigning king of cold lunches, with salad. Specifically, make healthy and super filling mason jar salads part of your meal prep routine. You can vary texture and flavor with different veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds; layer on the proteins and healthy fats; and experiment with different dressings. It’s one framework with a million different satisfying combinations, and the jars keep well throughout the week. You won’t miss hot lunches one bit.
Save Money & Feel Great, but Make It (Sustainable) Fashion:
If your plastic lunch containers look tired, or if you use paper plates and single-use utensils to eat easy healthy lunches for work, safer and sustainable (and prettier!) upgrades may be in order. This is especially important if your plastic containers are damaged by heat exposure in the microwave or dishwasher. These changes can cause hormone-disruptors to leach into your food. Food storage plastics plus heat is a bad combination; keep your containers out of the microwave and dishwasher.
And if you’re not yet in the habit of packing your lunch, because humans are naturally drawn to beauty, a gear upgrade could be just the motivation you need to incorporate homemade lunch ideas into your routine. Picture metal (tiffins are a versatile favorite) and glass lunch containers, a beautifully-patterned soft pack cooler made with sustainable materials, lovely cloth napkins, and reusable utensils. You’ll reduce your plastic footprint and have a more aesthetically-pleasing lunch experience. Even washing reusable items can be part of a pleasurable and healthy lunch routine at work.
Easy Healthy Lunches for Work from Thistle
We get it. Many of you don’t like to cook. You have no interest in homemade lunch ideas, and the only easy healthy lunches for work you want to see on your plate are the ones you didn’t prepare. But does that mean nutritionally-lacking fast food is your only option? Nope.
Thistle delivers easy healthy lunches for work right to your door. Get a week’s worth of nourishing meals complete with lots of variety (so many veggies!) and ways to customize (pick your protein; pause your subscription at any time). Our lunch menu includes plant-forward ready-to-go salads like North African Chermoula and Winter Harvest. These are the easy healthy lunches for work that you dream about. Our recyclable packaging—which we’re currently working to improve—is perfect for a packed lunch because you can eat it straight out of the container at work.
If you want to save money and start feeling great, National Pack Your Lunch Day is a perfect time to start. Begin packing easy healthy lunches for work most days each week, don’t forget them at home (set an alarm reminder or put a note on your front door!), and celebrate the benefits of National Pack Your Lunch Day year-round.