I work from home and my kids are grown, so lunch is usually just me. Before I got serious about taking good care of myself, lunch was likely to be mac ‘n cheese or leftover pizza. Healthy lunches – not! (And I wondered why I was hungry again two hours later!)
Since starting to eat low carb several years ago then experimenting with the Paleo diet and Whole30 this year, I’ve taken to heart the idea that eating healthy is a form of self respect. But let’s get real: I still don’t want to do anything too complicated when I’m just cooking for one. Here are some of my go-to strategies for eating a healthy lunch with minimal prep but maximum taste! (There are actually 12 now, with some bonus links at the end.)
10 12 Quick, Easy, Gluten-free, Paleo and Whole30-friendly, Healthy Lunches
My summer mainstay: Variations on tuna salad
I’ve done a whole post on this one already. Basically, it’s a mayo-free tuna salad with a core set of ingredients, and the flexibility to switch out whatever veggies you have on hand or that sound good to you on any given day. If you do a little veggie prep every few days — just chop up some onions, peppers, cucumbers, etc. — this becomes super easy to throw together. Another meal prep tip: keep some chopped parsley in a baggie in the freezer. It’s key to the flavor of this salad, but once you realize what a fresh flavor it adds to anything and how easy it is to keep it stocked in the freezer, you’ll want to keep it on hand all the time. I do!
Click over to the detailed post; there are lots of photos and ingredient suggestions.
I cook salmon for dinner once a week (for example, salmon with avocado salsa, herb-crusted salmon, or ancho-crusted salmon), and whether I plan for it or it just works out that way, there’s often a little left over. A little is all you need for salmon cakes! But if you don’t have leftovers, canned salmon works fine, too.
I’ve never measured — that’s part of what makes this kind of cooking quicker! — but I’m guessing I usually start with around 1/3 a cup of already cooked salmon. I mash it together with one raw egg yolk, some diced onion (already prepped, from the fridge), and if I have it and feel like it, I might add some diced celery and/or bell pepper, too. Stir in some cracker crumbs if you’re not gluten-averse, tapioca or arrowroot starch if you are, and let that sit for a minute or two. Heat and grease a small frypan over medium heat, then form your mix into one or two patties and fry briefly on both sides, till golden-brown and delicious! Sometimes it turns out more loose and eggy, like a frittata — no worries; it’s still good!
The recipe for the “zoodles” shown above is here.
Getting creative with leftovers
Think outside the box of just reheating leftovers…
A stir fry is a great way to combine and use up leftovers! For example, last night’s pork chop gets chopped up and tossed with the leftover green bean and mushroom side dish to become a stir fry:
Turning a main dish into a salad is another approach. Leftover taco meat becomes a taco salad:
That “dressing” is just yogurt, salsa, and a little homemade taco seasoning I keep on hand. You can find the recipe here, but again, there’s no need to measure; just eyeball it, taste, and adjust if necessary.
A desperate, “what’s in the fridge” day was the birth of my antipasto salad:
Lettuce wraps are another great template for lunch. Leftover hamburger or crumbled sausage can make an impromptu gyro wrap, if you have some cukes and tomatoes on hand:
My winter mainstay: soup
Some day I’m going to do a whole post (and maybe a cooking class) on my soup method, but here are just a few examples of the kind of easy-to-throw-together soups I make almost every day, once the weather turns cool. If you have some broth, some prepped veggies in the fridge, and little leftover meat, it’s not hard to turn them into a wide variety of healthy lunches, like…
Simple chicken soup:
Sausage, spinach, broth, and marinara make for a minestrone-inspired soup. (Forgive the filter; I was an instagram newb!)
Leftover french onion soup from one day’s restaurant lunch + half a large burger patty from the next day’s restaurant lunch + a little diced squash + chopped spinach = one quick, easy, hearty soup.
And one day, I was lucky enough to have a little leftover steak; threw it in at the last moment so as not to overcook it. The green blob is from a Wholly Guacamole mini — another thing I keep on hand for easy lunches. (This photo makes me hungry again!)
Some cooked, crumbled sausage, chicken bone broth, and assorted veggies; I don’t know what you call this soup, but it’s delicious!
Sausage and sauerkraut
I know not everyone likes sauerkraut, but if you do, keeping a jar on hand in the fridge along with some healthy sausages or hot dogs can be a great, super-quick lunch option! Sauerkraut has tons of Vitamin C, and may be beneficial to gut health.
Just slice the meat, fry it till slightly browned, add the sauerkraut and cook till heated through. Additions are optional.
In the pic on the left, I used gourmet, uncured, sugar-free hot dogs. I added some diced apple with the sliced meat, so that the apples cooked till slightly tender. Another day, I was using chicken and apple sausage, and added some chopped avocado right at the end. Both days I added a sprinkling of celery seeds and black pepper, but there’s plenty of flavor without them!
I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond reheated as-is leftovers and the usual boxed or canned options, to create some healthy lunches of your own!
Follow me on Instagram for more quick, easy healthy food ideas.
You might also like:
- My post on make-ahead roasted sweet potatoes, and all the things you can do with that.
- 30-second Caesar salad
- 10-minute French dip sandwich (not gluten-free, unless you use gluten-free bread)
- 7-layer dip as salad
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