How To Upgrade Your Sad Desk Lunch


When you are having a busy day at work, lunch shouldn’t be something that you skip out on. Eating a healthy midday meal can help keep you focused and energized. It also will help you avoid a late-afternoon trip to the vending machine for a less-than-nutritious snack or overeating at dinner.

If you are juggling multiple work and home life duties, though, packing a healthy lunch may be low on your priority list. Sometimes the seemingly easiest option is to buy your meal (which is usually more expensive and less healthy than a homemade meal) or to throw together something quick and easy. But let’s face it – a boring salad soggy with dressing or a smooshed peanut butter and jelly sandwich are nothing to get excited about.

Amanda Imperiale, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, recommends prepping your lunch ahead of time. “By making your lunch either the night before or on the weekends, you’ll have something delicious and nutritious to look forward to when lunch times rolls around,” she says. “While lunch prep may take a bit more effort, in the end, you’ll save yourself time, money and calories.”

How To Meal Prep

If you are looking for inspiration on homemade lunch ideas that don't involve opening a can of soup or packing a boring sandwich, try these suggestions out for your weekday lunch prep:

  1. Sheet pan meals. Chop up your favorite veggies and put them on a cookie sheet with a lean protein. Add herbs and seasoning of your choice along with some unsaturated oil (canola or olive). Roast in the oven and separate out into individual containers to grab and go.
  2. Slow cooker prep. Try putting several boneless chicken breasts in your slow cooker and cooking on high for 4-6 hours with your preferred seasoning. (Or use an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, if you have one.) Once cooked, shred and use the chicken throughout the week in burritos, salads, rice bowls or on flat-bread pizza. If you don’t have a slow cooker or are short on time, use rotisserie chicken from the grocery store.
  3. Mason jar salads. Salads can get boring, but a mason jar salad can help you mix things up and are easy to transport. Layer up your favorite ingredients in the jar starting with dressing on the bottom and your lettuce on top. Eat within 3-4 days of preparing.
  4. Salad wraps. Construct a healthy salad but then try it wrapped in a whole wheat pita. Bring your dressing on the side to avoid soggy bread.
  5. Make extras. When you’re preparing dinner, make more than you and your family will eat so that you can take your leftovers to work. For example, soup is easy to make in large batches and keeps well. Veggie-heavy stirfrys and pasta dishes also work well. After dinner, divide the leftovers up into lunch-bag-ready individual portions.
  6. Easy pasta salad. Combine whole wheat pasta with your favorite protein, veggies and a drizzle of any oil-based dressing for a last-minute meal that won’t be disappointing come lunch time.
  7. Build your own bowl. Choose elements from each category to construct a foolproof, hearty bowl meal every time:
    - Base: Brown rice, cauliflower rice, quinoa, farro, whole wheat couscous, kale, spinach or other dark leafy greens
    - Protein: Lean chicken, fish or beef, shrimp, canned tuna, chickpeas, tofu, beans, hardboiled eggs
    - Vegetables: Carrots, tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumbers, onions, sweet potatoes, squash, mushrooms
    - Add-ons: Hummus, salsa, avocado, oil-based dressing, lemon/lime juice, low-fat cheese

Be sure to keep your portions in check and drink plenty of water throughout the day. For meals without a side, feel free to add on some extra raw veggies or a serving of fruit to keep you full.

Finally, don't forget the unsung hero of meal-prepping: your freezer! Use it to stash make-ahead meals that you can pull out when you need them.

A little advance planning and mindfulness will help you eat healthier and make sure that those sad desk lunches are a thing of the past.

For more healthy lunch ideas, like Avocado Chicken Salad, Mediterranean Layered Salad, Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprout Buddha Bowl, or Spring Veggie Pasta Salad, check out our LiveWell recipe video series. And subscribe today to get more tips on healthy eating.

Want to make an appointment with a registered dietitian? Visit or call 1-855-434-5483 for more information.

Amanda Imperiale, MPH, RDN, counsels patients about nutrition at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

Categories: EatWell