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Grown-up healthy lunches!

What to take to work for healthy, interesting lunches is one of the most common requests we hear at Healthy Food Guide. It seems many people are bored by sandwiches and want something a bit more exciting to look forward to at lunchtime.

Work lunches for those of us who work outside the home also have to be portable, easy to store, and quick and easy to assemble, if necessary, sometimes in very limited kitchen conditions. And of course, something healthy and delicious would be nice, too.

To get the best nutritional bang for my buck, I like to get at least a couple of vege serves into my work lunches. So I tend to eat a variation on the theme of ‘salad’ most days.

That doesn’t mean I’m eating a bowl of leaves, though. My salad bowls can be warm or cold and include all sorts of veges, including potatoes, kumara, carrots, beetroot, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin and tomatoes. To that I add some protein, like cooked leftover meat or chicken, smoked salmon, tuna, sardines or eggs. It does need a bit of green, so I almost always add rocket or baby spinach leaves. And it needs interesting bits to give it flavour and zing – things like lemon zest, roasted nuts, chillies (fresh or dried), roasted seeds, grated parmesan or chunks of feta. If there are not already carbs from the veges, I’ll add croutons made from toasted bread or cooked brown rice, couscous or quinoa. And lastly, some dressing which can take any form, from basic vinaigrette to soy sauce to lime juice. It’s possible to make free-form salads like this every day and never eat the same thing twice. They’re a great way to incorporate leftovers into a new meal.

To get your ‘freestyle’ lunches going, it’s a good idea to keep a few ingredients handy so you always have something to toss together. Here are some ingredient suggestions to get you started.

For the desk drawer or locker

  • canned salmon, tuna and sardines
  • instant couscous
  • roasted nuts and seeds
  • ready-to-cook rice packets
  • spices for sprinkling
  • crackers or rice cakes
  • canned chilli beans, chickpeas and lentils

For the fridge

  • baby chillies/olives/peppers/pickles
  • bread for toasting
  • cooked leftover chicken or other meat
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • pesto
  • cheeses
  • salad veges (lettuce, mesclun, rocket, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, celery)
  • other seasonal veges (pre-chop if you like)
  • your favourite dressing

‘No-cook’ assemble-at-work ideas

  • Top rice or corn thins with smoked salmon, reduced-fat mayonnaise and rocket salad.
  • Mix cooked rice with canned salmon or sardines, chopped tomatoes, baby spinach, lemon juice, olive oil and chilli flakes for a kick.
  • Make a bread salad with tuna. Toast bread and cut in chunks. Add tuna, salad veges, tomatoes, roasted capsicums and vinaigrette.
  • Heat cooked brown rice with carrot and courgette ribbons, broccoli, grated ginger and leftover cooked chicken or beef. Dress with soy sauce, sliced chillies and chopped roasted nuts.
  • A couscous salad is only a boiled jug away. Prepare couscous following packet directions. Toss with a spoonful of pesto, lemon juice, sliced olives, green veges of your choice and leftover sausages cut in chunks.
First published: Apr 2013
Last updated: January 23 2018
Last science review: October 10 2016



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