During the years I spent in both primary and secondary school packed lunches were always what I ate. Despite complaints by lunch time staff (in primary school- secondary school staff thankfully just let us get on with it) that school dinners were “healthier” than the lunches we brought to school, I beg to differ. Here I have for you just a few packed lunch ideas that all taste amazing and are packed with goodness. Remember though, sometimes you just can’t beat a wholemeal chicken salad sandwich (which is so quick and easy to make), or a simple salad made using up leftover ingredients. Most of my lunches in sixth form were only created because we had leftovers to use up- and they became some of my favourite lunch ideas. So, get creative and remember to love your leftovers!
My packed lunches have always been balanced, firstly by my mum (who would even theme my lunches around whether it was Christmas, Easter etc.) and later by myself. I’ll just mention, in addition, that they always looked a whole lot more balanced and appetising than school meals. One of my friends was given chocolate sponge for a dessert with her school meal, which amused us all lunch break by its ability to remain in the dish when we turned it upside down…
The Main Event
- Cold pitta bread pizza -Spread a wholemeal pitta bread with some tomato puree mixed with water and dried herbs, to give a ketchup consistency, and then add desired toppings. Sprinkle a little cheese on top and place under the grill for a round 10 minutes. Allow to cool, pack into a lunchbox.
- Spinach, tuna & cucumber pitta – Pitta bread stuffed with spinach (or any lettuce leaf), tuna mixed with salsa (and any spices you fancy), and cucumber slices
- Cucumber & cream cheese sandwich- Cucumber and low fat cream cheese sandwich, on wholemeal bread
- Fruity cous cous salad -measure out the required amount of cous cous, add the appropriate amount of water, cover and stand for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork- much quicker than packet instructions. Mix with lemon juice, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, Satsuma segments, feta cheese or mozzarella, and fresh mint.
- Hummus, bell pepper, mushroom, and tomato wrap -you can grill the pepper and mushrooms before hand, or even use leftover grilled vegetables. Feel free to add some grilled onion, which is really delicious!
- Soup with crispbreads/bread/oatcakes/rice cakes
- Roasted vegetable and canned fish salad -mix roasted vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, onion and courgette with any sort of canned fish (canned tuna works particularly well), and have some salsa and oatcakes on the side
- Almost Tuna Niscoise salad -mix salad leaves, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper together. Add canned tuna and a boiled egg. Feel free to also add some green beans to make this more traditional, but it tastes just as good without. Serve with some salsa or a low fat dressing on the side, and your choice of carbohydrates such as oatcakes etc.
- Wholemeal hot & cold ham sandwich– a wholemeal sandwich of ham (or chicken), cucumber (the cool, or “cold”), and mustard (the “hot”, taste wise) or “mayo” (mix Greek or natural yoghurt with a little mustard, salt and pepper)
- Cold sweet potato jacket with side salad and tuna “mayo”
-mix canned tuna with the above recipe for Greek yoghurt mayo, you can also add some herbs and spices if you fancy. Pile into a lunch box with the salad leaves and sweet potato.
- Tomato pasta salad -mix cooked wholemeal pasta twists or bows with some chicken, ham, or tuna, wilted spinach and tomatoes, add 1-2tbsp hot salsa and you’re done!
- Creamy pasta salad– mix cooked wholemeal pasta twists or bows with chicken or ham, then 50-100g mashed cottage cheese or Greek/natural yoghurt, dried herbs (Italian works well), mushrooms (raw, or placed into a microwave for a few minutes to cook, cooled, and then added), chopped celery, and green bell pepper (chopped and microwaved for a few minutes, as green pepper can be bitter raw).
- Mexican chilli chicken wrap– cook a chicken breast seasoned with smoked paprika and chilli powder, then chop into pieces (reserve half to use in a salad or another packed lunch/meal). To a wholemeal wrap add some shredded salad leaves, carrot ribbons, and tomato. Dot on some salsa, hot sauce, Greek yoghurt (if desired, I personally prefer my food spicy and so would omit this), and add the chicken pieces. Feel free to add some jalapeños and lime juice for an extra kick.
- Satay style salad– Simply chop mixed vegetables and place into a microwavable dish with 2tbsp cold water. Chopped broccoli, baby corn, red pepper, onion, carrot, and mange tout all work well together. Cover and microwave on full power for 2-4 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Gradually mix 1tbsp peanut butter with boiling water until a sauce like consistency results. Feel free to add any of: tabasco, chilli flakes, Chinese five spice (that one is my favourite), honey, or soy sauce, to taste. Toss the vegetables with the sauce and either eat hot or allow to cool and pack into an airtight tub. You can serve with a small portion of cooked cous cous, quinoa, bulgur wheat, or rice, or even a wholemeal pitta bread, wrap, or some oatcakes etc.
Snacks and sides
- Chop up carrots and cucumber into sticks or simply pack baby corns, sugar snap peas and mange tout whole.
- Spread celery sticks with some 1tsp of peanut butter per stick, and dot with chopped prunes, raisins, or sultanas (this was and still is a favourite snack of mine, commonly known as “ants on a log”)
- Rice cakes spread with some peanut butter, sandwiched together and wrapped in foil. They can be pulled apart and eaten, this just prevents peanut butter going everywhere.
- Whole pieces of fruit, but ones which keep well in lunchboxes and are easy to eat e.g. apples, satsumas, pears…
- Sweet potato wedges with salsa (I would use this as a side with any salad or soup, where it can replace the oatcakes/ricecakes etc. Simply chop a sweet potato into wedges, season with black pepper and smoked paprika, microwave until the flesh is soft and then grill for 5 minutes on high- you can buy oil sprays that reduce the amount of oil you use but still allow them to crisp up. However, these are just as tasty without the use of any oil spray. Allow the wedges to cool and then pack into a lunch box).
- Crispbreads spread with a low fat cream cheese, and either a whole apple or apple slices
- 100g Greek yoghurt or cottage cheese with 1/2tsp honey and grapes/berries mixed in (remember to use a mini ice pack to keep this cool!)
- Steamed veggies- for people who for some reason don’t like them raw. Chop the desired vegetables into pieces (broccoli and baby corn work well), place into a microwavable dish with 2tbsp water, cover and microwave for 2 minutes. Cool and place into a tub.
- Pitta bread pieces and hummus (chop a pitta bread into triangles, season to your liking, grill for a few minutes and allow to cool- use them to scoop up the hummus!)
- Banana bread scone (this is a more substantial snack, ideal to have 30 minutes to an hour before taking part in sports or P.E. You can find the recipe under the “Baking” section of this blog.)
- Rainbow skewers (onto a skewer thread any of these combinations: grape and small chunks of cheese; watermelon and feta cubes; plum or cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves; berries and grapes)
I hope you all find some of these ideas helpful- a final tip though! Drink lots of water through the day and with your lunch, in place of fizzy or other sugary drinks. I promise you will feel so much more alert! What do you usually eat for lunch at work, school, university, or college?