Easy lunch ideas for people who hate cooking

Are you in desperate need of some lunchspiration? Find the easy lunch ideas that will power you through the day. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

By Samantha Erb

The idea is tantalizing: Save money, eat healthier and make the most of your break by digging into a delicious pre-packed lunch. The catch? You’d rather do anything but cook. Help!

Don’t doom yourself to a lifetime of wilted salads and expensive to-go orders. If you and lunchtime have a love-hate relationship, keep reading for some easy lunches that might just inspire you to change up your noon routine.

The four ingredients that every lunch should have

To understand what makes some lunches satisfying and others just fine, you’ve got to get down to the basics. Keep these four essential ideas in mind, and you’ll find that making easy lunches just got a whole lot simpler.

Make it nutritious and delicious

Want to avoid that dreaded 4 p.m. slump, but don’t know where to start? The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has got you covered with their Healthy Eating Plate.

It’s a simple guide for creating balanced lunches. Fruits and vegetables should fill half of your plate, while whole grains and protein should each fill a quarter of your plate. Pair your dish with a moderate amount of healthy plant oils and a drink of water.

Following a simple guide like Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate takes away the mental load associated with planning a nutritious lunch. Soon enough, creating healthy lunches will become second nature. And if you’re taking lunch to go, just keep those proportions in mind as you’re packing up your containers.

Seek out some lunch inspiration

While there’s nothing wrong with the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the world of lunch has so much more to offer. So before you go grocery shopping, take a moment to look up some easy cold lunch ideas to make for the week ahead.

Or, if you can’t get enough of a particular fast-food option, think about recreating a healthy version at home for a fraction of the price, like this buffalo chicken wrap. You can even jot down a list of lunch ideas, or types of lunch – soups, salads, bowls, wraps, sandwiches and more – to stick to your fridge when inspiration runs dry.

Set yourself up for a serene morning

If you can take just a few minutes to prepare lunch the night before, your morning self will thank you. Leftovers from dinner, pre-packaged healthy snacks and fruits and veggies that are easy to toss into a container will all make for a stress-free lunch.

Beware the container-pocalypse

You really, really don’t want to be the person who gets to the office and discovers that their soup has exploded all over their bag. Consider investing – or shopping secondhand – for some good-quality containers that will keep your food in prime condition.

Pick the containers that work best for you. Glass containers are heavier than plastic and more breakable, but are easier to clean and safer to microwave. Bento boxes, tiffins and thermoses are other great options to consider. Plus, think about finding a cute lunchbox to hold those containers for an extra layer of security. You might be surprised at how much you start to enjoy preparing food using your new gear.

Low-effort meal ideas

You’ve picked up a bunch of healthy groceries for less, extracted your lunchbox from deep inside a cupboard and set aside some time to prep for the morning. What next? Here’s how to put it all together to create some easy lunch meals.

Sandwiches and wraps

Sandwiches and wraps are lunch at its best: They’re portable, filling and don’t need to be reheated. For a sandwich that’s sure to make your coworkers jealous, swap your regular sliced bread for ciabatta or bagels. These denser breads won’t get as soggy and can be stuffed with goodness, like this tri tip sandwich that’s packed with onions, provolone cheese, lettuce and steak. If you’re looking for a lighter option, almost any sandwich recipe can be easily converted to a wrap.

To set yourself up for easy lunches, stock your pantry with long-lasting essentials like mayo, mustard, canned fish and pickles. For your fresh ingredients, look to versatile options like cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado that can be used in multiple dishes.

Satisfying salads and bowls

Salads and bowls are a healthy way to enjoy a bunch of fresh veggies, but how do you make them satisfying without spending hours in the kitchen? There’s no shame in relying on shortcuts. For example, most grocery stores offer bagged salads that you can make more satisfying with a few extra ingredients. Purchasing dressing saves a lot of time. Marinated tofu and salad toppers can also be a huge help.

If you don’t want to spend that extra money at the grocery store, set aside some time on the weekend to prepare meals for the week ahead. Pre-washing and pre-chopping your veggies and shaking up some homemade salad dressing will make next week’s salads a breeze.

Above all, don’t forget to scour your fridge for leftovers that can be repurposed into tomorrow’s lunch. Last night’s salmon and chicken can power up your leafy greens. Roasted veggies work perfectly in a fall-inspired bowl. Short pasta noodles, quinoa or orzo can all be added to salads and bowls to make them more filling.

Don’t forget your snacks

Packing a range of sweet and savory snacks that you actually want to eat will keep cravings at bay and prevent you from impulsively purchasing items you’ll later regret. Kale chips, seaweed snacks, fruits and veggies with dip, granola bars and dried fruit are all balanced options that can keep you satisfied through a long day at work.

Make lunch a daily gift to yourself

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler famously said, “If you want people to do something, make it easy.” He may not have been thinking about lunch when he spoke those words, but his insight holds true regardless.

How do you make lunch easy? You start by finding functional, easily accessible lunch gear. Embrace store-bought or prepped-in-advance shortcuts. And, above all, pack food you’re actually excited to eat.

So next time the clock strikes noon – or, let’s be honest, 11:25 a.m. – you won’t feel stressed. You’ll feel ready for yet another brag-worthy, healthy-but-filling, no-effort lunch. Yeah, you’ve got this one in the bag.

Samantha Erb is the owner of Everyday Family Cooking, a recipe website focused on providing simple meals with few ingredients that still pack on the flavor.