smiling woman eating a sandwich

Stopping to eat a healthy lunch in the middle of a busy workday isn't always the easiest thing to do. Stress over meetings and reports can lead you to the fast food drive-through or make you skip out on eating altogether, both of which are unhealthy lunch options. Healthy grab and go lunches don't have to take all day to prepare and can be more tasty to the palate than you might think.

Busy adults who consider a fast food burger, French fries, and a soft drink a complete meal are missing out on essential nutrients that keep their body healthy, strong, and ready for anything that comes their way. Healthy grab and go lunches are heavy on whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. Mayonnaise and other fat-laden spreads and sauces should be used sparingly or not at all, suggests Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Fried food should be an occasional treat, not the standard grab and go fare. Fast food and meals that are high in fat not only increase your risk of high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease, but they also take longer to digest, making you feel sluggish in the afternoon.

Think Outside the (Lunch) Box
Sandwiches, a traditional lunch food, can easily combine a variety of essential nutrients with a wide range of flavours when you are creative with spreads, sauces and oils. A chicken wrap, for instance, can take on several flavours:

  • Mediterranean - add roasted red peppers or olive tapenade to the sandwich
  • French - spread a thin layer of Brie on a whole wheat tortilla or French bread
  • Italian - toss chicken with Italian dressing or balsamic vinegar and eat with Italian bread
  • Mexican - have soft corn tortilla tacos with chicken with salsa and beans

Sandwiches, however, are not the only way to eat a healthy lunch on the go. Think outside of the box when planning your midday meal; leftovers are a great way to clean out the fridge and make sure you're getting an energy boost for the remainder of the day. Pastas, salads and soups from last night's dinner are quick rerun meals that give you a well-rounded nutrient punch; many items are delicious hot or cold and can be heated in the office microwave in mere seconds before you head to your next class, meeting or conference call.

If stopping your work to sit down with knife and fork is just not going to happen, stash a bag of apples, pears or oranges and a box of whole grain crackers in your filing cabinet. Fruits of this kind are shelf-stable for several days at a time, requiring no refrigeration, and offer both fibre and antioxidant vitamins. Whole grain crackers, rice cakes or whole grain baked pita chips provide you with fibre, a bit of salt and a satisfying crunch without a lot of fat or empty calories. Complete your working lunch with nuts or a square of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.

At-Home Prep
From the minute you wake up in the morning, your mind is already on the dozens of items you must tick off your checklist throughout the day. Packing a healthy lunch, especially when you're not sure you'll have time to eat, is usually at the bottom of your to-do list. Make the process easier for yourself by taking care of some at-home prep over the weekend. Shop for fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, with variety as your keyword. Mixing up your protein each day can include a rotisserie chicken, a can of tuna and some lean ham; put baby carrots, fresh berries and sweet peppers in your trolley for healthy sides to accompany your wrap, soup or pasta salad. Slice, dice, and chop every ingredient as soon as you get home and measure out individual portions. Keep each ingredient in a separate container to preserve freshness and avoid spoilage. Having everything ready to literally grab and go as you leave for work makes eating healthy much easier than leaving the packing for the last minute.

Safe Packing
Keep yourself safe from foodborne illness by packing your healthy on-the-go lunches appropriately. Use insulated thermoses for foods that are meant to be served hot, and cold packs for refrigerated items. If you have access to a refrigerator at your place of work, make use of it and reheat your lunch as needed.