A good ol’ sandwich for lunch? Not if you’re eating paleo! The grain-free paleo diet is based on the human diet from over 10,000 years ago. This means foods that can be hunted or found straight off the tree or vine (no processed snacks here). So what is a paleo-friendly person on their lunch break to do? Here are 20 fantastic, healthy options that will have your non-paleo co-workers kale-green with envy.
1. Chinese Chicken Salad
A chicken salad sandwich sounds great for lunch, but the sandwich part is out of the question if you’re eating paleo. This recipe for a healthy alternative adds a fiber boost in the form of diced vegetables, like radishes and cabbage. If you pack along four or five large butter lettuce leaves, you can leave your fork at home and scoop up the chicken with them.
2. Portabella Sandwich with Sweet Potato Chips
A “good” lunch food is often defined by its ease of handling. That’s why sandwiches (and pizza slices) make popular midday meals. This recipe is every bit as easy to manage as a sandwich, and far more delicious than some cold meat stuffed between two slices of bread. Portabella mushrooms provide iron, magnesium, and zinc. Two slices of tomato and a few sweet potato chips could provide more than half the recommended intake of vitamin A — people 14 years old and older need an average of 700 to 900 micrograms a day.
3. Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps
Here's a recipe that plays on Thai cuisine’s marriage of sweet and salty flavors, but in a purely paleo, sugar-free way. Microwave for a hot lunch, or enjoy it cold, as you would a meat-based salad. Pork is a fatty meat, although the fat content varies by cut. Be sure to choose a lean cut, which will get you a good amount of protein, as well as vitamin B12, which supports nerve health.
4. Italian Sub Roll-Up
Say hello to paleo and goodbye to stuffed sandwiches, right? Not so fast. Here’s an Italian roll-up with everything you love about a footlong. Vary the amount of greens in the middle of the roll as much as you like — the more you use, the more fiber. Substitute traditional mayo for the paleo-friendly version included in this recipe, or try pesto or hummus.
5. Basil Avocado Chicken Salad
You don’t need a dairy ingredient like sour cream to make chicken salad delicious. This recipe uses avocados to achieve the creamy consistency of traditional chicken salad. With generous amounts of chicken, this salad also provides you with about 27 grams of protein a serving.
Top tip: To add some fiber, serve it cupped in raw kale or collards, or in endive leaves.
6. Nicoise Salad
Salad nicoise (the c is pronounced like an s) is a dietary staple for those lucky few who get to live in the South of France. This recipe combines the natural bounty of the region – fresh vegetables, brined olives and capers, fish, and eggs – with a mouthwatering vinaigrette.
7. Meaty Veggie Roll-Ups
These roll-ups make good lunchbox fare, or even a cute appetizer, tied up with a ribbon of chive. Use julienned carrots, cucumber (with peel on), zucchini, bell peppers, and jicama (peel off) or shredded green and purple cabbage for the vegetables. Consider a creamy paleo-friendly dip or dressing for an extra layer of luscious.
8. Cuban Brisket Taco Bowls
One-bowl meals are another lunch-friendly preparation that’s easily adaptable to paleo eating. This one calls itself a taco bowl, but the bowl is lettuce or other broadleaf greens instead of corn tortillas. In fact, all the vegetables in this recipe have healthy doses of vitamins C and A (a half-cup of raw spinach has 1,400 IUs of vitamin A). Vitamin C is sensitive to heat, so the C in this case comes from the fresh greens and the orange slices, rather than from the large serving of orange juice that cooks the meat.
9. Salmon Patties with Creamy Lemon Dill Sauce
In this recipe, almond flour holds salmon patties together rather than the traditional wheat flour or bread crumbs. The almonds and salmon in this recipe combine to provide nearly 1,000 milligrams of calcium. That’s three times as much as a glass of milk!
Top tip: You can make your own almond flour if it’s difficult to find in stores — just grind raw almonds in a food processor, clean coffee grinder, or blender with a milling blade.
10. Easy Grilled Fish Fillets
The paleo diet is big on lean proteins and on not wasting calories. This recipe, which cooks the fish in its own steam, is paleo to its core. Porgy, or porgie, is also known as bream or Australian snapper. Any snapper fish would also work well here.
11. Broccoli Chicken
Anybody can make chicken and broccoli. What makes this recipe so good? Cooking the broccoli in the chicken’s juices takes it to a whole new level of yum. The savory combo of vinegar, mustard, and pepper flakes also brings out the broccoli’s unexpected sweetness.
12. Stuffed Bell Peppers
Here’s another complete paleo meal in one “container.” The red bell peppers get cooked to mellow sweetness, but still hold their shape enough to keep other delicious ingredients inside. This recipe, with its peppers and tomatoes, is a great source of vitamins A and C, even after the vitamin loss that cooking causes. It’s also a good source of protein (4 ounces of lean turkey has over 20 grams).
13. Egg Salad
Egg salad is a perfect lunch — and with this recipe, you don’t have to worry about refrigerating perishable mayonnaise. Two eggs contain nearly 100 UIs of vitamin D, which helps keep blood levels of calcium and phosphorous balanced. This recipe suggests a paleo-friendly sandwich bread.
Top tip: Instead of paleo bread, try scooping up the egg salad with paleo tortilla chips, or use cabbage or butter lettuce leaves to dip into the salad.
14. Spring Cobb Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette
Here’s a convenient idea: salads stacked up in large mason jars for lunchtime portability. Put the dressing in first, so it soaks the salad when you overturn the jar onto your lunch plate. You can assemble these salads on a weekend afternoon and have them ready to grab out of the refrigerator on weekday mornings when time is tight.
15. Spaghetti Squash Bowls
This recipe is brimming with vegetable goodness. Spaghetti squash provides vitamins A and C along with dietary fiber. One cup of cauliflower provides at least 10 percent of the daily requirement of folate, which is an especially important nutrient for pregnant women.
Gazpacho is a naturally paleo blend of almost as many vegetables as you can fit into one bowl. This recipe’s refreshing cucumber balances the rich sweetness of bell peppers and the tartness of tomatoes. Gazpacho makes a great lunch choice, since the only heat you need to add is a shake of dried chiles or a dash of pepper sauce.
17. Beef Barbacoa Bowls
Here’s another paleo recipe that’s easy to put in a single-serving container and bring along for lunch. This slow-cooker preparation means you can pull everything together on a Sunday night and walk out the door with minimal lunch prep on Monday morning. Just throw some salad ingredients together and top it with your cooked barbacoa. You already know beef is a good source of protein; it also provides iron, zinc, and B vitamins.
18. Thai Chicken “Zoodle” Soup
What are “zoodles”? They’re noodles made with zucchini that have been cut with a “spiralizing” tool. Many paleo recipes use coconut milk to substitute for other creamy ingredients. Here it is in a starring role as the soup’s base. Just 1 cup of coconut milk provides folate, calcium, and 41 percent of your daily iron.
Top tip: If you don’t have a spiralizing tool, you can also grate your zucchini zoodles on the large holes of a cheese grater.
19. Root Vegetable Buddha Bowls
What’s so great about eating roots? For one thing, they are in season year-round, meaning you can get them fresh in the winter, unlike some vegetables. For another reason, the root vegetables in this recipe — sweet potatoes, parsnips, and beets — are good sources of fiber, vitamins A and C, and minerals like calcium and potassium.
20. Skirt Steak Tacos
Most tacos come in a corn tortilla, but these paleo tacos are wrapped in a crisp lettuce leaf. Serve them as an easily packed lunch “sandwich” or as cocktail hour finger food. A 3-ounce serving of skirt steak provides almost half a milligram of vitamin B6, nearly 40 percent of your daily need. People with poor kidney function or with malabsorption conditions like celiac disease especially need to be sure they’re getting enough B6.