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How to Build a To-Go Lunch

April 29, 2019

How to Build a To-Go Lunch

healthy 5 minute lunch recipes

If you’re anything like me, life is always on-the-go. Running between classes, time with friends, a part-time job (or two!) and study groups. Making sure that you’ve got food on hand that not only tastes great but is healthy can sometimes be a stretch. A pasta salad might be tasty, but is it going to give you the nutrients you need? The same thing goes for avocado toast. You need to fuel your body well.

That’s why we need lunches that are EASY and fast. The trick is to have a formula to follow. That way you can easily swap out parts of the dish for something else without having to build the whole recipe from scratch. These ideas below can be swapped around so that you’ll always be able to build a lunch idea that is damn delicious.

Does it still seem like too much work? You can always rely on store bought parts of these lunch recipes, rather than making it all from scratch. Buy single serves of the nut butters, pre-grated cheese (great for a quick grilled cheese too!) or guacamole. No more waiting for avocados to ripen before you can make that perfect avocado salad!

If you’ve only got 20 minutes for lunch at work, you need something that’s ready to go when you are. No more waiting in line for food, you can sit and relax knowing that you’ve got work lunches under control. Without having egg salad (or chickpea salad sandwiches) every day. You also don’t want to be that person in the work lunch room heating up a tuna melt.

Here’s my go-to formula for lunches & dinners

If you’re cooking, I generally recommend cooking with an oil spray instead of using oil, because eating the fat is typically more filling and satisfying than having it in more of a liquid form.

Protein is another great option to mix up. You can get a great a variety of slices of meat from the deli section. Otherwise, you can always batch cook some meat at home and have it ready to go for the rest of the week. A little bit of preparation will set you up for success and doesn’t have to take all weekend.

The two cups of non-starchy vegetables can be almost anything you want! Skip the potato and aim for more salad greens, other root vegetables like sweet potato or zoodles (noodles made from vegetables!). Have a little of everything or stick to your favorite ingredient, depending on the day.  I’ve kept things simple by just using one food in each category, but you can have a mixture of the various options under each.

The fat part of this recipe is my favorite. It’s definitely the bit that is most delicious. Those creamy foods are designed to make us feel full and satiated. Trust me on that one.

Putting the Formula to Use

Here are some simple, portable ways to put this formula to use in a lunch! You can mix and match the ingredients of your choosing so you get a balanced meal that’s quick and easy to make, plus good for you!

Step 1: 2 Cups Non-Starchy Vegetables (About 50 Calories) 

  • Baby carrots
  • Carrot sticks
  • Baby cucumbers
  • Cucumber slices
  • Celery sticks
  • Tomato slices
  • Jicama sticks

Step 2: 1 “Regular” Serving Of Protein (About 150 Calories)

  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 small packet turkey or beef jerky
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • 4oz turkey deli slices
  • 4oz roast beef slices

Step 3: 100-200 Calories Of Fats

  • 1/4 cup nuts (about 1oz, or a 170-200 calorie pack)
  • 1/8 cup nuts (about 2 Tbsp, or a 100-calorie pack)
  • 1 nut butter packet (1-2 Tbsp if you want to measure out yourself)
  • 1-2 string cheeses
  • 1-2 slices of cheese
  • 1 single-serving packet guacamole
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 high-fat yogurt


Here are some EASY lunch examples:

  • 2 cups baby carrots (veggie) + 2 hard boiled eggs (protein) + 1/4 cup nuts (fat)
  • 2 cups celery sticks (veggie) + 4oz turkey slices (protein) + 2 slices of cheddar cheese (fat)
  • 2 cups tomato slices (veggie) + 1 can tuna (protein) + 2 Tbsp mayo (fat)
  • 2 cups cucumber slices (veggie) + 1 packet turkey jerky (protein) + 1 high fat yogurt (fat)

Fancier Lunch Examples

So above we have some quick and dirty options that don’t require a lot of thinking. But sometimes I like to treat myself to something that feels a little more special. I still want something I can throw together quickly or package up to take out the door with me to work.

If you’re looking for some fancier lunches – that still won’t break the bank or take 10 hours to make – here are some great ones. Built using the same formula as above!

1. Taco Bowls

college nutritionist lunch taco bowls

  • 2 cups veg: 1 cup lettuce + 1 cup tomatoes & onions + 1/2 stir-fried bell pepper
  • 4-5oz protein: 4oz grilled chicken – I like Trader Joe’s pre-grilled!
  • 100-200 calories of fats: 1/3 cup shredded cheese
    Just triple or quadruple the recipe if you’re making for a few days
  • Season with basil, oregano, salt & pepper if you like

Alternatively, you can make grain bowls – choose a type of grain, and pair it with your protein of choice, as well as veggies you like.

2. Zoodles & Meatballs

college nutritionist lunch zoodles and meatballs

  • 2 cups veggies: 2 cups zucchini noodles – I made them from frozen pre-zoodled zoodles
  • 100-200 calories of fats: 1/3 cup feta cheese & 1 yogurt for some extra protein on the side
  • 4-5oz protein: 5 turkey meatballs – made from frozen!
  • Seasoned with basil, oregano, salt & pepper

3. Sausage & Pepper Sheet Pan with Cauli Rice

college nutritionist lunch sausage and peppers sheetpan

  • 2 cups veggies: 1 bell pepper + 1 cup pre-riced cauliflower

  • 100-200 calories of fats: 1/3 cup shredded cheese + 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese

  • 4-5oz protein: 1 sausage – I like Trader Joe’s apple chicken one

Check out many more fancy lunches HERE!

Need a meal prep container?

Having some great containers is a key part of meal prepping. There are lots of different ones you can get for different meals. For example, you can have mason jars for meal prepping salads, and you can have regular meal prep containers for other meals. Getting a set will mean that even if you lose one, you can mix and match the lids. Trust me, no matter how careful I am I always seem to lose one somewhere along the way!

Here are some great ones I love.

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How to Build a To-Go Lunch

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