Summer may have left you a little rusty on how to plan healthy and delicious lunches for school and work.

We’ve got a few tips to get you back into the swing of things. 

The building blocks of a good lunchbox 

You want your meals to be tasty, while providing the nutrition and energy needed to get you or your kids through the day. Base your plate (or favourite go-to container) around the basic elements of a good meal including vegetables and fruit, protein-rich foods and whole grains. Use Canada’s latest Food Guide as a foundation to build your meal.    

  1. Vegetables and fruits: Aim for a range of colourful choices. Go heavier on the veggies rather than the fruit, which tends to pack more sugar (although fruit does make an excellent ‘dessert’). Green vegetables are low in fat, plus high in fibre and essential nutrients.   
  2. Protein-rich foods: Consume fewer processed meats, and try to make these as plant-based as possible. Protein-rich foods include legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fish, eggs, poultry, lean red meat, lower fat yogurts, kefir and cheeses. Protein should make up anywhere from 25% to 35% of your total daily calories and you should have some at every meal. 
  3. Whole grains: These are a good source of complex carbohydrates, which are important for energy, and are naturally high in fibre. They help keep you satisfied, and are linked to a lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.  

Plan and prep, and you’re halfway there 

We’ve all done it. We're too busy to plan a lunch, and end up running to the latest takeout joint once lunchtime rolls around. If you’re returning to the office or school after some time away, planning is key. 

  • Plan for the week. Take some time on Sunday to think about what meals you’ll need, and prepare or cook what you can ahead of time. 
  • Make lunches the night before. Early mornings are hectic, so reduce some of the stress by putting lunch together before bed. Be sure to pack it into containers that will maintain freshness. If you don’t have a fridge at work, or you have a long commute, throw in an icepack or two. 
  • If you’re packing for the kids, know the school’s policies. Many don’t allow certain foods because of allergies such as peanut butter. And although your office space might be a bit more socially distanced than before, you may want to consider food allergies and aversions, and perhaps save that favourite tuna or egg sandwich for home. 
  • While you might have great ambitions to eat healthier, it’s also important to make lunches that you enjoy to keep yourself from seeking something more satisfying, or wasting unwanted food. It will help to keep you on track in terms of nutrition and your budget. 

Leftovers are your friend  

Try not to think about lunchtime as reinventing the wheel. If you’re having chicken on a Tuesday night, make extra for the next day’s sandwich or salad. 

Just about any dinner can become lunch. Pack up last night’s vegetarian chili with some nuts, fruit and yogurt. Focus on foods that will fuel you throughout the day. 

Mix up your meal prep 

It’s easy to fall into a rut, like having a salad (although there are a host of delicious salads and slaws to choose from) or a sandwich each day. Consider alternatives such as bowlswraps or stews 

You can also deconstruct your lunch. You may work through lunch at your computer, and prefer something bite sized and easy to graze on – grilled chicken pieces, chopped veggies, or a granola parfait with grapes could be ideal. Kids especially are notorious snackers. This could serve as a great solution to keep them fueled.

Think of the post-pandemic lunch routine as an opportunity to try out some different recipes. Maybe you became a master bread maker, but can now attempt tackling ethnic cuisines. 

With all of these options at your fingertips, lunch may just become your favourite meal of the day!