Clean Eating Lunches are Easy and Fast

Clean eating lunches Before I discovered clean eating, I used to think feeling like a train hit me right around 2 pm was an inevitable part of each day. By 3 pm I’d be slumping in my chair, eyes drooping, and spirits sagging. I’d count the minutes until dinner, irritably race home, and eat as much as possible. I might even preface dinner with a *few* handfuls of tortilla chips. Then I’d feel sluggish again after a huge dinner and sit on the couch the rest of the night. Sound familiar?

Since changing the way I eat several years ago, I have not had this happen even once. I have energy all day long, feel healthier, and easily maintain my weight.

You may know you need to make a change to your eating habits but feel thwarted - you aren’t sure how to do it or don’t have time to prepare food ahead. When I find people in the lunchroom heating up frozen dinners, they usually say lack of time is the reason for not bringing food from home. If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of having to prepare clean eating lunches or squeeze in breakfast before work, you may be surprised by how easy eating clean really is.

Lunch is a manageable place to start when you’ve decided to eat healthier. I started out with clean eating lunches and slowly added in snacks, then breakfasts, and finally dinners. In the beginning I still ate foods like garden burgers and soups, but now I avoid anything with high sodium or a long ingredient list. But even cutting out packaged, junky foods gradually made a huge difference in my health and chronic stomach distress.

Prepping Clean Eating Lunches

As you may know (and maybe fear!), the key to eating more wholesome foods is a little advance preparation. But I promise you it is not difficult. Here’s your plan:

  • On the weekend, buy a few key ingredients (suggestions below).
  • Once every week or two, cook wholesome foods in batches. Prepare homemade casseroles, salads, or soups or prepare individual foods to combine, such as:
    • Lean proteins: Cooked chicken breasts, turkey meatballs and patties, salmon or tuna steaks, pork tenderloin, grass-fed bison or beef
    • Complex carbs/starch: Vegetables, brown rice, whole-grain pasta and buns, quinoa, sweet potatoes
  • After cooking, divide and freeze these foods in individual-sized portions so that on weekdays you can have them for quick, nutritious lunches (and dinners!).
  • Also on the weekend, spend a little time preparing foods you’ll eat during the week that you don’t want to freeze. For example, boil eggs or cut vegetables for salads.
  • Each morning, grab an individual-sized portion from the freezer and take it to work with you (such as a turkey patty and bun). At lunch, eat it with veggies or as a salad and bring to work or warm for dinner. If you have a fridge at work, keep things such as mustard or balsamic vinaigrette in stock there.

You can throw these ingredients together in endless ways to create yummy salads, sandwiches, wraps, and more (see recipe below). With clean eating lunches, you rely on seasonings and natural flavors instead of fat, sugar, and salt.

You should plan on bringing a lunch bag or small cooler with you to work or school – you don’t want to end up hungry away from home with nothing to eat but junk. Besides lunch, my bag includes snacks such as roasted almonds, fruit, and low-fat string cheese.

If you’re trying to lose weight, have smaller portions. You’ll find the weight comes off more easily when you’re mostly consuming fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and complex carbs instead of calorie-dense prepackaged and fast food.

Your Starter Grocery List

Here is a list of specific foods to get you started with clean eating lunches. As I mentioned in my first clean eating post, you should get your hands on Tosca Reno’s book, The Eat Clean Diet, for more ideas.

On your weekend grocery trip, in addition to the ingredients you choose to make from the weekend prep list above, pick up the following as you like:

Whole-grain pita, waffles, or bread; marinated artichokes; avocado; non-fat Greek yogurt; frozen edamame beans (or another legume of your choice); steel-cut oatmeal (or unsweetened instant); a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables; frozen blueberries; low-sodium hummus; n0-salt added garbonzo, kidney, or black beans; dark-leafy greens; sweet potatoes; free-range eggs; grass-fed beef; lean ground turkey; free-range chicken breasts; white fish; canned light tuna in water or salmon

I love avocado sandwiches with a hard boiled egg, tuna sandwiches with fruit, pasta/rice/chicken/veggie salads, and turkey burgers or meatballs with fruit, to name a few. (Check out what a day of clean eating looks like for me.) You’ll notice that all these meals include both complex carbs and protein so that your energy level remains high until your next meal or snack (fats are a small part of most of these meals as well). Remember, you can choose to eat smaller, more frequent “mini-meals” or add small snacks between three main meals.

Here’s a salad I love to make for lunch. When you can pull out cooked pasta and chicken from the freezer, this takes about 10 minutes to make. Do it before bed and you’re all set with a delicious, healthy lunch!

Whole-Grain Pasta Salad with Chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts, chopped
  • 8 oz whole-grain rotini or penne pasta, cooked and drained
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 oz artichoke hearts (reserve marinade for dressing)

Toss all the ingredients and add dressing as desired.

Dressing

I just add a little artichoke marinade but you can try the following:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 7-oz container Greek yogurt, reduced or nonfat
  • 2 Tbsp reserved marinade
  1. In a large bowl, combine chicken, pasta, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, and artichokes. Mix well.
  2. In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients and stir well. Pour over salad.

Enjoy your new-found energy and better health with this small change to your eating lifestyle! For more clean-eating and strength-training tips, subscribe to my newsletter by entering your email address in the green box to the right.

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Comments

  1. Suzanne, this is one of my favorite posts you’ve written! So many people want to eat better, but they do get overwhelmed with the time/prep involved in actually making it happen. Frozen lunches aren’t the solution; planning in advance is!
    Shira recently posted..The Bad Boy of CaloriesMy Profile

    • Thanks Shira! I think if people knew how easy it was, they’d be on board. I’ve seen amazing changes in my energy & health since beginning clean eating, including the disappearance of a longstanding digestive problem (IBS). It’s just so worth it to make the switch.

  2. Okay, I guess if I’m going to give this whole clean eating a shot, then lunch is a good place to start!

    I’m really do well with cutting back on carbs, so I’ll probably keep that up. Could do with some nice salads with boiled eggs and veggies, though. That actually sounds yummy.

    I really do HAVE to stop getting in my own way and make better choices.
    ragemichelle recently posted..Walking The Line Between Kindness and CrueltyMy Profile

    • You are on your way – you’ve got major awareness going on and the will! Be sure to eat enough protein with every meal and you’ll be full longer – then you won’t need all those carbs :).

  3. I never thought of freezing pasta or rice, thanks for the ideas.

  4. Thanks for visiting my blog Suzanne :)

    And I love this post. A lot of time taken to prep foods and people are sometimes turned off to home cooking. This tips would come in handy for sure :)
    Kiran recently posted..Almond CookiesMy Profile

  5. love that pasta dish. So flavorful. I will have to try it with my gluten free pasta!
    LC
    lindsay recently posted..22 daysMy Profile

  6. These are some great tips! I’ve been doing this the hard way. This is going to help a lot. Great post. Thank you!!!!

  7. What a fantastic post! It’s so vital to stress the “mini-meal”. It’s a tough concept to get used to, but it works oh so well!

    I always tell people that if they can’t get the hang of it right away, simply cook 3 regular meals and cut them in half. Eat a half of a meal every 2-3 hours and you’re set!

    Oh, and avocado sandwiches one of my favorite lunches! Y.U.M.!!!
    Tiffany @ The Gracious Pantry recently posted..Clean Eating Spaghetti Squash SpaghettiMy Profile

  8. Agreed — 1,000%!

    The best investment of time in a fitness agenda isn’t always in the gym or on the road. In fact, I often suggest to clients that they skip their weekend workouts, and use that time to grill chicken breasts, steam volumes of broccoli, make brown rice to put in 7 little baggies — one for each day of th week, and so-on.

    I genuinely believe they will be better of cooking than walking or lifting on the weekends. Makes those busy Monday-Fridays much more useful when the good food ready, accessible, and the drive through and vending machines need not be entertained.

  9. Great post Suzanne! I love how you started small & focus on your pantry foods – those are so key for me too. And uh, quinoa? Are we twins separated at birth by chance?

    Lunch is a big deal – cuz I get BUSY & if I don’t have something handy, I tend to become FAMISHED & then make crappy choices. It’s just that simple.

    One of my best fitness investments (next to my shoes & HR monitor) are my pyrex dishes with lids – I just love them! And I just have healthy stuff handy & take a few seconds to assemble & voila!

    Thanks again ~
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Lifting Weights – My Workout Swap RecapMy Profile

    • Great idea to bring a dish with a lid to work that you can pop right into the microwave! I’ve become rather attached to Correlle dishes, so convenient. I throw together pasta, chicken, edamame beans, and broccoli from the freezer, then add a little low-fat Italian dressing. Yum! About the string cheese and almonds (long lost sister??), so cool that you know also it’s only a small amount of fat and a good filling snack with protein. I always keep it to a 1/4 cup almonds and that keeps the fat down. I’d love to hear more about your clean eating… perhaps a post from you on the subject!

  10. PS – Guess what snacks I take to work? String cheese & almonds ;-)

    Twins I say….
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Lifting Weights – My Workout Swap RecapMy Profile

  11. Garick Chan says:

    I really like the idea of clean eating. With your tips, it’s a great way to plan ahead and transition to eating unprocessed food, but at the same time, really we need to do some extent be willing to and consciously choose to make the time to prepare! A lot is in the mentality….

  12. Hi
    I just found your website. I’m just starting to eat clean. Love your chicken pasta recipe. How many servings is it?

  13. Jellybeanies says:

    I really loved this recipe. The only thing I would do differently next time is add a splash of balsamic vinegar and more artichoke.

  14. Why is eating meat seen as clean food?

    • “Clean,” from my perspective, means healthy. There are many interpretations; I don’t think there’s any right one. I’m not a vegetarian so my diet is both healthy and includes meat.

  15. Hi,
    You said that you freeze your cooked chicken, pasta, and veggies for weeknight suppers. Do you put them in the microwave to defrost, or do you put it in the refrigerator in the morning to defrost?
    Thanks!

    • If I think of it I’ll put in the fridge to defrost, but if otherwise the microwave works great – fast and easy!

      • Do you precook chicken breasts and freeze those for dinner? After they defrost in the fridge, would I warm them in the oven?? I wouldn’t want them to cook again, but I would want them warm. Thanks for your response!

        • Yep, we grill a big batch (though you could cook them any which way) and then freeze them together in a gallon bag or those Food Saver bags. I microwave the chicken breasts on 50% power. I don’t have time to wait on an oven! :)

  16. I just signed up for your newsletter too and you linked to this post. Thanks so much. Reading the comments is good too. I am going to take some of your suggestions and get started by prepping this weekend. I love your blog, Suzanne!
    Bethany Lee recently posted..Neuroplasticity Exercises to Stretch Your Mind!My Profile

  17. How do you make an avocado sandwich?

  18. How many serves does the chicken pasta make?

  19. What type of artichokes did you use..ones in oil or water? Thanks!

    • Hi Tracey,
      I use marinated artichokes because it adds just enough oil to coat the rest of the salad (I don’t add a separate dressing). I admit that I also drain them throughly and even wipe off some of the excess because a little goes a LONG way.

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