14 Kid-Inspired Healthy Lunch Ideas for Grown-Ups
Peanut Butter, Strawberry, and Banana Quesadilla
This vegan-friendly recipe from Texanerin takes two childhood faves—quesadillas and PB&Js—to make one deliciously grown-up meal. Pick a nut butter and a no-sugar-added jelly, spread one to two tablespoons each on a whole-grain tortilla, top with sliced strawberries and bananas, and you have one sweet midday meal that's way more exciting than a PB&J. (Get more No-Cook Lunch Ideas for a Low-Calorie Diet to make brown-bagging a breeze.)
Creamy Avocado Turkey Wrap
Wraps are a common kid favorite, but the standard ingredients—turkey, lettuce, mayo, maybe a tomato slice or two—can get old, fast. Not anymore when you make this recipe from Alida's Kitchen. With a flavorful spread made with Greek yogurt, avocado, and garlic, this wrap is so easy to make and provides healthy fats and plenty of protein to power you through the day. Spice it up with some hot sauce if you want, but it's super satisfying as is.
English Muffin Pizza
Remember Lunchables? This healthier (and much tastier) adult version, courtesy of Baked by Rachel, requires only three ingredients, plus optional toppings. And in 15 minutes, you've got a cheesy mini pizza that'll bring you right back to childhood. It's best when it's hot and crispy right out of the oven (after letting it cool for a few minutes, of course), so if you have a kitchen at work, you're in luck. If not, the microwave works—but the muffins may not be as crispy.
Baked Honey BBQ Chicken Fingers
Who wasn't in love with chicken nuggets as a kid (and, let's be real, as an adult)? This recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction is just as delicious but much healthier. Marinated in honey BBQ sauce, dunked in Panko breadcrumbs, and baked for just 20 minutes, these nugs bring you right back to carefree summer barbecues, even when you're stuck in your cubicle. Bonus: They last for two days in the fridge and freeze well, so they're a perfect make-ahead meal. (Pair them with one of these 10 DIY Condiments That Beat Store-Bought Any Day.)
Creamy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Now that you're grown up, you (hopefully) don't have to fool yourself into eating your veggies. But we'll let you in on a secret: Mac 'n' cheese tastes even more decadent when it looks like the real, creamy deal—but is actually packed with cancer-fighting, antioxidant-filled cauliflower. When blended with chicken broth, milk, olive oil, and a little butter, the white veggie makes a mouthwatering, creamy sauce, as The Baker Upstairs demonstrates with this recipe. (If you love this recipe, try these 25 Can't-Believe-It's-Cauliflower Recipes for Comfort Food Favorites.)
Turkey Taco Casserole
Bring back the joy of Taco Tuesday—without the messy reality of actually eating tacos at your desk. Featuring a flavorful blend of spices, ground turkey, diced tomatoes, fire-roasted chilis, cheese, refried beans, and tortilla strips, this recipe from Eat Live Run is a basically one big delicious Mexican lasagna. And if you're watching your carb intake, try serving the meat mixture over chopped romaine for an even lighter lunch.
The bento box got its start in traditional Japanese cuisine way back in the 1300s, but today it's the trendiest way to pack your lunch (especially if you still haven't outgrown your childhood fear of foods touching each other...). Other perks include the fact they're pre-portioned, allow you to savor a bunch of flavors without going overboard on calories, and they're totally cute. Take a cue from Back to Her Roots' lunches and fill one with egg salad, pickles, cucumber slices, crackers, steamed green beans, applesauce, grapes, pretzels, and chocolate covered cherries for dessert. Dig in! (For more on-the-go meals, check out these Pretty and Portable Mason Jar Meals.)
Roasted Vegetable Pasta with Garlic and Balsamic
Although mayo-drenched pasta salads are behind us, this recipe from The Garden Grazer is proof that a cold pasta dish can be healthy. Here, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and bell peppers provide plenty of nutrients, like beto-carotene and other antioxidants, with minimal calories. As you roast the veggies to perfection, cook the pasta and whip up a simple dressing with garlic, olive oil, and balsamic. (Wait to add it at the office so you don't end up with soggy pasta salad!) (Check out 15 Low-Calorie Pasta Recipes for a Healthy Italian Dinner for better alternatives to spaghetti, lasagna, and more.)
Apple Peanut Butter Sandwich
For a creative twist on PB&J, make these stackable sandwiches from DailyBurn. Crisp apple slices serve as the "bread," which contains a filling of creamy peanut butter and nutty homemade granola (buy a low-sugar store-bought version to save time). Two "sandwiches" will only set you back 200 calories, and provide 5g each of fiber and protein. Pro tip: To prevent apple slices from turning brown before noon, brush them with lemon juice before packing them up.
Whether you grew up eating Hamburger Helper three times a week or your mom swore the stuff was toxic, you'll love this lightened-up recipe from Skinnytaste. Start by sautéing ground beef with diced tomatoes, onions, mustard, top the mixture with cheddar cheese and pickles, then add rotini pasta and bake the entire dish for a hot and melty treat (it's equally as delicious for leftovers at work the next day). Follow the blogger's lead and cut down the portion size for a well-rounded nutritional profile of 261 calories, 9g of fat, 21.5g of protein, and only 21.5g of carbs per serving.
Pigs in Zucchini "Blankets"
The perfect recipe for #ThrowbackThursdays, the Kitchn's low-carb version of this classic finger food is pure genius. All you need to do is use a vegetable peeler to make wide zucchini ribbons, wrap hot dogs (or chicken sausage if you prefer) in a ribbon, then bake for just under 10 minutes. Enjoy straight out of the oven or make ahead and re-heat at the office. (In a hurry? We've got 10 Healthy Recipes You Can Make In the Time It Takes to Pre-Heat the Oven.)
No-Bread Turkey Sandwich Skewers
No bread? No problem. Turn the traditional turkey sandwich on its head with this brilliant recipe from Ingredients, Inc. Just take the usual suspects—sliced turkey, arugula, colby jack cheese, tomatoes, and pickles—and thread onto skewers for a high-protein, low-carb lunch that's ready in minutes. Serve with dijon mustard as a low-cal dip.
Spinach & Mushroom Quesadillas with Avocado & Pepper Jack
The kid- and adult-friendly recipe from Five Heart Home makes a satisfying, filling meal, even without meat. With spicy pepper jack cheese, sautéed mushrooms, wilted spinach, and avocado, it's everything you want in a quesadilla. Admittedly, this recipe may be better for those work-from-home days, as it requires a skillet. However, if you whip up the recipe for dinner one night, the leftovers are perfectly portable to take to work the next day—just pop in the microwave for a minute to make the cheese all melty and delicious again.
Creamy Tomato Soup
There's nothing more comforting than a bowl full of tomato soup on a chilly day. Averie Cooks has a healthier, vegan twist on Panera Bread's version (with low-calorie nut milk in place of the cream) that'll still give you all the cozy fall feels. The best part: It all comes together in five minutes, tops. With a little kick from Old Bay seasoning, this tasty soup makes the ultimate midday comfort food, especially when served with cheese slices and whole-grain crackers. (Prefer a cold soup? Here, 20 Chilled Soups for Staying Slim.)