As a mom, wife, entrepreneur, and human :), I totally understand how busy mid-day can be. On the days my kiddos are home, it’s easy to find myself eating leftover chicken nuggets and fruit snacks for lunch. On the days I’m working, it’s not uncommon to still be sitting at the computer at 1:30 having missed my lunch completely. What does this usually equate to later in the day? Godzilla mom. No bueno.
Breakfast often gets the most attention as being an important meal of the day, and that’s still true. But I think lunch is overlooked! As busy moms (and humans in-general), it’s important to eat a healthy meal mid-day. What you eat for lunch and the time you eat it can dictate your hunger, food choices, and mood for the remainder of the day. I’ve found there are a handful of pantry staples to have on-hand so I’m not resorting to leftover kid food at 1:30 on a regular basis. And, now you can make sure to have these on-hand, too!
1. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are full of fiber (keep you fuller longer), as well as vitamins, minerals, and the antioxidant beta-carotene. Plus, they have a long shelf-life, so if you buy three or four of them and don’t eat them right away, they won’t go bad. Also – they require very little prep in order to eat. When I’m going to work at an office, I pop one into my purse. When it’s time to eat lunch, I wash the outside and pop it into the microwave (I use the potato setting). Voila! I’ve got the base to my lunch in just a few minutes!
2. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt has become quite popular over the past decade. It’s similar to regular yogurt except that it’s filtered so that it has a higher protein content (and it’s thicker). In addition to being a good source of protein, it contains healthy probiotic bacteria to aid in your gut health. I prefer to eat full-fat dairy products, so I purchase regular Greek yogurt (full fat products are less processed and have less added ingredients). However, I’ve found that the lowfat and nonfat varieties still taste good. I like to put a serving of greek yogurt on top of my sweet potato, or I will add some sundried tomatoes to a small bowl of it with mixed greens on the side.
3. Sundried tomatoes
For some reason, I feel like the addition of sundried tomatoes makes a dish fancy (Fancy Nancy would approve). But did you know they also contain protein? A 1/2 cup of sundried tomatoes has 4 grams of protein. Not to mention the fiber, antioxidants, and yummy taste. They are easy to keep on-hand, and I throw some in a salad, mix it with canned chicken on a sandwich, or eat them in Greek yogurt (as mentioned above). Give yourself a little something fancy by stocking up on them!
4. Canned chicken breast
The quality of canned chicken breast has really improved! It used to be rather disgusting and crazy salty, but now it’s pretty easy to find a good quality product. I like to stock up on canned chicken breast at Costco – it’s cheaper that way, and they usually have a lower sodium, organic product available. I used to even store cans of chicken in my cube when I worked at the office full-time. If you are in a pinch, you can literally open the can of chicken breast, drain lightly, and eat directly out of the can (don’t judge, I’ve done this). But, if you’re not starving, it’s a great addition to a salad or can be mixed with other ingredients to make a salad of it’s own. Three of my favorite things to add to it are dijon mustard, avocado, and sundried tomatoes.
5. Dijon mustard
When you are trying to eat healthy, it’s important to make sure you find ingredients that add flavor. This is what Dijon mustard does for me. It’s got a little bit of sodium, but it’s low in calories and is super tasty (another Fancy Nancy approved ingredient). It can be used in a more traditional way – spread on a sandwich – or used as a base for homemade salad dressing. I love mixing mine with canned chicken or even tuna in a pouch!
Need I say more? 🙂 Avocados are known for their healthy monounsaturated fatty acids which are good for the heart and circulatory system. Including healthy fat in your diet is also important for brain health and keeping you fuller longer between meals. Avocados are nutrient-dense, so eating even a small amount of them packs a big punch. I love to mash them up with canned chicken and sundried tomatoes or with tuna from a pouch and dijon mustard. They are also super yummy spread on whole grain crackers or on top of a salad. So many different ways to use them!
Lemon is really on the list because it helps keep your avocado from turning brown and also from breaking down in the fridge. I like to make sure I keep some on-hand anytime I’m buying avocado (which is always). Squeezing a little bit into your tuna and avocado or chicken and avocado can help keep it fresh until lunchtime. Another tip: if you run out of salad dressing, lemon can be added to a small amount of vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil.
I like tuna-in-a-pouch better than canned tuna because it’s more convenient. While it’s important to watch your consumption of tuna due to mercury, eating one-to-two servings per week has been shown to still be healthy. Tuna is high in protein and contains healthy omega fatty acids as well as other important minerals. I have been known to keep a tuna pouch in my purse (right next to some gum…fish breath, yuck!) for a quick protein boost. As mentioned above, I like to mash mine together with avocado and dijon mustard, but it’s also yummy on top of a salad or on some crackers.
9. Salad greens
Pre-washed salad greens make it so easy to have a salad! Including more greens in your diet can improve your mood, ensure enough fiber, and keep you fuller longer. Plus, having a salad for lunch tends to prevent that mid-afternoon slump. Even if you work full-time in an office, you can bring salad greens to work with you and keep them in the fridge for easy access. I like arugula when it’s available because it has a nice peppery flavor, but any mixed salad greens will do. You can use them with canned chicken or tuna in a pouch, sundried tomatoes, and avocado.
10. Salad dressing
I sometimes joke that I eat salad for the dressing. I know I’m not alone. Here’s the thing: eating a full-fat salad dressing helps you absorb the nutrients in your salad. Really. Plus, just like with my full-fat Greek yogurt, there tend to be less added (unnatural) ingredients in full-fat salad dressing. Just watch your portion (it can be helpful to measure it out until you have a good idea of how much to use). Make sure you have one you like on-hand as it increases the likelihood that you’ll follow-through with making and eating your salad.
11. Whole-grain crackers
Something about a good, crunchy cracker seems to be so satisfying! Including whole grains in your diet is important because they contain B vitamins and many minerals, plus they have fiber. My family is gluten free due to my daughter’s celiac disease, so I opt for non-wheat crackers. I look for ones with the least amount of ingredients (less processed) and with whole grains. I love “Mary’s Gone Crackers,” and have found them in bulk at Costco. I eat my whole-grain crackers along with a salad, use them as my spoon in the can of chicken, or eat them with some deli meat and avocado.
12. Deli meat
Last but not least, I like to have deli meat from the deli counter on-hand. I choose deli meat from the deli counter because it is less processed than the pre-packaged stuff. It also tends to be lower in sodium and doesn’t get slimy in the package. I buy whatever Boar’s Head deli meat is on sale each week as a way to mix it up, and I choose the low sodium option whenever I have the chance. Not only do I eat the deli meat, but it has become a quick lunch for my kiddos on many occasions, too (they love it rolled around a cheese-stick). You can easily put deli meat on your salad, roll up some greek yogurt in the middle (caution: this can be messy), or eat on the side with your sweet potato and greek yogurt for added protein.
Six Healthy Lunches You Can Make and Eat Quickly (even when you’re super busy)
There you have it! The 12 pantry staples I keep on-hand for healthy (and easy) lunches!
Want some of my favorite lunch recipes to go with them? You’re in luck! Click here to get Six Healthy Lunches You Can Make and Eat Quickly (even when you’re super busy) delivered straight to your inbox.
With some pantry staples and easy recipes, you’re sure to fend off the Godzilla mom hangries for sure!
*Disclaimer: I am not a registered Dietitian, and I am not qualified to diagnose or treat food-based illnesses or conditions. If you have concerns about specific foods and any health conditions (including pregnancy), please work with a Registered Dietitian to determine the best solution for you.