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40 healthy lunch ideas to combat your midday slump

Whether you're into sandwiches, pasta or salad, we've got you covered.
Bartosz Luczak / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Quick — what are you having for lunch today? If you thought, “I have no idea,” I totally relate. Even though I understand the importance of fueling myself in the middle of the day, lunchtime always seems to fall prey to deadlines and last-minute errands.

But if you skip lunch, you’ll be scrambling for snacks later on and the hunger that builds in the afternoon can lead you to reach for sugary snacks in the late afternoon.

Instead, try one of these 40 delicious and healthy lunch ideas.

High in protein lunch ideas

Lots of us are trying to hit our protein goals. The key is getting some at each meal. Lunch is a fabulous opportunity to knock out 10 grams or more. 

Rotisserie chicken sandwich

We love using up every bit of a rotisserie chicken. And a sandwich is the perfect vehicle. Toast two slices of bread, layer them with mayo or mustard (or a combo), add 3 ounces of sliced chicken, plus some romaine lettuce and tomato slices and you have a first-class sammie with 23 grams of the good stuff. 

Cucumber cottage cheese toast

Grandma’s cottage cheese has gotten a major glow-up. These days folks are using the high-protein dairy product in so many fabulous ways, including this cucumber cottage cheese toast from Melissa Ben-Ishay. We love that we’re getting 14 plus grams of protein in such a refreshing way. 

Best egg salad

Best Egg Salad

Every time I have a really good egg salad sandwich, it feels like a revelation. And this classic best egg salad recipe delivers on that promise. It has just the right amount of acidic dill pickle to balance out the richness of the eggs. And it offers up more than 10 grams of satisfying protein, plus lots of other important nutrients to boot. 


A tartine is a fancy French word for an open-faced sandwich, and my favorite new tartine topping is sardines. Before you wrinkle up that nose, let me tell you why the diminutive fish is fab. It’s sustainable, and affordable and packs 20 grams of protein into one can. I like them on a crunchy and lightly buttered slice of sourdough with arugula. 

Lunches with pasta, beans and grains

With grocery prices that make you wince, it’s nice to be able to rely on some pantry staples that help you stretch your budget. Pasta salads are endlessly versatile and can be made to suit pretty much any taste and dietary preference.

Protein-packed pasta salad

Pasta salads are tasty and budget-friendly, but they don’t deliver on protein unless you add in a few extras. Add some sliced olives, crumbled feta and peas, plus a pouch of tuna and a drizzle of EVOO for a satisfying lunch with over 24 grams of protein.

Tuna macaroni salad with balsamic vinaigrette

We love the ease of this tuna macaroni salad with balsamic vinaigrette. With less than 10 ingredients, you can even whip it up while your morning coffee is brewing. 

Sheet pan vegetable coconut curry rice

If rice-based dishes are what you crave, this sheet pan vegetable coconut curry rice will not disappoint. Made with canned coconut milk, plenty of fresh ginger and garlic, and aromatic spices, it’s a knockout dish. You can add sautéed shrimp or cooked chicken or tofu for added protein. 

Farro salad with roasted carrots and greens

Our own Al Roker loves this farro salad with roasted carrots and greens. If you haven’t tried farro, it’s a nutty-tasting ancient grain that is absolutely delicious in salads and because it’s quite hearty, it can go with the other bold flavors in this dish, like smoked almonds and arugula. 

Southwest shrimp quinoa bowl

Southwest Shrimp Quinoa Bowl

Quinoa is probably my favorite grain because it takes a mere 15 minutes to cook. Plus it’s rich in protein and fiber, to help you feel satisfied. This Southwest shrimp quinoa bowl from Kevin Curry brings the Southwest vibes with cilantro, green chiles and corn.

Three-bean salad

Three Bean Salad

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Three Bean Salad

Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN

Loaded with cholesterol-reducing fiber, plus plenty of plant protein, canned beans are fantastic for healthy lunches and are budget-friendly too. This three-bean salad combines canned kidney and garbanzo beans with fresh green beans and a bright dressing for a salad that satisfies. 

Lunch salads

Leafy green salads should not be wimpy or leave you with a rumbling belly an hour after eating one. Indeed, salads can be hearty and satisfying. The key is the right mix of textures, flavors and fiber. 

Pearl couscous with chicken, mango and spinach salad

If you like a little sweet fruit with your salad, the pearl couscous with chicken, mango and spinach Salad will satisfy your cravings. This is the perfect recipe to prep on Sunday to make your Monday easy breezy. 

Chinois chicken salad

The chicken salad that Wolfgang Puck created for his Santa Monica restaurant Chinois has become an iconic dish. The great news is you can easily recreate the chinois chicken salad at home! If you are pregnant or immune-compromised, skip the raw egg yolk in the dressing. 

Classic Cobb salad

One of the most popular American salads is the Cobb, known for its flavorful mix of turkey, bacon, eggs and blue cheese dressing. Joy Bauer has lightened up her version of classic Cobb salad with turkey bacon and a yogurt-based blue cheese dressing. It still hits the spot.

Classic Greek salad

Natalie Morales' Classic Greek Salad (Horitatiki)

The tangy flavors of a Greek salad are so refreshing. We love Natalie Morales’ classic Greek salad, which delivers all the classic flavors from cucumber, feta cheese and kalamata olives in a zesty and light lemon vinaigrette. 

Salmon salad with lemony Dijon-caper vinaigrette

Salmon is a nutrition star and we love how Katie Lee Biegel uses it in this refreshingly light salmon salad with lemony Dijon-caper vinaigrette. Cucumber and mint add brightness, while the capers and Dijon provide a punch of flavor. 

Quick and easy lunches

Sunflower butter and grape sandwich

Sunflower Butter & Grape Sandwich

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is classic for a reason — it’s tasty and quick. But if you have family members or co-workers who are allergic to peanuts, you’ll want to opt for another option to spread over your sourdough. We like the combination of sunflower butter and fresh grapes. It still totally hits the spot. 

Hard-boiled eggs, an apple and a wedge of cheddar

If you’re looking for something you can nibble on while you’re on a work deadline, there are plenty of options beyond the vending machine. A favorite of mine is 2 hard-boiled eggs, plus an apple, a 1-ounce wedge of cheddar, a rye crispbread and baby carrots. Of course, it’s always best to sit down and focus on enjoying your food, but sometimes you just need quick fuel.

Mediterranean snack plate

Another super quick lunch idea is a Mediterranean-inspired snack plate. Put a big dollop of hummus on your plate, add cucumber spears, olives, pita wedges, cherry tomatoes and a few stuffed grape leaves on your plate and you’ve got enough to get you through the afternoon. 

Grilled cheese sandwich

Grilled cheese is another quick and easy option that satisfies lunchtime munchies. Up the health quotient by adding in some fresh spinach or leftover cooked veggies. Plus, whole grain bread is always a smart idea for increasing the fiber. 

Avocado toast with beans

Avocado toast, but make it protein-rich. We love the ease and deliciousness of mashed avocado over perfectly toasted bread, but if you’re looking to boost the protein in your toast, mash half of an avocado with a half cup of rinsed and drained white beans or garbanzos. Add a little salt and pepper and you’re on your way to yum. 

Plant-based lunches

If you’re trying to eat more plant-forward meals throughout the week, but you’re a sandwich lover, you may find yourself scratching your head trying to think of ideas. Luckily we’ve done the noodling for you.

Jenné Claiborne’s vegan chickpea “tuna” sandwich

Jenné Claiborne's Vegan Chickpea 'Tuna' Sandwich

And we’re obsessed with Jenné Claiborne’s vegan chickpea “tuna” sandwich. It’s super flavorful and is a tasty way to boost your fiber intake too. 

Vegan penne alla vodka

Vegan Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla vodka may seem like a decadent lunch option, but the vegan option makes it much lighter, so you won’t have to take a mid-afternoon nap. Instead of using heavy cream, you make the tomato sauce creamy by using cashew cream. Divine!

Butternut squash quesadillas

Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Quesadillas are great at their most basic: cheese plus tortilla. But when you load them up with flavorful veggies, like butternut squash and cherry tomatoes, they are extra delicious. If you’re looking for a fun take on tradition, try Tiffani Thiessen’s butternut squash quesadillas

Millet tabbouleh salad

Giada's Millet Tabbouleh Salad

The Mediterranean dish, tabbouleh, is usually made with bulgur wheat. But to make a gluten-free version, Giada DeLaurentis used millet, a gluten-free grain, in her colorful millet tabbouleh salad. Mint and strawberries add extra flavor to this healthy vegan dish. 

Wild rice salad

A little time goes into making the wild rice for this gorgeous wild rice salad, but it’s well worth it. With beta-carotene-rich butternut squash and vitamin-K-packed kale, it’s nutrient-dense. Plus it’s topped with beautiful jewel-like pomegranate seeds and pistachios. 

Make-ahead desk lunches

Copycat crispy chicken and cabbage salad

If you love the crispy chicken salad over a bed of crunchy greens that is sold by literally every fast-casual restaurant, you’re going to love our “dupe” version. The components of this copycat crispy chicken and cabbage salad can be prepped in advance. Then pack it up and bring it to work and try to wait until noon to dig in. 

Nicoise grain bowl

Niçoise Grain Bowls

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Niçoise Grain Bowls

Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN

Need a little lunch inspo? How about the south of France? This nicoise grain bowl can’t whisk you away, but it does serve up a Mediterranean-inspired bowl of deliciousness. Cook the quinoa, green beans and potatoes in advance, boil the eggs (or use store-bought) and make the vinaigrette. Then package it all up and enjoy the bright flavors of this bowl at work (beret optional). 

Copycat burrito bowls

Copycat Burrito Bowls

If you’re a fan of a certain fresh Mexican food chain, you’re going to gobble up our copycat burrito bowls, which are as savory and satisfying as the restaurant version. Make the cilantro rice, the chipotle marinated chicken breasts, black beans and corn salsa the night before. Don’t be surprised if your co-workers ask you to share. 

Healthy loaded sweet potato from Marco Borges

Healthy Loaded Sweet Potatoes

There is nothing quite as satisfying as a loaded baked potato. A whole one will keep you full for hours–seriously. Regular potatoes are delicious, but we also love a loaded sweet potato with all the fixings, like this healthy loaded sweet potato from Marco Borges, Beyoncé’s nutrition coach. 

Chicken panini with Southwestern pesto

Who says a panini can’t be healthy? We love the idea of pepping up rotisserie chicken with a zesty pesto like Martina McBride did with this chicken panini with Southwestern pesto. Make the pesto and the mayo the night before (skip the mayo if you want to go lighter) and then assemble your panini before you head out the door. You can even cook the sandwich the night before and wrap it tightly in foil. Then just heat it up in the office microwave (without the foil) and enjoy.

Grab-and-go lunches

When time is tight and you’re using your lunch break to run errands, you need to rely on super convenient options that still fuel you. Here are 10 we love:

Greek yogurt, granola and blueberries

Packed with 17 grams of protein, as well as calcium, Greek yogurt is the perfect thing to grab when lunchtime gets cut to 10 minutes. Top it with a quarter-cup of granola and a half-cup of blueberries for a burst of antioxidants. 

Energy bar and apple

When you’re in a pinch, look for a protein bar with 10 grams of the protein and at least a few grams of fiber to help boost your energy and keep your blood sugar steady. An apple provides crunch and 4 to 5 grams of filling fiber.

Breakfast biscuits, peanut butter packet and two mandarin oranges

I keep whole-grain breakfast biscuits on hand for those times when lunch turns into grocery shopping and a drugstore expedition. They provide grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, but you can pump up the protein with a packet of peanut butter. 

Hummus cup with pretzels and grapes

Ten grams of protein from the hummus is nothing to sneeze at. And the grapes help you stay hydrated throughout the day. 

Tortilla, cheese, egg and arugula

Got a minute? Then you have time to make this tasty tortilla. Microwave a whisked egg in a buttered mug, then fold it into a tortilla with a quarter-cup of shredded cheese and a handful of arugula. Add some salsa for a flavor kick.

Cheese rounds, rye crisp bread and everything bagel seasoning

Before you run out the door, grab two wax-wrapped cheese rounds, throw them on a high-fiber rye crisp bread and sprinkle with a little seasoning for a savory bite that fills you up. 

Guacamole cup with tortilla chips, baby carrots and cheese stick

Healthy fats in your cravable lunchtime snack? Yes, please. 

Cottage cheese, melon and pistachios

With a hefty dose or protein, a cup of cottage cheese will stave off hunger for hours. Pair it with a half cup of cubed watermelon or cantaloupe, plus a small handful of pistachios for a tasty treat. 

Lunch snack box

If you love protein boxes like I do, just know you can easily put one together at home for less. Grab a bento box and fill it with a few slices of salami, a wedge of cheddar, fresh grapes, trail mix and 4 to 5 whole grain crackers. 

Salad kit and tofu

Salad kits make healthy eating on the go a breeze. Grab your favorite kit and add 3 ounces of marinated tofu, which provides 14 grams of protein, for a healthy, fiber-packed meal that helps you get your daily veggies.