When it comes to eating “Paleo”, lunch is probably the most difficult meal of the day.
- You’re away from home
- Work commitments often force us to wolf down our food as quickly as possible, and…
- Heaven forbid you forget to bring a lunch from home. Trying to find a Paleo-friendly restaurant is next to impossible.
So, as a public service…and to help you avoid another slice of deep-fried pizza, I contacted a few of my favorite Paleo Foodies and pestered them for some tips on how to eat Paleo at lunch.
Naomi from My Paleo Kitchen reminds us that there isn’t a one size fits all paleo lunch.
It depends on how much time you have to prepare (or how much time you’re willing to spend).
On how much space you’ve got and on what you had for dinner the night before or breakfast that morning. And on how far your budget stretches.
I like things easy, simple and taking up minimal space. I’m willing to sacrifice some taste and diversity for that. Are you?
1. Put it on a stick
Personally I prefer this option because it takes up minimal space, doesn’t require any cutlery and there’s nothing you have to take home again. The idea is simple, you create a cold shish kabob with chicken, some leftover beef or spicy sausage. Add some paprika, gourgette, cherry tomatoes or anything else you like and then spice it up a bit. Wrap in aluminium foil and you’re good to go.
2. Brown bagging it
This is the easiest and fastest to prepare, but you might need a pocketknife or fork. Just take a paper bag and throw in a bell pepper, a mini cucumber, an apple or a kohlrabi. Anything that doesn’t drip liquids. Then pick your protein. Easy options are hard boiled eggs (wrap in toilet paper to protect) or canned tuna/salmon. But you could also throw in some leftover chicken as long as you wrap it in foil. And don’t forget nuts!
3. Tupperware galore
The problem with tupperware is that it’s not disposable. I suppose it’s good for the environment ’n all, but I really hate taking dirty dishes back home. It does give you a lot of tasty options. A good salad is always nice, leftovers from last night’s dinner works great too. If you’ve got one of those containers with seperate spaces you can even have a tapas like meal.
This is a great option when you have enough space in your bags.
4. Eating out
I try not to do this too much, because the budget is tight. But if you can afford it there are several good options. Take Subway for example, it’s not ideal but their salad is pretty good with some extra chicken and olive oil.
If you’re not too shy you can always ask for omelettes without the bread or burgers without the bun. There is always something on the menu that will fit into your paleo diet.
5. Strategic use of IF (Intermittent Fasting)
I’m not a big fan of doing this until you’ve got everything else sorted out (I dare say that if you’re still looking for lunch tips that you haven’t). But if you’re in a tight spot, not eating for a couple hours won’t hurt you one bit.
Summer from Cosmopolitan Primal Girl says…
I’m always ‘brown bagging’ my lunch for a few different reasons:
- I want to avoid eating out
- I don’t have enough time to leave the office and go for lunch
- It saves money
- Big Salads will be your best friend
- Buy a few chicken breasts, roast them and cut them into slices (these will stay fresh in your fridge for about 4 days).
- Put a couple handfuls of mixed greens or spinach in a tupperware container, add veggies (choose in-season to save $),
- Add a few slices of the chicken breast,
- In a tiny container put 2 Tbsp of dressing – I like either 1) equal parts lemon juice and olive oil or 2) 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp dijon mustard and a splash of olive oil.
When you’re ready to eat, shake it all together and enjoy! Add some nuts or a bit of fruit if you want some crunch. I am known for my noon-hour salad shake at work.
- Lettuce, Romaine, Radicchio or even cooked Cabbage make a fabulous alternative to the ‘Subway’ wrap.
- Load it with some protein and more veggies and you’ve got a portable lunch that requires little effort to make and can be very economical.
- Lettuce, Romaine and Cabbage are very inexpensive and would give you at least 10 wraps per head.
- You can use any meat to fill the wrap including ground meat (like tacos), tuna or chicken.
- Here are 2 different ways I’ve made wraps or sandwiches like this:
- Container with Chicken, Veggie and Nuts
- Simple, fast and will give you the basic requirements to keep you full and energized. This is my go-to traveller.
- Use a roasted chicken breast, leftover meat from dinner or even canned tuna/salmon, some veggies slices (i like cucumber, red pepper and tomato) and a small handful of nuts.
I even took this through the airport with me recently to eat on the plane. You might look a bit weird eating chicken with your hands…just embrace it because you’re going to be the one looking and feeling fabulous.
- Chicken Salad
- One of my favourite snacks or lunches is a curry chicken salad. It’s great cold and the flavours get better the longer it sits. You can also mix it up the spices and use dill and yogurt instead. This one requires a bit of yogurt, so you might need to try making a Paleo mayo to substitute if you don’t want dairy.
- If you have access to a microwave then you can bring leftovers or make a big pot of soup or stew and bring that with you. Soups are very inexpensive to make and you can load it with protein and veggies.
- One of my favourites is the Moroccan Chicken Soup – I’ll make a pot of this and eat it everyday for lunch. It will last in the fridge for about 5 days and you can freeze it too.
Christina, a contributor to the Everyday Paleo blog knows that a little planning and prep work is necessary for successful Paleo.
I work in a law office across town and my fiancé and I share one vehicle. I have it some days, but there are some days where I’m definitely without route to a “healthy” and “inexpensive” restaurant. So in order to save money, my body and time. I’ve decided to always make lunches and bring them to work..
Here is how I do it:
Every Sunday, I devote some time to prepare breakfast, lunches and sometimes dinners for the week. I buy only enough to last me until Sunday because I don’t want it to go bad. Nothing tastes more terrible than soggy vegetables.
- In the mornings, I throw about a slice to a slice and a half of low sodium turkey lunch meat into a small (about 1.5 cups) Ziploc container. I throw a small handfull of Pecans on top and a slightly larger handfull of Blueberries. Viola! Breakfast a la hurry.
- Hard boiled eggs are also good if you don’t have any gut irritation to them.
- Egg muffins are also good on the go and easy to make in bulk for the week. They also make excellent snacks.
- For Lunch, I throw a mix of some raw veggies (Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli & Cauliflower) into Ziploc baggies. I fill each of the baggies about halfway. 5 baggies = a 5 day work week. The reason for this is if one batch goes bad, you don’t have to throw out my entire broccoli stock I just purchased.
- I also make a bulk batch of the Walnut Red Pepper Dip recipe on Sundays. I take the whole batch to work because we have the luxury of a office refrigerator. If you don’t have that luxury. A small Igloo lunchbox filled with your daily rations and some refreezable ice packs will do. Again, you can take servings of the dip for your veggies in those small nifty disposable Ziploc containers. For a protien, I throw a piece of cooked chicken, salmon or some shrimp into a baggie. I like mine raw with the dip, but anyone can get creative with how they like their chicken prepared. Keep in mind though; the sauce also has to be paleo friendly.
- I sometimes get hungry between meals, So I ALWAYS have a stash of nuts, jerky, dried fruit and dark chocolate at my desk.
- By the time I get home, I do have some time to make dinner, but sometimes I run late, or mostly, I’m just lazy. This is why I always make approximately 7 days worth of food in case I have a lazy day. Theoretically, people tend to have more free time on the weekend and can afford the time to spend 20-30 minutes in the kitchen.
Here are some “lifestyle” tips that have helped me further commit to my pre-made paleo lunches:
- If your going to mess up, do it in the morning and agree to commit yourself in the afternoon. Be careful not to use this as an excuse to keep making mistakes turn into habits. That once a day bite size snickers may turn into 3 pretty quickly.
- Always drink at least 16 ounces of water before your first cup of coffee. You can phsyc yourself out by using your coffee as a reward for drinking water. Further this by committing yourself to 16 ounces between each cup. You can ask me how I went to frou frou high calorie starbucks drinks to no calorie (paleo) black coffee later.
- ALWAYS keep your paleo food nearby and easily accessible. If you have a craving for something you know is non paleo, eat some of your rations first, then ask yourself if you still want that non paleo item. I have found that my cravings for office candy go away after I’ve nibbled on some veggies and nuts.
- When heading to a party full of non paleo food, eat before you go. If you are hungry when you still get there, load your plate with food from the veggie/meat/fruit tray first. Tell yourself that you will reward yourself with that non paleo treat after you eat what’s on your plate first. Most often times, I have found that I no longer desire that non paleo treat because I am now full and I feel good. So big rule of thumb is to paleo first, then question your craving.
- Ditch the gum. I just learned recently that chewing gum releases chemicals from your brain that promotes a “hunger” response. On top of that, the imitation sugar contained in gum is insulin spiking. Try mints or those Listerine Breath Strips instead.
- Watch your emotional eating. If this is you, start logging when you eat, how you feel at the time and how you feel after you eat. No one ever eats a head of broccoli when they’re feeling sad. Discover new distractions or tap into the source of why you emotionally eat. If this means you have to decompress those issues with a friend or seek professional help to get rid of those emotions, don’t be afraid to do so, you’re health is on the line here. I used to make bad food choices when stressed or bored. Find new avenues to direct your attention.
- Take those fish oils.
- Clean out your cupboards. An old but wise rule. You can’t eat potato chips if you don’t have them in the house. Make a list of paleo foods while at home and follow the cardinal rule of never shopping when your hungry. Stick to the list and the list only. If your passing buy the Oreos in the cookie isle, bypass them for now…just for now…grab everything on your list first. Once you’ve done that, look at your cart. Do you still want those Oreos? If the answer is yes, then check out first, and take your groceries to the car. Do you still want those Oreos? I thought not.
- Don’t use your kids as an excuse to buy sugar loaded foods. If I can do it, you can too. There may be a slight rebelion at first, but at some point your family will get hungry and eventually have to eat. So put the dinosaur fruit snacks back. Like #8, if it’s not in your house, you’re not going to eat it.
- Don’t deprive yourself. Going paleo doesn’t happen overnight so don’t get down on yourself if you mess up. There will be that occassional Saturday night when binge drinking gravitated you towards 3am pizza or a mega burrito. It’s okay. Begin your paleo regime when you wake up (and are somewhat recovered). Mistakes doesn’t mean you fail. It means you’re learning. When I first spoke to Sarah (Everyday Paleo), she told me that it took her a couple of years to fully get there. Your will power to avoid non paleo foods will only grow stronger when your body composition begins to change and you can see and feel the difference.
Hold on, it happens pretty fast.
The Girl Gone Primal has a whole bunch of Paleo lunch options for y’all.
- Fried chicken fingers are delicious served cold the next day – As is leftover roast chicken.
- If you’re willing to nuke your lunches, or have time to heat them in an oven, then pretty much any dinner on my blog can be served as next-day lunch leftovers.
- Otherwise, easy ‘grab & bag’ options that I tend to go for are:
- tinned tuna/salmon,
- hard boiled eggs,
- any variety of fruit & veg available,
- nuts nuts nuts, or a handful of trail mix of grain-free granola (made without sweetener?)
- Then there’s the endless potential presented by frittata/quiches – so many tasty flavours can be wrapped up in egg and cooked, and the flavours usually intensify when left in the fridge for a few hours. They’re my favourite picnic food, and my preferred ingredient combo can be seen here. (you can substitute more meat or different veg for the feta if you’re not Lacto-Paleo). One of the more fiddly options involve making a ‘bread’ of zucchini or nut flour and making up a usual sandwich, making muffins of coconut or nut flour.
- Ultimately, there’s no excuse for eating neolithic agents at lunchtime – the worst that you can do is pop your old sandwich fillings in a container and eat them as a salad.
And if you really, REALLY can’t find a primal lunch option, then maybe it’s time to try intermittent fasting :)
Some final suggestions from yours truly – @healthhabits
- Salad bars – you’re only limited by your imagination
- Fajitas without the wraps
- Meat (chicken/steak/etc) & veg
- All day breakfast (no toast)
- Chinese buffets – no rice/sauce
- Dry rubbed barbecue
- The Unwich at Jimmy John’s restaurant
- Prepared food counter at some supermarkets – cooked chicken, seafood, shrimp, veggies
- A “Protein-Style” Burger from In ‘n Out Burgers
- Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps
- The Health Habits Diet – Part 1
- Is Stephen Colbert a Closet Paleo?
- The Health Habits Diet – Part 2
- The Making of the Health Habits Diet
- Diet Compliance Chart
- Caveman Diet
- Paleo Recipe Resource Page
- What Kind of Paleo are You?
- Is Paleo Eating the Cure for Diabetes?
- Peri-Workout Nutrition
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