If you follow a paleo diet, the typical brown-bag or toss-in-a-cooler-bag lunch of a sandwich, chips, cookie, and soda won’t do.
The paleo diet mimics what people hunted, gathered, and ate during the Paleolithic era more than 10,000 years ago: meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. The diet typically excludes foods created by modern farming: processed sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains.
Some people believe that the human body and the modern diet are mismatched due to the amount of processed foods, sugar, and artificial ingredients that are consumed today. Although there is still a lack of evidence-based research supporting the benefits of the paleo diet specifically, some believe that returning to an early human diet can help combat some widespread, modern-day conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some digestive conditions.
Whatever your reason is for going paleo, these 10 ideas and recipes will yield healthier and easier-to-prep lunches—whether you’re headed to the office or the beach.
1. Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
Soup is an office lunch staple, but it may not be the first paleo meal idea that comes to mind for a midday beach meal. It can, however, hit the spot on a cooler beach day. If you transport it in an insulated thermos or canteen, it will stay warm for several hours.
This recipe is not only paleo, but also vegan. And it’s packed with antioxidant-rich tomatoes, which can help protect against cell damage, improve heart health, and lower the risk of certain types of cancer.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 2 medium-size carrots, diced
- 1 medium-size yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 28-ounce cans diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
- 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- Fresh basil, for garnish
Add the olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, and carrots, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Add the dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper flakes, and sea salt. Sauté for 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and broth. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low. Cook uncovered for 45 minutes.
Working in batches, ladle the soup into a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour the desired amount into an insulated thermos and top with fresh basil. It will stay warm in an insulated container for several hours. Store the rest in a reusable container in the fridge for up to five days or freeze it for another time.
2. Paleo BLATs
Bacon is a delicious paleo favorite. And this sugar-free paleo turkey bacon from Wellshire Farms is the star ingredient in a lightened-up and flavorful version of a BLAT (bacon, lettuce, avocado, and tomato) sandwich.
Cook the bacon in the oven on a sheet pan at 425 degrees for 15–20 minutes.
Place the cooked bacon, in addition to full romaine lettuce leaves, tomato, avocado, and paleo mayo, in separate containers in a cooler bag so everything stays fresh. You can either pile all of the ingredients in between the romaine lettuce leaves or on paleo bread when you’re ready to eat.
3. Hawaiian-Style Burgers
This recipe from Paleo Leap sends your taste buds on an island adventure, whether you’re hitting the waves or hunkering down in front of a computer screen. The recipe uses paleo-friendly bell peppers and pineapples in place of a bun. Pineapple is rich in vitamin C, which helps the immune system thrive. Yellow foods like pineapple can also help clear your third chakra (solar plexus). Additionally, it’s considered a balancing food for those whose Ayurvedic dosha type is predominantly Pitta.
Cook the burgers the night before or an hour in advance. If you’re taking them to the beach or packing them for a school lunch, wrap them in foil to keep them warm. Reheat them in the microwave if you’re at the office.
4. Cauliflower Couscous with Sundried Tomatoes, Charred Broccoli, and Toasted Pine Nuts
Although wheat semolina couscous is a paleo no-go, cauliflower couscous is fair game. This couscous recipe from Sullivan Street Eats makes a stellar lunch because it includes healthy fats and plenty of fiber, which means it will keep you full until dinner. Plus, cauliflower’s insoluble fiber (the fiber that keeps food moving in your digestive system) bodes well for digestive health.
No need to keep this one cold or heat it up. It’s at its best at room—or beach—temperature.
5. Salad Bar Earth Bowl
You know those grocery stores or restaurants that have salad bars with dozens of ingredient options? This recipe is inspired by the same idea, only the ingredients are in Earth-bowl form, which is a twist on the traditional salad format. Earth bowls typically include a wide variety of ingredients and sometimes lettuce or veggies are a topping rather than a base. Pick any paleo ingredients you like for your bowl—just be sure to include a rainbow of colors for optimal health benefits and an array of textures, such as cooked cauliflower rice, chopped asparagus, avocado slices, arugula, diced bell peppers, pickled beets, walnuts, a splash of olive oil, lemon juice, and a sprinkle of coarsely ground black pepper and sea salt.
This dish can be eaten at room temperature, which makes it a breeze for the beach or the office. Everything can be combined in advance except for the avocado, olive oil, and lemon juice.
6. Blueberry Chicken Salad with Rosemary
If you like sweet-and-savory dishes, try The Real Food RDs’ paleo twist on classic chicken salad. The chicken is packed full of protein, which helps keep you full and builds lean muscles. The blueberries are a great source of antioxidants, which may lower cancer risk. And the walnuts are stacked with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
The night before your work or beach day, either grill the chicken breasts or buy pre-made, paleo-approved grilled chicken strips from your local grocery store.
7. Grilled Garlic-Lime Chicken Fajita Salad
Sweet potato (or yam) fries piled high on a salad? This meal prep recipe from Paleo Gluten Free Eats makes that lunchtime daydream come true. Sweet potatoes are a top-notch source of beta-carotene, which is critical for vision, immune function, and cellular communication.
Prep this one the night before. To ensure the fries don’t get soggy, keep them and the dressing separate, and add them to the salad when you’re ready to eat lunch the next day.
8. Whatever-Goes Lunch Box
Just as the name suggests, whatever goes when it comes to what you add to your lunch box, so long as the “whatever” is paleo-friendly. Purchase a container with a tight-fitting lid and several dividers so you can fill each section with something different. Make it as colorful as imaginable so it’s rich in nutrients.
Some foods to consider for each section of your lunch box:
- Smoked salmon (be sure it’s smoked without refined sugar)
- Fresh fruits, such as raspberries or sliced kiwis and oranges
- Dried fruits without added sugar, such as plums, apricots, or apples
- Nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios, and cashews
- Your choice of olives
- Raw veggies, such as bell peppers, carrots, and cucumbers
- Plantain chips dusted with chili powder and a zest of lime
9. Drinkable Lunch
This might be the easiest lunch ever: a paleo protein shake. There are a lot of protein powders that claim to be paleo-friendly, but if they have whey in them, they aren’t. And if you’re super strict about not eating any vegetables in the legume family, then pea protein is also off limits.
PaleoPro protein powder is minimally processed and is made from grass-fed beef, eggs, and monk fruit. It comes in more than a half-dozen flavors, including mocha, vanilla, pecan, and mint. One serving has 26 grams of protein in it. Add a scoop to a blender with 1 cup of your favorite nut-based milk, a few ice cubes, a half of a banana, and a handful of spinach. Adding spinach to a shake is an alternative way to get in your greens without eating a salad. Blend the ingredients on high for 30 seconds. Transport the shake to the sand or your stand-up lunch meeting via an insulated canteen so it stays cold until you’re ready to drink it.
10. Roast Beef Apple Sandwiches
Green apples make astringent, crunchy bread replacements for this roast beef sandwich from Hold the Grain. Granny Smith apples contain a high concentration of flavonoids (a type of beneficial plant chemicals), which can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Pro tip: Wait to cut the apples until you’re ready to eat lunch so they don’t turn brown.
Next time you sit down to make a meal plan, place all 10 of these ideas and recipes in your paleo lunch arsenal. With these in toe, you’ll prep healthier and simpler meals that will give you more focus time at the office or downtime at the beach.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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