hands preparing parsley over bowls with cauliflower, lemons and tomato

This is how it happens: you’re lying on the beach, basking in the sun’s warm glow. You wish summer could last forever…and then you realize that school starts next week.

If you are headed back to school…or have kids that are, September marks the beginning of the lunch season. And to avoid it, you may just pick up whatever pre-packaged treats you first lay your eyes on. Filled with sugar, preservatives and little actual nutrition to fuel growing bodies. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In fact, even if you are just heading back to the office, September is a good time to re-assess your lunch routine – because how you fuel yourself midday will have a lot to do with how you feel all day long, including whether you will dive headfirst into a bowl of Chubby Hubby post-dinner. And apparently, September is the new January, so use a bit of ‘back-to-it’ motivation to do something good for yourself. Here are six simple tips to help you un-junk your lunch routine!

1.  Plan ahead.

If you want to avoid lunch junk, you have to plan ahead. Finding the motivation to plan every weekend is tough but you will literally sail through the rest of the week without having to fuss over food. So spend time looking up recipes and meal ideas. Sunday mornings are perfect for this. If it helps, use a template to write down your lunch ideas for the week or just scrawl them on a post-it. Create a ‘go-to’ recipe and idea file so that soon, you will have a list of items to choose from to streamline the process. Planning will help you bring variety to your lunches and make it easy to grocery shop so that you won’t have to think about it for the rest of the week…which is a total gift when things get busy.

2. Batch cook.

While you’re at this whole planning thing, devote some time to prepping your lunches. Make the components of the meal so you can easily assemble it when you need to. Think roasted or chopped up fresh veggies, grilled tofu or chicken, homemade hummus or grain and seed bars. Making things you can freeze in large batches will streamline things even more. Find a system that works for YOU.

3. Embrace Leftovers!

The easiest way to make a lunch is not to make one at all – take leftovers! Doing this will automatically build in variety for lunch as few of us eat the same thing for dinner. We are a leftovers house because I hate spending a lot of time on lunches. All you need to do is double up your recipe. Cook once, eat twice. Done!

4. ‘Finger foods’ for busy grown ups.

Don’t have time to make (or eat) a real ‘meal’? Who says finger foods are just for kids? Bring together bits and bites of fresh food such as cut up veggies with homemade dips such as hummus or tzatziki. I do a version of this “grown up lunch box” in my book, Un-Junk Your Diet. This is a great way to eat more fresh plant foods. Just be sure to bring enough food to keep you satiated and energized throughout the day! Also, ensure that your food choices are well ‘balanced’, which brings me to my next point…

5. Create a balanced (and blood sugar balancing) meal.

A good meal has a natural balance to it to ensure that you are getting everything that you need to fuel your body right. Skimp on protein and you’ll be craving sweets in no time. Skip the veg and you’ll be missing out on critical phyto-nutrients. Make sure that your lunch, and all your meals for that matter, follows this simple formula:

Produce + Slow Carbs + Healthy Fat + Lean Protein  + Water


Greek Salad with Olive Oil Dressing + Grilled Chicken + Lemon Water
Collard Leaves stuffed with quinoa and dried cherries + Shredded Tofu + Cucumber Water

6. If you must buy, buy healthy.

Sometimes, you need a little help. You’re going to have to buy your lunch, or at least your lunch components. Instead of just reaching for the junk, buy healthy fast food. There are some great salad kits made with baby kales or shredded Brussels sprouts. You can buy hummus or white bean dip with whole grain crackers and chopped veggies or try those lunch time tins of tuna. When out for lunch, keep it to protein+produce. Nothing like fettucine carbonara to have you snoozing at your desk by 2PM.

How do you un-junk your lunch? Let me know on twitter with the hashtag, #unjunkyourdiet!