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Healthy, Zero-Prep Products That Make Lunch a Snap — and They’re Available at Most Grocery Stores

By Aly Walansky and Jess Novak
August 11, 2022
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates

On days that are just way too busy, even the thought of making lunch somehow feels stressful — but ordering out for a sad desk salad is just too depressing (and bad for our wallets). In the middle of the workday, we usually don’t have time to prep and cook a whole meal, and we really don’t want to make a habit of ordering takeout from the local restaurant or deli.

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What we need are a handful of zero-prep products that are healthy, delicious, and satisfying — and can be picked up at basically any local grocery store. While that sounds like a tall order, there really are some great options out there.

1. Try pre-made dal over cauliflower rice 

We are such huge fans of Maya Kaimal, and adore her affordable, shelf-stable “Everydal Dal” and “Everyday Chana” packs. One of our favorites: Organic Green Split Pea, Spinach, and Coconut, which uses only super high-quality, organic ingredients with zero preservatives beyond lemon juice. Microwave and serve over top of a prepped cauliflower rice — we usually go with the 365 Whole Foods version, but most grocery chains now have their own organic store brand. 

2. Throw some toppings on a frozen quinoa bowl

Create your own grain bowl by mixing together frozen quinoa with cherry tomatoes and a handful of mixed greens — or for a really easy lunch, use a pre-prepped bowl like the Path of Life Deep Roots Quinoa Blend. We love this one because the ingredients are mostly organic and super pure: just quinoa, vegetables, olive oil, and spices. For extra protein on top, add a poached egg, or try crumbling over a pre-made JUST Egg, a vegan egg substitute. “I enjoy adding these plant-based eggs into my lunchtime routine because they’re made from mung beans, making them an incredible source of protein while remaining low in calories,” says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices.

3. Make a mini mezze platter

Brands vary by region, but in the deli section of most grocery stores, you can find premade tabbouleh, garbanzo salad, hummus, and baba ganoush. Throw these together on a plate with some pre-cut vegetables for dipping, and you’ve got a delicious, vegan lunch that takes the same amount of time to make as a sandwich — but is healthier and more exciting. We love brands like Asmar’s, but there are plenty of others, and many high-quality store brands, too: just make sure you read the label and choose options that use extra virgin olive oil rather than canola oil. 

4. Try cauliflower roll-ups 

These two-ingredient roll-ups are a tasty, fast, protein-packed lunch. “Simply wrap a softened Cali’flour Foods flatbread around your protein of choice and bake or air fry for a few minutes until lightly browned,” says Burgess. “I love choosing these cauliflower flatbreads because they’re ready-to-go and use fresh cauliflower as the main ingredient,” says Burgess, who notes that they’re only 50 calories each and contain 5g of protein on their own.

One option to toss in the roll-ups: hot dogs. Yes, they’re not often the healthiest, but we actually really like the Organic Valley uncured grass-fed hot dogs, which are gluten-free; sugar-free; and made without nitrates, nitrites, or carrageenan. You could also opt for Quorn Meatless Chicken Fillets, a vegetarian choice that makes use of mushroom protein but tastes — for all the world — just like chicken. 

Serve this with a pre-made salad kit or just a handful of pre-washed butter lettuce with a simple drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you’ve got a delicious, easy, balanced lunch. 

5. Build your own “protein box” 

Skip the overpriced Starbucks packs and make your own protein box for lunch at home. Burgess suggests filling your plate with pre-made options, such as hardboiled eggs, goat cheese, sliced vegetables, roasted almonds, and these Natural Delights Medjool Date Bites, which provide a pop of sweetness while also delivering all kinds of beneficial nutrients like potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. 

Grapes, apple slices, cheddar cheese, whole-grain crackers, and nuts are a timeless combination, too. “I’ll often have some combination of these and add a side of dark chocolate when I feel like it,” says Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT. “They hit all the food groups and go great together. Depending on the portions of each food, this combo can serve as either a meal or a snack.” 

6. Toast up some english muffin pizzas 

Remember those bagel pizzas we enjoyed after school as a snack growing up? This is a slightly more elevated version that’s just as easy and just as fun. “Top whole grain English muffin halves with pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese, and broil in the oven or toaster oven for 1-2 minutes until the cheese is melted. Mozzarella is a lower-fat cheese that provides protein and key nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D,” says Mia Syn, MS, RDN. For toppings, use pre-sliced mushrooms, bell peppers, a handful of baby spinach, or black olives. But if pizza just isn’t pizza without pepperoni for you, try Applegate Natural Uncured Turkey Pepperoni, which is a better-for-you option made without added nitrites, nitrates, antibiotics, or hormones. It’s naturally low in saturated fat (1g) and high in protein, too (10g). 

7. Toss together a rotisserie chicken salad

For lunch, salad is often one of the easiest options, but it can also be a snooze. For a protein-packed, wake-your-mouth-up choice, Syn recommends adding a little heat. “For the easiest salad, toss together pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, your favorite bagged lettuce mix, and Fresh Cravings Honey Jalapeno Hummus, made with Chilean extra virgin olive oil and tahini. This meal is balanced with protein, fiber-rich vegetables, and good fats. As a bonus, the fats found in olive oil and tahini help your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins found in your lettuce including A, D, K, and E,” Syn says.

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