If I could point out one thing I do better than anyone else I know in regards to staying on track with my eating, it would be packing food when I’m working, traveling, or simply going away from home for several hours.

Sorry to ruin the surprise, but there isn’t a “perfect” lunch to pack. There are just some rules to abide by that make packing food a lot simpler and more conducive to helping you reach your goals.

1. Protein

Protein obviously comes in many different forms. Most people pack lunches based off of ease, so here are the easiest ways to get protein in your lunch box:

  • Tuna – canned or in pouches. It doesn’t need to stay cold and you can use it to mix with a healthy fat – like avocado.
  • Canned chicken. Like tuna, it doesn’t need to stay cold and is very versatile.
  • Leftovers from the day before. You don’t need to spend extra time cooking for tomorrow’s lunch. Just purposely make more protein than you need and save it for tomorrow.
  • Hard-boiled eggs. They’re easy to cook, easy to store, and easy/quick to eat. They’re also one of the more popular salad topping choices for protein due to their easy preparation.
  • Nuts/seeds. They will add to your total protein intake and can also be considered your healthy fat. Two birds with one stone (or nut).

2. Healthy Fat

Fat is satiating; it helps your packed food last longer in your stomach, meaning you won’t be as likely to make an afternoon trip to the vending machine or scarf down half your kitchen as soon as you walk in the door after a long day.

  • Nuts and seeds, as described above. Make sure you portion these out – don’t just pack an entire bag of pecans and assume whatever amount you eat is good for you.
  • Avocado. Goes well in salads, sandwiches, wraps, mixed with tuna/chicken salad, etc.
  • Nut butter. If you packed fruit or a veggie like celery or carrots, peanut/almond/cashew/sunflower butter is an easy and tasty way to add a healthy fat.
  • Fatty fish. If you’re having a fatty fish such as salmon from the night before as leftovers, then you have fat and protein covered, high-five!

3. Fruit or Veggie

I say fruit or veggie because I’m leaving room for the unexpected – like you had two servings of veggies in your morning eggs and you have a veggie already planned for dinner – wow, that would be impressive and you probably don’t need to worry about packing a veggie for lunch (extra points if you still do). If you haven’t had any fruits or veggies for breakfast or have any planned for dinner, then you’d better make sure you pack some of the easiest ones:

  • Fruits with a natural “cover”: bananas, oranges, apples, grapefruit, etc.
  • Veggies that you don’t mind eating raw and that won’t go bad after washing and sitting in a cooler for 5 hours: carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, etc. (Pack hummus or nut butter with raw veggies if you don’t like the taste as much).

4. A [near] Complex Carb

I believe in eating complex carbs every day such as oats, sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, etc. I say [near] complex carb because packing a sweet potato or cooking a grain isn’t always the most time-efficient way to get some added fiber and protein into your lunch. Try finding wraps or bread that add fiber and protein to your meal so you know you’re getting something out of them that you’d be missing out on if you didn’t eat a natural “whole grain.” If you don’t plan on eating a complex carb like the ones listed below, then you can count your fruit/veggie in its place for the necessary addition of fiber to your lunch.

  • Wraps/bread that contain at least 5g of fiber and 5g of protein per serving make it easy to weed out the less nutrient-dense varieties.
  • Raw beans on top of salads (like kidney or garbanzo beans) add a plant source of protein, carbs, and fiber.
  • If you can pack a prepared complex carb, very similarly to protein, just cook extra with dinner the night before (or at the beginning of the week) and take it with. Grains like quinoa, oats and brown rice will keep all week if prepared on a Sunday.

Lastly, don’t be embarrassed by the size of your lunch box. A large and nutritious lunch box says, “I care about what I’m eating, I’m organized and prepared, and my food is going to taste better than whatever junk you’re eating.” Not planning meals and frequently being away from home is the easiest way to screw up your consistency and delay seeing the results you want.

If you want a few other easy food-prep ideas, go here.