10 Must-Have Ingredients for a Healthy Lunchbox


Make lunchbox packing easier (while maintaining your sanity) by keeping your refrigerator and pantry stocked with my 10 must-have items. These double (sometimes triple)-duty ingredients guarantee you’ll have fresh, healthy lunchbox options for school or work any day of the week.


Whether as a dip for vegetables, creamy sandwich spread, or as a filling for deviled eggs, hummus (made from chickpeas) offers fiber and protein. Make your own, like this flavor-packed Smoked Paprika Hummus or choose a premade option, usually found near the deli case, in a variety of flavors.


Use fresh lemon juice to keep sliced apples from browning or as a dressing for green and grain salads like in Salmon and Orzo Salad.

Healthy Lunchbox

Dark Chocolate (70% or higher)

Eat a piece of dark chocolate on its own for a sweet and simple dessert like Chocolate Dipped Apple Slices or melt the chocolate and use it as a dip for strawberries or bananas. You can also melt dark chocolate, spread it on parchment, and top with seeds, nuts and dried fruit for a delicious dessert like this Sweet & Salty Dark Chocolate Bark. Look for options that are lower in sugar and are made from at least 70 percent cacao.


Berries play a variety of roles in a healthy lunchbox. Use them as part of a fruit salad, layer in a parfait, top on a green salad, use in place of jelly such as in the Sunflower Seed Butter and Strawberry Wafflewich, or mash and stir into plain yogurt for a no-sugar-added sweetener.

Hard-Cooked Eggs

Boiled eggs are an inexpensive and simple way to add more protein to a lunchbox. Eat as is with a sprinkle of salt, pepper or paprika, or chop and make into an egg salad or a simple topping on a green salad. Ever baked eggs instead of boiling them? Try this three-step how to make hard-cooked eggs in the oven method.

Rotisserie Chicken

Pick up a rotisserie chicken from the deli so you always have a high-quality protein source on-hand. Rotisserie chicken can be chopped and made into a simple Balsamic Chicken Salad with Cherries, eaten on its own, topped on a pizza, added to a grain salad, or mixed with barbecue sauce for a quick sandwich.

Grain (barley, couscous, pasta/orzo, quinoa, etc.)

Grains, especially whole grains, offer fiber and a host of other nutrients. Make your own grain salad by combining your favorite cooked grain with cheese, chopped vegetables, fresh or dried fruit and your favorite protein such as turkey, chicken, tofu or lean beef. Try this Couscous Salad for a delicious lunch options.

Greek Yogurt

As a delicious and easy source of high-quality protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium and other nutrients, Greek yogurt can be eaten as in Chia Seed and Raspberry Yogurt or topped with fruit and oats. It can also be used in place of sour cream or mayonnaise in dips or as a topping for baked potatoes.

Fresh vegetables

There are many delicious vegetables to keep on-hand that are perfect for a lunchbox. Keep carrot, celery and bell pepper strips in the fridge to use as a dipper. Try diced squash, zucchini and onions in grain or green salads or shave your veggies with a peeler to make Asparagus, Zucchini & Carrot Ribbon Salad.

Cheese (feta, goat, cheddar, etc.)

Snack cheese and sliced cheese are always nice to have on-hand for sandwiches and snacks but spruce up your salads and pasta dishes with a sprinkle feta or goat cheese. Make Antipasto Skewers using cubed or fresh mozzarella. For a protein boost that is delicious, sweet and savory, try cottage cheese.

About Holley GraingerHolley Grainger

Cook. Learn. Eat. Laugh

Holley Grainger, MS, RD is a nationally recognized nutrition and lifestyle expert, who has instructed millions of home cooks on how to make simple, fast and healthy meals through her online videos, media appearances and writing.

Holley was the Food and Nutrition Editor of CookingLight.com and MyRecipes.com for over five years where she hosted over 650 online cooking videos for MyRecipes.com including the award-winning “Dinner Tonight” daily video series. She also created, wrote and hosted CookingLight.com’s “Real Life Nutrition” video series having filmed over 50 videos featuring everything from healthy eating during the holidays to cooking with kids.

Holley currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Brent, preschooler, Ellie, and toddler, Frances. Keep up with Holley on Twitter or like her Facebook page for healthy recipe suggestions, smart diet advice and motivational healthy eating tips.