Resiting cravings and avoiding takeout when hunger hits are some of the biggest challenges even the healthiest person has to face. I firmly believe your nutritional goals can be met without being in the kitchen doing hours of meal prep. With this Ultimate Grocery Guide you’ll be able to skip fast-food lines and unnecessary calories, reclaim hours lost spent steaming veggies, and head to your local supermarket to create affordable healthy lunch ideas for when you’re on the go.
Cruising the aisles of a supermarket can be intimidating. A lot of things may be marketed as “healthy”, but in fact contain very little nutritional value.
Lunch is meant to energize you!
You should always have a little added pep to your step after a midday meal. Avoiding overly processed items like premade subs and heavy deli foods will let you get back to your day without feeling sluggish.
Focus on shopping the perimeters of the store, that’s where the fresh food is including the bakery, deli, and produce sections. If you avoid the center aisles, you’ll be able to dodge overall salty, sweet, and processed goods that are likely to have you
hangry again in less than an hour.
To make finding affordable healthy lunch items for on-the-go easy, I’ve included some of my favorite products I pick up during my one-hour break. Keep in mind that ingredients are versatile. Get creative and find what works for you! I personally refuse to sacrifice flavor for calories and with these items…you won’t have to.
Protein is the perfect place to start. Essential to every meal and snack, every gram of protein counts. As the building blocks to muscles and cells, you can count on this nutrient to satisfy your cravings and keep hunger at bay.
FAGE GREEK YOGURT 0%
Protein: 18 grams Price: $1.20
I love these yogurt cups–great for on-the-go protein, packed with probiotics, and sourced from milk and cream supplied from rBGH-free* cows. Get all the calcium-rich benefits of real dairy ingredients with nothing artificial. With Fage Total 0% you get all the flavor and none of the fat.
You can go sweet and top these with fresh or frozen fruit. Or you can go savory and replace sour cream and use the yogurt to dress a taco salad or bowl of soup.
DUCKTRAP WILD SOCKEYE SALMON
Protein: 17 grams Price:~$9.00
Smoked salmon is great for on the go. It’s full of flavor, protein, and tons of essential fatty acids. If you’re skipping carbs, this is perfect to throw over a salad with fresh dill from the produce section. If you fancy some bread, toast a bagel and layer this with sliced onion, tomatoes, and capers for a classic bagel and lox.
Smoked salmon is a good source of Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Phosphorus, Vitamin B12 and Selenium. Reach for wild-caught instead of farm-raised to make sure you’re not missing out on these nutrients and to ensure sustainability. If you’re watching your sodium, replace this item for the next one. But this still may be the tastiest item for an affordable healthy lunch —just sayin.
STARKIST TUNA POUCH (LOW SODIUM)
Protein: 17 grams Price: ~$1.45
I also love these tuna pouches. I try to stick to the low sodium option whenever I can. Since no draining is required, it’s perfect on a salad, in a sandwich, right out of the pouch, or used as a low-calorie substitute for beef or chicken in your favorite recipes. Just carry a condiment or too with you to dress the tuna and you’ll be good to go.
WILD PLANET SARDINES IN EVOO
Protein: 10 grams Calcium: 200 mg Price: $~2.40
If you are a sardine lover or are considering trying these yummy little fishies for the first time, I would highly recommend this brand. It’s delicious and a top-rated in its category. This powerhouse food will provide you with essential Omega 3’s, Calcium, and they’re one of the few fish options that are known to be low in toxins like Mercury.
If you’re worried about overfishing, avoid sardines from the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Most sustainable sardines are from the Pacific. You can eat these as-is right out of the can or if you’re feeling fancy add a squeeze of lemon juice. For a little extra sustenance, combining sardines with saltines is a fav.
HARD BOILED EGGS
Protein: 6 grams/egg Price: ~$2.75
A list of affordable healthy lunch ideas would be incomplete without boiled eggs. You COULD make these at home, but it’s pretty neat that they’re available in stores. Keep in mind, this product contains sodium benzoate/benzoic acid which is used to prevent the growth of microorganisms in acidic foods. Not everyone is sensitive to this preservative, but it’s worth mentioning.
Now that that’s out of the way, boiled eggs come in handy to curve mid-day cravings and keep you away from fast-food temptation or that cake your co-worker brought in. They are hardy, satisfying, and super versatile.
NITRATE-FREE TURKEY BREAST
Protein: 12 grams per 2 ounces Sodium: 360mg Price:~4.70
Lunch/deli meats come in different levels of quality. Some are more processed than others, have more fat, more sodium, and some contain nitrites. Since lunchmeat is a no-brainer when it comes to affordable healthy lunch options, my only word of advice is to keep your eyes on the nutrition label and portion sizes.
Applegate Naturals is particularly good at offering tasty antibiotic and nitrate-free cold cuts. Besides that, there are so many ways to use lunch meat outside of just a sandwich. If you’re a fan of finger foods, check out these lunch meat recipes that require only minimal kitchen time.
25 calories, 1 gram of protein, 2 carbs per tbsp Price: $2-5
Hummus is considered a healthy dip and spread due to its heart-healthy ingredients. Chickpeas are a highly underrated superfood and absolute must-have in your diet. The beans also contain a wealth of fiber and protein. I always go with the store brand from my local grocery store, Publix, it’s minimally processed and always fresh.
Check out the deli section for a yummy house-made option instead of the branded ones to avoid extra ingredients and keep it as simple as possible. Hummus is chickpeas, tahini, and olive oil. Other brands like Sabra stray way outside this guideline and somehow manage to add GMO corn/vegetable/soybean oil and other iffy ingredients.
However, if you can find an organic brand of hummus-go for it! Dip fresh veggies, crackers, or just your spoon into and enjoy. It’s also an ideal low-calorie alternative to mayo or other fatty spreads on a sandwich. You can even thin it out with a little water and lemon juice and turn it into your new favorite whole-food salad dressing.
JUSTIN’S CLASSIC ALMOND BUTTER PACKETS
1 Packet: Protein: 7 grams Sugars:1 gram Price: $~1.25
Just one packet offers about 16% of your daily fiber is an extremely important part of your daily diet. Getting your daily fiber is important for healthy digestion, getting rid of bloat, and even weight loss. If you’re not into steamed broccoli, Justin’s nut butters are a tasty treat of an alternative.
They come in varying flavors so the sugar content will differ for each. I pair mine with an apple for dipping. Or, keep in my desk to wane off mid-day snack attacks.
Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not to be feared! Likely the tastiest thing on your plate, carbohydrates are an essential source of energy that will keep you on your toes long after lunchtime.
MINUTE BROWN RICE
Protein: 5 grams Sodium: 160 mg Price: $3.25
I really love this rice. Like most things on this list, its packaged conveniently in a single serving size. Just pop it in the microwave for a literal minute and serve with a protein and veg or top with beans and arugula. Even though it’s “instant” rice, it has a well-rounded flavor and packs in more than 15% of your daily fiber in one serving.
Brown rice is a complex carb. This means it takes a little extra effort for the body to digest it–which is great. The longer it takes to move through your system it’s helping to lower cholesterol, move waste through the digestive tract, promote fullness, and provides you with energy that lasts.
WHOLE WHEAT MINI PITA
80 Calories, 0 Fat, 15 Carbohydrates Price: ~$3
These Pitettes (get it, like mini-pitas!) are just way cooler and more fun than sliced bread. Giving you that bakery-made feel, these whole wheat goodies are great for avocado toast, mini pizzas, or a good ol’ fashioned ham n’ cheese Sammy. You could even cut these into bite-size pieces and dip into your hummus.
It’s bread–the options are limitless. Enjoy this carby goodness without the guilt at just 80 calories per mini-loaf.
THINK THIN PROTEIN & FIBER HOT OATMEAL
Protein: 10 grams Sugars: 9 grams Price: ~$1.75
When I’m taking a break from my yummy overnight oats, I’ll switch it up for something hot on the go. ThinkThin Hot Oatmeal topped with a sprinkle of my favorite Organic Cacao Powder satisfies even my most stubborn sweet tooth without going overboard on the sugar. These little cups of goodness are a great alternative to breakfast muffins and pastries but still serve decadent flavor.
This cup of oatmeal contains a protein that has been added in the form of soy protein isolate. This supplemental source of protein isn’t naturally found in oatmeal but serves to keep you fuller longer and prevent your blood sugar from crashing causing hunger to creep up shortly after eating it.
NATURE’S PATH QI’A CHIA, BUCKWHEAT & HEMP CEREAL, CRANBERRY VANILLA
70 calories 7g carbohydrates 2g fiber per tbsp Price: ~$10
This Chia, Buckwheat, and Hemp Cereal make the perfect superfood topper. A dash here and a dash there-the nutrients in this little bag go a long way. Plant-based, full of protein, fiber, and jam-packed with essential fatty-acids–your vegan friends will be shook.
Sprinkle this cereal on top of yogurt, oatmeal, or toss it back by the handfuls.
CUCINA & AMORE QUINOA MEAL
Protein: 3 grams Carbs: 13 grams Price: ~$2.75
Ever since I discovered Quinoa–life just hasn’t been the same. This miracle grain is a protein powerhouse that could easily replace rice and pasta as far as I’m concerned. These Quinoa Meals are ready to go and full of flavor.
If you’re cutting sodium, this may not be the option for you. But if you’re looking for a satisfying, affordable healthy lunch on the go…Don’t skip this one.
Fruit & Vegetables
Fruit and veg are a no brainer. Unfortunately, it’s not in many people’s habit to gravitate toward the produce section when their stomachs growling. These options are great training wheels to remind you how tasty, easy, and cheap it is to eat these mother nature sourced goodies.
35 calories per serving Price: $2-3
Dip in ranch, toss in a salad or eat them as is. These cute little finger foods should always be nearby. Baby carrots have a satisfyingly crisp crunch for when you’re feeling snacky. They’re also a particularly good source of beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants.
Nutritional and cost values vary
These little cups of joy are pure heaven and can be found in nearly every supermarket. I’ve even seen fresh fruit cups at gas stations so no excuses. If you’re having a stressful day, a cup of fruit salad is a great way to soothe your nervous system and ease digestion that usually gets wound up when you’re releasing stress-induced hormones.
Mixed fruit can offer high doses of a variety of vitamins and taste way better that your Flinstone chewable.
40 calories 3g fiber 3g protein 7g carbohydrate per cup Price: ~$2-4
Snap em, steam up, sauce em, and eat em–it really doesn’t matter how you enjoy snow peas, all I know is you have to. These darling little veggies deserve a lot more limelight than they get. They’re an excellent source of fiber, folate, and potassium, all of which help lower and regulate blood pressure and blood sugar.
160 calories 7g fiber per 100 g Price: Varies
If millennials were a fruit, we’d be avocados. This fatty ball of deliciousness has been over-hyped for years and for good reason. Creamy, tasty, and full of healthy fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber–a perfectly ripe avocado can and will save the day every time.
Serving you heart health, vitamin C, potassium, and beautiful skin, bananas are nature’s funny-shaped candy bar. Why self-loathe after a Snickers when you could just peel and chill.
Obviously, water is the MVP. But let’s be honest–it gets boring. Here is the single most sippable pick-me-up that will give you sustained energy instead of causing you to crash and become dependant like coffee does!
I’m obsessed with kombucha, especially this brand. I always get them at 2 for $4.00! If you’re not familiar with kombucha it’s praised for its health benefits. Recent studies showed that kombucha produces glucaric acid, which helps improve liver function. Kombucha is also known as an antioxidant and antibacterial agent.
While it’s relatively new to the US market, it’s been consumed in China and Japan for centuries. Master Brew Kombucha is certified organic, non-GMO, non-dairy, and gluten-free. Naturally sweetened with stevia and contains no added sugar.
So what exactly is this drink the hipsters rave about? It’s a fermented tea that’s been flavored with a bit of fruit juice. It’s got a familiar, natural fizz like soda (great replacement), and is loaded with nearly double the amount of probiotics found in yogurt.
If you’re looking to lose weight, clear your skin, and improve your gut health with Kombucha, it’s best to drink at about 4 ounces before your meal, about 10-15 minutes before your meal.
5 Minute Meals
Time to put some of these tasty items together on the go! Here’s how I use this list to create an affordable healthy lunch after a quick stop at the store.
Avocado Smoked Salmon Pita Pockets
Warm Pita Bread + Smoked Salmon + Side of avocado
Take a pita, warm it up in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds, THEN add the cold-smoked salmon and pieces of avocado slices. A filling quick easy sandwich. Don’t forget to add a side of vegetables!
Fully Loaded Almond Butter Rice Cakes
Justin’s Almond Butter Packet + Unsweetened Rice Cakes + Banana+pistachios
Spread the almond butter on top of a rice cake and add your favorite combo of peanuts and top with bananas. A delicious and energy promoting food guaranteed to curb your sweet tooth and prevent that midday crash. To increase the protein add a Fage Greek Yogurt for a balanced meal.
Avocado Turkey Rollups
Avocado + hummus+ nitrate-free turkey
Lay the turkey out flat. If using 2 slices then lay slices onto one another. Spread hummus on top of the turkey. Add the avocado and rollup. For extra brownie points, add a serving of baby carrots or snow peas on the side for a well-balanced meal and touch of filling fiber.
Avocado Tuna Bowls
Low Sodium Tuna Packet + Whole Avocado + Mayo or Mustard Packets from the Deli
This is a real winner for me. I love to make these when I’m feeling fancy during my break. I just take those free mayo packets from the deli section, pour it into the tuna pouch and mix it really well. Then I slice the avocado in half, take out the seed, and fill it up with tuna. It’s a delicacy. Loaded with healthy fats,
Greek Yogurt + Granola+ Fruit Salad
Fage Greek Yogurt +Fruit Salad+ NATURE’S PATH QI’A CHIA, BUCKWHEAT & HEMP CEREAL, CRANBERRY VANILLA
You can mix & match the choices above to make your own mini-meals however you like! Take some suggestions from the carbs, protein, fruit, and vegetable sections to create a balanced meal on the go. I know it’s not always easy making the best choices, but I hope this can provide as a guide to help you filter out the bad from the good.
I didn’t want to include the standard super-high protein bars and drinks —like those that have 30 grams— because a lot of them are really processed with unnecessary ingredients and are also usually high in calories (up to 400!). But the more you practice at reading labels and choose wholesome real foods, you’ll find the process to be really easy and a lot quicker than waiting on a line get your order.
I know you have your favorite affordable healthy lunch go-to’s that you pick up at the supermarket! Drop some inspiration in the comments below. Routines are great, but we’ve got to switch it up every now and then. Looking forward to featuring some of your favorites!