70 Cold Lunch Ideas That Go Beyond PB&J
Packing lunch has its perks: It’s cheap, nutritious and rewarding to eat something homemade. But what do you do when there’s no microwave to reheat your hard work? Brown-bag one of these cold lunch ideas instead, of course. Here are 70 meals we love, from avocado chicken salad to Mediterranean couscous.
1. Aran Goyoaga’s Niçoise Salad
Pack everything in separate containers to keep it from turning to mush before lunchtime, then assemble it when you’re ready to eat. Easy, right?
2. Salmon Noodle Bowls with Chili-Yuzu Relish and Pickled Radishes
This dish is just as delicious served cold as it is served warm (if not more). Even better, it’s customizable: Whatever veggies are in your fridge are fair game.
3. Lemon-Roasted Potatoes, Chicken and Spinach with Tzatziki
It’s not just the adorable bento box that makes this lunch look irresistible. It’s the fact that everything tastes amazing straight from the refrigerator (and will keep for up to five days). Make a double batch for you and your kids.
7. Avocado Chicken Salad
Chicken salad recipes are a dime a dozen, but skip the outdated grapes, cranberries and nuts and add avocado to the cold lunch classic instead. It’s creamy with less mayo and packed with healthy fats—a win-win.
8. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Stuffed Peppers
Or, skip the mayo entirely and swap it with Greek yogurt. Bonus: These stuffed bell peppers are super easy on the eyes (and kid-friendly).
10. Kamut and Sour Cherry Meze
Meze just means appetizer, but we’re packing this cold grain salad up and serving it for a filling, healthy lunch.
12. Avocado, Radish and Walnuts with Carrot-Miso Dressing
An avocado salad might not seem like much on paper, but it’s quickly becoming one of our go-tos. Good thing it takes just 20 minutes to whip up.
13. Sumac and Fennel Fattoush
This is basically a salad made of pita chips, and we’re not complaining at all. The zingy honey-sumac vinaigrette pulls it all together beautifully.
14. 15-Minute Gazpacho with Cucumber, Red Pepper and Basil
You had us at 15 minutes (and again at no-cook). Cold soup sounds like just the thing for your next alfresco dinner party.
20. BLT Pasta Salad
What’s more fun than both a sandwich and a salad? A pasta dish that combines both, is what. (The bacon doesn’t hurt, either.)
23. Roasted Broccoli and Bacon Pasta Salad
Packing a lunch for kids? This broccoli-bacon combo will be an instant hit. (Extra breadcrumbs on top couldn't hurt, either.)
24. Roasted Squash Salad with White Beans, Bread Crumbs and Preserved Lemon
This room-temperature salad hits all the right notes: briny from the lemon, crispy from the breadcrumbs and creamy from the squash and beans. Yum.
25. Meal-Prep Creamy Kale Caesar Salad
Even self-professed kale haters will eat this salad up. That’s thanks to the creamy Caesar dressing, which takes less than 15 minutes to make.
26. Roasted Delicata Squash Salad
We love delicata squash for its sweet nutty flavor and low-effort prep (you don’t even have to peel it), but you could use any winter squash here, or even sweet potatoes if that’s what suits you. Not into eating it cold? Pull it from the fridge 20 minutes before lunch to let it come to room temp.
27. Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Pasta Salad
With pine nuts, cinnamon and apple cider vinegar, this bowl has all the flavors of fall…but we’ll be making and eating it all year long, thank you very much.
28. 15-Minute Mediterranean Couscous with Tuna and Pepperoncini
Tuna salad but make it fancy—except that this whole dish only takes a mere 15 minutes to put together.
29. Buffalo Chicken Wraps with Blue Cheese and Celery
Served hot or cold, buffalo chicken is always a good idea. This version uses a rotisserie chicken and store-bought buffalo sauce for the easiest lunch ever. (Feeding kids? They’ll love it too: Just dial down the spice with a milder sauce, or even swap it for barbecue sauce.)
30. Italian Deli Pinwheel Sandwiches
Deli meat and squishy bread? Pass. These adorable pinwheel slices take almost no effort and are a step up from your usual cold-cut sammie.
31. Avocado Egg Salad Sandwich
Forget the gloopy, overly mayo-ed egg salads you’re used to. This avocado version is creamy and tangy, but not over the top.
32. Grilled Lemon-Herb Chicken and Avocado Salad
Oh hello, salad to end all others. We recommend grilled chicken slices for their appealing smokiness, but you can use whatever you have on hand.
36. Vegan Fiesta Taco Bowl
We never thought we could have a crush on a packed lunch, but here we are. (It might have something to do with the homemade vegan sour cream.)
40. Lunch Kebabs with Mortadella, Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Sandwich, meet kebab. Choose your favorite fixings for a customized meal for you or your kid.
42. Rainbow Collard Wraps with Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce
Lettuce wraps are great, but they can get wilty. Hearty collard greens will pack well and hold until lunchtime rolls around, and they taste great cold.
43. Veggie Niçoise Salad with Red Curry Green Beans
Not a tuna person? No problem. This Niçoise salad has plenty going on, so no one will miss the fish.
46. The Ultimate Quinoa-Avocado Bowl
Introducing the homemade version of that $16 bowl you bought at work last week. It’s cheaper and tastier, in our opinion.
47. Grilled Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Sandwich
We bet they don’t serve this lunch in the cafeteria. Grill the peaches in advance for some smoky nuance or skip the grilling entirely.
48. Shredded Thai Salad with Avocado
Have we mentioned we really like avocado? Because we’ll put it on almost anything.
49. Kelp and Zucchini Noodle Pad Thai
Kelp noodles, common in Korean cuisine, are soaked instead of boiled, which means they’re great for a cold lunch. Plus, they’re gluten-free, Paleo and packed with nutrients like iron, vitamin K, calcium and fiber.
50. Meal-Prep Mayo-Less Potato Salad
The classic cold salad got a makeover: With a little bit of sour cream and red wine vinegar, you get a creamy dressing without all the calories. Sorry, mayonnaise.
52. Delicata Buckwheat Bowls
This make-ahead beauty is delicious warm, but we love it just as much eaten cold, straight from the fridge.
55. 20-Minute Shrimp Scampi Zoodles
Whip this up on a Sunday night and you’ll have four days’ worth of gourmet lunch ready for work. (It’s good warm or cold.)
56. Apple, Grape and Pecan Pasta Salad
Who knew pasta and fruit made such a delightful combination? We can’t get over the balance of textures. (And your kids are going to love this one.)
59. Vegan Avocado Caesar Salad
At work, you’d normally grab a $15 Caesar salad from the chain place down the street. We implore you to try this homemade version instead. You’re worth it.
60. Vegetarian Sushi Cups
They’re almost too cute to eat, but we have a feeling you (and your kids) will find it easy to overlook that fact—this fish-free take on sushi is just too darn tasty. Don’t forget to pack some chopsticks.
63. Mini Chicken Shawarma
Hear us out: These tiny sammies are even more delicious the second time around, and so don't need to be served warm. Just pack the leftover ingredients separately, so you can assemble it the morning you pack your lunch or at your desk. That way, nothing gets soggy.
65. 15-Minute Mezze Plate with Toasted Za’atar Pita Bread
It may look like a plate of snacks (OK, it is a plate of snacks), but that doesn't mean it won't fill you up. Between the hummus, salami, Greek yogurt and whole-wheat pita, we have a feeling you'll stay satisfied until dinnertime.
70. Fruicuterie Board
When in doubt, you truly can't go wrong with an assortment of your favorite cheese and produce. Spruce it up with cured meats if you must.