60 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 60 cold lunch ideas instead.
1. Aran Goyoaga’s Niçoise Salad
Pack everything in separate containers to keep it from turning to mush at work, 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 is in your fridge is 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.
4. Pearl Couscous with Chickpeas, Eggplant and Peaches
If peaches aren’t in season, you can easily swap them for another fruit, and the whole thing can be made ahead. (Need more convincing?)
5. Citrus, Shrimp and Quinoa Salad with Feta
A cold quinoa salad is right up our alley, but the mixed citrus and shrimp take it over the edge. (And FYI, it takes only 20 minutes to make.)
6. Colorful Peanut Noodle Jar
On days when you’re sick of eating the same sad kale salad for lunch, look to this convenient and quick noodle mason jar salad for something exciting and new. (It’s also a cute and easy way to get your gets to eat some veggies, just saying.)
7. Avocado Chicken Salad
Chicken salad recipes are a dime a dozen, but skip the outdated grapes, cranberries and nuts and add avocado to this cold lunch classic instead.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 completely kid-friendly.
9. Yellow Tomato Gazpacho
Cold soup for lunch? Yep, it’s a thing, and it’s delicious. Everyone at work will think you’re some kind of chef.
10. Kamut and Sour Cherry Meze
Meze just means appetizer, but we’re packing this cold grain salad up and eating it for a filling, healthy lunch.
11. Zoodles with Avocado and Mango Sauce
It’s creamy, a little bit spicy and requires zero cooking. What’s not to love?
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.
14. 15-Minute Gazpacho with Cucumber, Red Pepper and Basil
You had us at 15 minutes (and again at no-cook). Cold soup is delicious, you guys.
15. Meal-Prep Creamy Pasta Salad with Broccoli and Raisins
If you’re going to pack lunch, you’ve got to upgrade from PB&Js and carrot sticks. This budget- and kid-friendly pasta salad will do the trick. (It’s just $1.50 per serving!)
16. The Ultimate Grilled Chicken Sandwich
All sandwiches should have frizzled onions.
18. Green Bowl with Chicken, Citrus and Herbs
This nourishing bowl is a great way to use up lingering chicken and herb leftovers. We won’t tell if you use a store-bought dressing, either.
19. Indian Salad Bowl with Crunchy Chickpeas
Fresh, vibrant and full of crunchy, spiced and roasted chickpeas? This will do quite nicely.
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.)
21. Avocado and Black Bean Pasta Salad
It’s almost like pasta, avocado and our lunch were meant to be together.
22. Shrimp Fajita Salad with Avocado Cilantro Dressing
This crunchy, flavor-packed salad and creamy, spicy dressing become something magical when combined in one bowl. Want to make it dairy-free? Use olive oil instead of yogurt. Craving a wrap? Toss it in a tortilla (or better yet, make lettuce wraps). You’re the artist and the lunch is your palette.
23. Roasted Broccoli and Bacon Pasta Salad
Packing a lunch for kids? This broccoli-bacon combo will be an instant hit.
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 bread crumbs 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 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.
28. 15-Minute Mediterranean Couscous with Tuna and Pepperoncini
Tuna salad but make it fancy—except that this whole dish 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 spiciness with a milder sauce.)
30. Italian Deli Pinwheel Sandwiches
Deli meat and squishy bread? Meh. 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.
33. Salmon and Smashed Cucumber Grain Bowls
More satisfying than a bowl of leafy greens but not too heavy, this might be the grain bowl of our dreams. It also solves the whole reheating-fish-at-work conundrum: Just don’t.
34. Slow-Cooker Meal-Prep Burrito Bowls
Toss everything in your slow cooker, then assemble your bowls and go. Psst: These low-carb beauties will keep for four days in the fridge and are even better served cold than warm.
35. Salmon Bowl with Farro, Black Beans and Tahini Dressing
This salmon bowl is the tastiest way to get your omega-3s. We also love that eating it cold means no stinking up the microwave with fish…but that’s another story.
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.)
37. Lemon-Tahini Salad with Lentils, Beets and Carrots
Want to make this meal even easier? Look for pre-cooked lentils and vacuum-packed beets at the grocery store. It can be our little secret.
38. Make-Ahead Farro and Brussels Sprout Salad
Consider this the hip, cool cousin of the quinoa salad. The farro has a satisfying chew, and paired with Brussels sprouts, it feels special without being fussy—a guaranteed hit at work or home.
39. Chicken Pesto Focaccia Sandwiches
Homemade pesto and crisp chicken make for an extraordinarily tasty cold sandwich. Use freshly baked bread if you can get your hands on it.
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.
41. Quick Guacamole Quinoa Salad
This is basically like eating guacamole for lunch.
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.
44. Cold Sesame Cucumber Noodles
Zoodles on their own aren’t a complete meal, so we added marinated tofu for extra protein in this ten-minute dish.
45. Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce
They’re just like your favorite takeout noodles and come together in three easy steps. And FYI, the peanut sauce is kid-friendly to boot.
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.
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.
52. Delicata Buckwheat Bowls
This make-ahead beauty is delicious warm, but we love it just as much eaten cold, straight from the fridge.
51. Radicchio, Lentil and Apple Salad with Vegan Cashew Dressing
Even non-vegans will swoon over this creamy cashew dressing. (We double-checked: There’s not a drop of dairy in there.) Pack it for work and you’re guaranteed to inspire some lunch envy.
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.)
53. Roasted Beet and Citrus Salad
When you’re tired of kale but still want something light, this bright, sweet, nutritious and meal-prep-friendly salad will hit the spot.
54. Keto Instant Pot Greek Cauliflower Rice
We can’t decide what we’re most excited about: that this lunch takes 10 minutes from start to finish, or that it’s diet-friendly and delicious. (It serves eight as a side, but makes a heartier main for four.)
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.)
57. Keto Steak and Blue Cheese Salad for One
You’ve already got cold leftover steak in the fridge. Why not put it to good use and make a fancy little lunch? It takes five minutes, promise.
58. Cauliflower, Pomegranate and Apple Salad
The cauliflower won’t be quite as crispy the next day, but with that tahini-honey dressing, we don’t mind at all.
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—they’re just too darn tasty. Don’t forget to pack some chopsticks.