Eat & Move: Derval O'Rourke's healthy, on-the-go, lunch recipes

Derval O'Rourke. Picture: Derval O'Rourke.

This week I’m focused on mid week lunches. Recipe wise it’s my sweet potato and tahini dip, plus a healthy vegetarian quesadilla.

Lunch can be a hard meal to nail in terms of healthy lifestyle, whether you are run ragged at home and barely have time to stop or whether you are in an office and trying to negotiate the best way to fuel your work day. The challenges can be plenty but the opportunity to super power your lunch is great. Here are my top tips for nailing lunchboxes this week:

1) How to build a healthy lunch

The key to a healthy lunchbox is about maximising your nutrition through balance and variety. Use the simple guide below to increase the variety in your lunchbox.


Protein is important for so much more than ‘gains’ in the gym and has as a role to play in most biological processes in the body.

I aim to have a quarter of my lunch as protein. It supports our immune system and keeps our skin, hair and nails in tip top condition.

One question I get asked a lot is how do I stay fuller for longer and keep hunger at bay?

My answer to this would be to increase the protein content of your lunchbox. Aim to include a palm sized portion which is around 20-30g to help with appetite control.

Lunch Protein Examples: A fillet of chicken, a fillet of salmon, two hard boiled eggs or as a vegetarian/vegan option 200g or ½ block tofu.


These are an important source of energy and mid week we need all the energy we can get. Consuming adequate carbohydrates can also benefit your fitness, sleep and immune function. I generally aim for a quarter of my lunch to be filled with wholegrain carbohydrates.

Lunch Carbohydrate Examples: 4 tablespoons cooked pasta or rice, 2 slices of bread/1 wrap/1 whole meal pitta, 3-4 rice cakes or oatcakes.


These are a brilliant source of vitamins and minerals to support immune function. This helps to prevent us picking up coughs and colds at work. They are high in fibre which helps to keep our gut healthy, our blood sugar levels balanced and our tummies feeling fuller for longer which on long mid week days is really great. I aim for 1/2 of my lunch to be vegetables.

Lunch Vegetable Examples: Stir fried vegetable portion, salad leaves, a bowl of vegetable soup or roasted vegetables portion.


These are a super idea to add at lunchtime. Healthy fats support immune function, absorption of vitamins A, D, E & K and production of recovery hormones. I aim to add 1-2 tablespoons of good fats to my lunch.

Lunch Fats Examples: 2 tablespoons mashed avocado, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons nuts/seeds.


This is an area that is often missed when it comes to lunchbox prep but adequate fluid intake is important for cognitive function at work and school. Dehydration can lead to feelings of fatigue, headaches, dizziness and lack of concentration. If you find plain water boring consider adding some no added sugar squash or slices of fruit in order to increase your fluid intake.

3) Invest in a few key pieces of equipment:

A question that always comes up is ‘what if I don’t have access to a microwave at work?’ or ‘what if I have to eat on the road?’ While this can make things a little more challenging, it certainly isn’t impossible.

My top tip would be to invest in a good quality flask that will allow you to keep things like soups, stews and curries warm until lunchtime.

I would invest in some BPA chemical-free plastic containers in a few different sizes to store your food and a cooler lunchbox to keep it fresh if you do not have access to a fridge at work.

A BPA-free water bottle is a must have too, aim to fill it up a few times each day and sip on it regularly while at your desk.

Brands I like: Tupperware or Systema as they tend to seal well. Kilner jars can be handy for eating on the go. Klean Kanteen are a great option and are easy to buy on Irish site

4) Simple lunch ideas:

Your lunchboxes don’t have to be Instagram worthy, trust me. However, they should be delicious, filling and bursting with nutrition. Here are some simple examples to get you started:

A pitta bread filled with spinach, grated carrot, falafel and hummus.

A wrap filled with mashed avocado, a chicken fillet or prawns and rocket.

Leftover pasta with some good quality pesto, peas, spinach and chicken mixed through.

Leftover roast vegetables with 1 fillet of chicken/ vegetarian sausages, pre cooked quinoa, hummus and pumpkin seeds.

Leftover lasagne or shepherd’s pie with a side salad.

Cold leftover frittata and a mix of salads.

5) Mid week lunch challenges and solutions:

If you struggle to have time to prepare your lunches then don’t panic. If your main option is to have lunch in the canteen or to pick it up in the shops focus on point number one and what your optimum lunch should look like.

Consider how your lunch is portioned and ask wherever you are ordering your food for them to portion out the way you would like to eat. If you don’t have access to heating your food or the microwave is crazy busy at lunch time don’t panic.

Hot food is still an option if you bring it in using a good quality flask option.

Alternatively you might want to be more cold salad based and use leftover pasta or rice to make a salad option that you can easily bring to work with you.


This week’s fitspiration is an Irish website called In their ‘Eco Home’ section they have a super selection of storage options for lunches on the go.

I’ve bought a few of the Klean Kanteen products on their site. I love shopping there as I know the product selection is really well thought through and the site is a great Irish business.

Sweet potato and tahini dip

Dips like this are a great way to liven up a mid week lunchbox. This one is simple to make and is packed with nutrition. The sesame seeds are a good source of plant-based calcium and protein and the sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A. It is delicious paired with the quesadilla recipe opposite.

Serves: 6 people

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30minutes

Nutritional Information:

Protein –6g

Fat –15.5g

Carbohydrates –16.5g

Calories - 162

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp cinnamon

Salt & pepper

70g Tahini

120g Greek yogurt

1 lemon, juiced

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds, to serve

2 tbsp chopped coriander, to serve

Picture: Leah Barbour.
Picture: Leah Barbour.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Spread the sweet potato out on a tray and drizzle in olive oil, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Pop tray into the oven for 30 min or until sweet potato is soft.

Transfer the roasted sweet potato into a food processor with the tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, salt, pepper and garlic. Roughly pulse into a course paste. Stir through the chopped coriander

Transfer into a serving bowl and garnish with the toasted sesame seeds. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.

Healthy wholegrain vegetarian quesadillas

These quesadillas make for a great mid week supper and are equally delicious served cold the next day with a salad for lunch. I like to use the sweet potato dip (opposite) in place of the hummus for a delicious twist.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Serves: 4

Nutritional Information:

Protein – 10g

Fat – 27g

Carbohydrates – 20g

Calories - 370

2 wholegrain wraps

1 tub of hummus

1 avocado, skin removed and thinly sliced

1 lime, juiced

100g feta, crumbled

2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

Salt & pepper

1 tsp olive oil

Picture: Leah Barbour.
Picture: Leah Barbour.

Spread a thick layer of hummus on each wrap. On one side of the wrap place ½ of the sliced avocado and drizzle over the fresh lime juice.

Sprinkle the crumbled feta and chopped coriander on top, season with salt and pepper and fold in half.

In a pan heat the olive oil and cook each wrap for 1-2 minutes on each side or until lightly golden and crisp.

Cut each wrap in half and serve hot or cold.

More on this topic

The Menu: Food news with Joe McNamee

Wine with Leslie Williams: The best pink sparkling wines and champagnes

Restaurant review: Cobh's Seasalt Cafe

The Currabinny cooks: Tasty treats with local strawberries and raspberries

More in this Section

Review: Liam Gallagher, Musgrave Park

Online Lives: Makeup artist and blogger Aisling Regan

The natural beekeeping movement is creating the right buzz for our bees

Why us Irish are away with the fairies

Latest Showbiz

KT Tunstall details emotional journey to find biological father and half-sisters

Lizzo stole the show at the BET Awards – here’s why she’s such a body-positivity icon

Phillip Schofield will take Amanda Holden claims ‘on the chin’

Twitter thread lets you pretend to be Beyonce’s assistant for the day

More From The Irish Examiner