10 Healthy (and Fast!) Whole Grain Lunches

Instant rice never has done much for me. It’s just boxes of partially cooked, then strangely dried, grains that – no matter how carefully you prepare them – always taste watery and mushy.

But it turns out that’s old-school instant rice. I welcome you to the wonder that is instant rice 2.0; the type that is packed in pouches and can be hot and ready from the microwave in about 90 seconds.

When I first encountered this variety a few years ago, I was apprehensive since I actually don’t mind cooking rice from scratch. As long as you allow enough time, the results are worth the extra effort.

But then I tried them. And I was impressed. With no extra water or cooking required, they’re heat-and-eat simple.

And then it got better, because there are many whole-grain and multi-grain options. There is, of course, basic brown rice. But there are also varieties like seven-grain brown rice blends, and brown rice and quinoa blends.

The point? It’s easy to have healthy whole grains. Fast.

Admittedly, I still don’t use these for dinner. Like any packaged item, you’re paying for the convenience. Regular rice is cheaper. But, I have found heat-and-eat rice an invaluable tool for packing healthy lunches.

The beauty of this stuff is that it needs no cooking. And that means that whipping up cold rice salads is as easy as tearing open a packet and tossing the rice with whatever inspires you (in my case, usually leftovers).

If you prefer to pack it hot, simply heat it up, them pop it in a thermos with whatever else you want to mix in. Done.

Photo: J.M. Hirsch

Need ideas? I’ve assembled quick, healthy and delicious ideas for cold and hot dishes:

Cold Rice Salads

– Chicken Caesar Salad: Toss a packet of heat-and-eat rice with chopped, leftover cooked chicken (or tear some off a rotisserie chicken) and frozen peas (they’ll thaw by lunch). Drizzle with Caesar dressing.

– Bacon and Eggs Salad: Think of this as a chilled version of egg fried rice. Toss a packet of rice with chopped scrambled eggs, and crumbled bacon (make extra at breakfast). Top with grated cheddar and a splash of hot sauce.

– The Greek (pictured above): Toss a packet of rice with sliced black olives, fresh dill, crumbled feta cheese, sliced cherry tomatoes, and chopped red onion. Drizzle with vinaigrette. For more oomph, add chicken.

– Going Nuts: Mix a packet of rice with chopped cashews, pistachios or peanuts (or a combination), dried cherries, finely chopped carrot, and celery, along with a splash of vinaigrette.

– The Falafel: Combine a packet of rice with a drained can of chickpeas, chopped garlic, chopped red onion, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of lemon juice, a sprinkle of smoked paprika, and salt and pepper.

Warm Rice Dishes

– The Burrito:Heat the rice according to package directions. Pop it in a thermos, then top with heated, canned refried beans and shredded cheese. Pack with salsa on the side.

– Fried Rice:Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet. Add any vegetables you have (leftover steamed or roasted root veggies are particularly good). Once they are hot, add a packet of rice. When the rice is also hot, crack an egg into the center and stir like mad. Once the egg is cooked and evenly distributed, season with soy sauce and pack in a thermos.

– Soup’s On: Heat up leftover, homemade soup, and add a packet of rice. It’s a much more substantial meal than soup alone.

– The Cajun: In a microwave-safe bowl, combine a packet of rice, a sliced spicy chicken sausage, a handful of frozen corn kernels, a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of Cajun seasoning. Microwave until hot, then pack in a thermos.

– Kinda Chili Wannabe:In a microwave-safe bowl, combine a packet of rice, a healthy amount of jarred pasta sauce or canned diced tomatoes, and drained canned kidney beans. Heat, then season with hot sauce and salt. Top with cheese and pop in a thermos.

Looking for more lunchbox inspiration?

Lunch Time? Taco Time!
Harness the Power of Peanut (or Not!) Sauce
No More Bland-wiches: 6 Spreads You Gotta Try

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