While it’s hard for many in the workforce today to imagine a world without food delivery, it wasn’t that long ago that employees had to venture out of the office for lunch. Whether it was a quick bite at a counter-service restaurant or the infamous three-martini business lunch, American workers left work for their midday meal for much of the 20th century. Even within the past 20 years, the proliferation of fast-casual restaurants made it relatively easy for employees to step out for lunch without sacrificing too much of their workday.
Unsurprisingly, the phenomenon of ordering lunch into the office coincided with the rise of food delivery apps. Employees sought the ease and efficiency of having meals delivered and employers began to take note. Based on a survey of over 3,000 HR professionals, the percentage of companies offering food benefits increased by 12% between 2014-2018.
While it may have started as a means of showing gratitude and appreciation for employees, food delivery has become a benefit that can help employers attract and retain talent. In a recent survey conducted by DoorDash for Work, 85% of respondents said regular food delivery would increase their overall job satisfaction. Working from home, it’s still easy to capture this benefit with options like DoorDash for Work’s Expensed Meals.
While many teams may remain working from home even as we move out of the pandemic, the demand for food benefits is not likely to wane. And, increasingly, employees are looking for healthy lunch options that boost energy and drive productivity. Read on for a list of our top dietitian-approved lunch delivery ideas to share with your team:
Salads have long been a go-to healthy lunch option, and for good reason. Because they’re plant-based, they’re full of heart-healthy fiber as well as beneficial vitamins and minerals. Salads are also endlessly customizable, so there’s an option that will suit every member of your team. While some may argue that a lunch salad is boring, our restaurant partners prove they’re anything but. Encourage your team to try creative and nutritious options like the Avocado & Quinoa Superfood Ensalada from Mendocino Farms in Los Angeles, CA.
2. Grain bowls
A close cousin of the salad, grain bowls are a heartier alternative that pack a powerful nutritional punch. The basic formula is a grain base topped with veggies, protein, dressing, and add-ons like nuts or seeds, though the options to customize this type of dish are plentiful. This is key when considering meal options for your employees, as flexible options make it possible to accommodate food allergies as well as a diverse range of tastes. Grain bowls offer many of the same nutritional benefits as salads - they’re high in fiber, which can lower cholesterol and reduce chronic disease risk, and high in inflammation-fighting antioxidants like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lycopene, and selenium. A great example is the Forbidden Rice Bowl from Flower Child in Austin, TX.
3. Poke bowls
Poke bowls are a relatively new addition to the corporate lunch scene, though the dish has a long history in Hawaiian cuisine. “Poke” means to slice or cut, referring to the slices of sushi-grade fish laid over a base of rice and topped with veggies, seeds, and umami-packed sauces. Fish is a great source of lean protein as well as heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. For the vegetarians and vegans on your team, there are also tofu options that are equally nutritious. When selecting poke restaurants for your employees, focus on restaurants that offer a wide selection of veggie toppings to maximize the health benefits, like in the Hawaiian Classic from PokeRice in New York, NY.
Sandwiches have a bad reputation as far as business lunches go, but for the most part it’s undeserved. There are certainly ways a sandwich can become a less than ideal midday meal, but with a few healthy swaps it can provide your team with the fuel they need to power through the workday. The first thing to consider? The bread - be sure to select restaurants that offer a choice, as whole wheat options contain fiber and important B vitamins. The second consideration is what goes inside - there are endless healthy combinations, but a good rule of thumb is lean protein for sustained energy, veggies for additional fiber and vitamins, and healthy fats for satiety. The Hummus and Avocado sandwich from Devon & Blakely in Washington, DC is a perfect example.
Similar to sandwiches, wraps can be another healthy option to add to your team lunch rotation. Traditional wraps follow the sandwich model (protein and veggies with dressing or spread), however there are plenty of creative, more “outside the box” options as well. Many salad restaurants offer their signature salads in wrap form and, more recently, sushi restaurants have started to offer “burritos” that mimic the look and feel of a wrap. The sushi burrito can be a great alternative for gluten-free employees, as can lettuce-wrapped options. To keep wraps healthy, encourage your team to seek out plant-forward options such as the Greek Goddess Wrap from Goddess & Grocer in Chicago, IL.
6. Stir Fry
For the days when your team would prefer a hot lunch, stir fry is a nutritionally balanced option that comes with a lot of flexibility. Animal protein options can range from chicken to beef to seafood, while vegetarians can select tofu or double down on veggies. Vegetables may vary based on what is in season, which maximizes their nutritional value. And many restaurants will offer an option of white or brown rice, so your employees can reap the health benefits of whole grains. While stir fry exists within many cuisines, Thai stir fry is a particularly popular option, like the Pad Ka Pow from Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine in San Francisco, CA.
Sushi has all the components of a healthy meal - omega-3-rich fish, nutrient-packed veggies, and whole grains - yet there seems to be confusion about whether it is actually good for you. The answer is yes, with a couple caveats. The first is that it depends on the type of roll - if your employees are opting for deep fried rolls with spicy mayo, the fat and calorie content are going to outweigh the healthy aspects of the meal. The second caveat is being mindful of portions, as it’s easy to unintentionally eat 2 or more rolls. When selecting sushi for your team, opt for restaurants that have plenty of simple rolls, the option to substitute brown rice, and a selection of healthy side dishes to round out the meal. A great example is the pre-portioned Wasabi Classic from Wasabi Sushi & Bento in New York, NY, which includes a salmon avocado roll, salmon nigiri, and a side of seaweed salad.
8. Soups & Stews
Especially during the winter months, soups and stews are a warming and nutritious lunch choice for your team. As long as you steer clear of cream-based options, they are typically low in calories and fat but very filling due to both their volume and veggie-content. Studies have shown that those who eat soup regularly tend to have lower overall calorie intake and better diet quality. A classic healthy soup option would be the Chicken Lemon Vegetable soup from Wildflower in Phoenix, AZ, however there are great options across all cuisine types.
9. Broth-Based Soups
Soups, particularly broth based soups, are a comforting and nutrition-packed option for corporate lunch. Look for broth or vegetable based soups (or restaurants that offer the option to add vegetables to a soup). Soups using bone broth, in particular, are especially healthy. Bone broth is made from bones and connective tissues of animals and is rich in essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium and may also help fight inflammation according to recent research. Asian cuisines, in particular, are known for their broth based soups. Pho, for example, is usually prepared with healthy options such as vegetable toppings, lean protein like fish, chicken or tofu and comes with a broth base. A warm bowl of soup is filling and adding protein rich foods like chicken breast to the bowl will help keep your team feeling full and energized for longer periods of time. This type of soup offers a great option for your team to get a nutrition bang for their buck in a compact meal. Ba Bar in Seattle, WA offers a variety of health soups such as pho ga.
10. DIY Options
“Build your own” concepts, such as customizing a burrito, bowl or any type of dish is a fun and healthful way to get creative with your team's business lunches. Opt for restaurants that offer a variety of vegetables, whole grains (think brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread), lean proteins such as fish, turkey, chicken breast or plant based proteins like beans or tofu. These three components of a bowl will make for a complete, nutritionally balanced and filling meal. Whole grains, vegetables, beans and lentils are rich in fiber which aids in digestive health. Fiber also helps control blood sugar levels, preventing that energy crash later in the day which can lead to a healthier, more productive team. Moonbowls in San Francisco, CA offers a variety of nutrition packed bowls, including a build your own moonbowl with choice of base, protein, sauce and toppings.
11. Mediterranean Fare
Mediterranean cuisine has long been called “the best” or “the healthiest” foods to eat, in fact the Mediterranean diet has been in the top five best diets year after year. Why is Mediterranean cuisine healthy? The types of foods that make up this healthy balanced diet, such as fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, whole grains and vegetables are rich in essential nutrients. Fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats protect the heart and can prevent the onset of heart disease later in life. Mediterranean cuisine is plant based instead of meat heavy. Plant based foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant based proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds and lentils. While red meat is the main animal protein in many other types of cuisine, this type primarily uses fish and occasionally poultry. Naya in New York City offers customizable Mediterranean cuisine such as build your own bowls, wraps and salads with choices of heart healthy grains, proteins and toppings.
Incorporating a healthy theme–like meatless Monday–to your business lunches is a great way to promote variety and healthier choices for lunch. Vegan cuisine eliminates all food sources that derive from an animal, including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and other food products that contain any of those ingredients (such as a cookie made with egg and butter). Vegan cuisines are made of plant based foods which offer health benefits. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins and minerals which can boost the immune system and decrease inflammation in the body. Whole grains are rich in fiber which promotes digestive health and B vitamins which can boost energy levels. Plant based proteins will leave you team feeling full and energized for the rest of the day and include beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tofu. Vegan Thai Cuisine in Orlando, Fl offers a variety of vegan dishes, some of which are customizable with options for whole grains and plant based proteins such as this vegan yellow curry.
Similar to vegan cuisine, vegetarian options are vegetable forward and plant based. The difference between vegetarians and vegans is that vegetarians do eat animal products such as dairy and eggs. Vegetarian cuisine can offer more options for your team’s business lunch while sticking with a meatless meal theme, while vegan cuisines can be a bit more limited. Vegetarian options can be found at most restaurants, so even if you are not looking for meatless meals, vegetarian team members would be able to fulfill their dietary needs. SOL Mexican Cocina in Los Angeles, CA, for example, offers traditional Mexican cuisine as well as creative vegetarian options without sacrificing the integrity of their dishes. One delicious example is their sweet potato and black bean taco.
Seafood restaurants are a great option to encourage the addition of heart healthy fish to your team's business lunches. Fish, in particular, is rich in heart healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids) and is considered a lean protein, which will help keep your team full and energized throughout their afternoon. Other seafood options such as shrimp are also a great choice. Shrimp is rich in selenium, which decreases inflammation and promotes heart health and it’s also rich in antioxidants and protein. Seafood can be found in a variety of cuisine types ranging from Italian to Mexican to Thai cuisine. Many seafood restaurants also offer vegetarian, poultry or red meat options, so every team member is sure to get their dietary needs met. Real Food Eatery in Philadelphia, PA offers many healthy fish options such as a customizable Island Jail Island Salmon bowl, along with other non-fish options for your team members who prefer fish-free meals.
Customizability is key when building a healthy meal. Many of our restaurant partners offer customizable options to improve the nutrition of a meal, such as opting for additional vegetable toppings on a sandwich, swapping out fries for a side salad with a burger or roasted vegetables in place of potatoes with a dish. These healthy vegetable swaps will boost the nutrition of any meal by increasing the amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals in the dish. Your team will get an increase in nutrition to boost the immune system and fuel their energy levels for the rest of the day. Roti in Portland, OR, for example, allows customers to add a variety of vegetable toppings or sides to their hearty and delicious wraps.
16. Pizza and Pasta Alternatives
What is a whole grain and why is it healthy? Whole grains are the entire seed of the plant, made up of the endosperm, bran and germ. The bran is the outer layer and is rich in antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber. The endosperm contains starchy carbohydrates, protein and some vitamins and minerals. The germ contains B vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats. Whole grains, made up of all components of the seed, include wheat, brown rice, corn, barley, quinoa, rye, sorghum and spelt. Many restaurants offer these healthy starch substitutes in dishes like pizza (opt for whole wheat bread), pasta (whole wheat pasta), tortillas (stone-ground tortillas instead of flour) and sandwiches or burgers (sub a wheat bun or bread). Some restaurants offer more creative alternatives such as lettuce wrapped burgers, zucchini noodles (zoodles) and for example, cauliflower crust pizza from Blaze pizza in St. Louis, MN - a great way to get an extra serving of vegetables into the meal! Look for pizza or pasta dishes that are vegetable heavy, or have the option to add more vegetables to the dish in order to increase the nutritional value.
“Taco Tuesday” can be a fun theme for your next corporate lunch and can also be a healthy, customizable meal option. Mexican cuisine, specifically tacos, can be created with nutritious ingredients which will leave your team feeling energized, satisfied and nourished. Start with whole wheat or stone ground corn tortillas in place of flour tortillas. Whole wheat and stone ground tortillas are made with nutrient dense whole grains. Choose lean proteins such as chicken breast, pork loin, grilled fish or plant based proteins such as tofu or beans. Top with a heart healthy fat such as avocado or guacamole in place of cheese as well as a variety of vegetable toppings such as pico de gallo, bell peppers, corn, cilantro, onion and tomato. Many restaurants offer the choice for customizability when it comes to tacos. Tacolicious in Palo Alto, CA, for example, allows you to select your choice of tacos. While some of the choices are healthier than others, it allows your team the freedom to choose their preferences while offering delicious, healthy and well balanced tacos for a business lunch.
No matter which restaurant or cuisine type your team chooses, healthier options can always be found! Even pizza can become a healthy balanced meal for your team’s corporate lunch with the addition of vegetable toppings and a whole wheat or cauliflower crust substitution. Pair the pizza with a side salad and it gives you even more nutrition bang for your buck. Look out for any opportunity to pile on the vegetables, limit the indulgent items (think cheese, butter, etc.), always opt for leaner proteins and whole grains when possible (think grilled chicken breast and whole wheat pasta).
Interested in providing your employees the option for a healthier lunch? With DashPass for Work, your employees can get free delivery and reduced service fees when ordering any of these delicious, healthy options from their favorite restaurants. And if they want to learn more about how to find nutritious options on any menu, feel free to share our dietitian-developed webinar on ordering healthy takeout.