Easy Change #5: find lunch meat alternatives

Welcome back to my Easy Changes You Can Make Today series! It's been awhile, but I'm back with another small change you can make to help you and your family become healthier people! (Did you miss the other Easy Changes? Check them out here!)

This series is all about taking small steps toward a healthier diet. Depending on your current relationship with pre-sliced deli meats, this step may feel like more of a medium sized step. But be encouraged: I'm not going to suggest you never eat lunch meat again. This blog is not about judgement, it's about the joy of real food.

But before we get to the happy part - the mouthwatering lunch-meatless options that await you - we have to talk about why we might want to stop relying on this very convenient convenience food. So here goes...

Three Reasons to Avoid Conventional Lunch Meat 


1. You don't know how the animals were raised.
And if you don’t know, you can assume it’s probably not good. Too many animals in a small space, with no access to the outdoors, fed GMO grain and soy, getting pumped full of hormones and antibiotics…it’s a sad story. And it makes the meat you eat a lot less nutritious. I used to think that meat was meat, but it's just not true. Corn-fed meat, unlike its distant cousin grass-fed meat (or pastured chicken/turkey) has a ratio of omega-6’s to omega 3’s that is extremely out of balance. Chickens were meant to eat bugs! Cows were meant to eat grass! Pigs were meant to roll around in the mud! If animals are living in the great outdoors they are healthier and don’t need a constant stream of antibiotics to keep them “healthy.” Unfortunately most of the lunch meat you see in the store (unless it is grass-fed or from a reputable organic farm) is factory farmed. No, thank you. This reason alone is enough to dissuade me, but here are a couple more good reasons... 

2. It contains nitrates or nitrites.
See Thursday's post on what these are and why we might want to avoid them. The jury is out but I'd rather play it safe whenever I can. 

3. It's wasteful.
You get a small amount of meat in a plastic package that comes from petroleum, often can’t be recycled, and doesn’t biodegrade. Convenient? Yes. But not exactly earth friendly. 

(Side note: I met someone last night who is majoring in Package Engineering. Fascinating! He mentioned that one aspect of his field is trying to get the job done with less packaging. Even in our fallen system of processed and packaged everything, I'm grateful that there are people trying to design packaging that uses less resources!)

So, if you’re not going to eat lunch meat all the time, what do you eat for lunch?? I’ve got all sorts of easy lunch ideas to help you out! They might take a little longer to prepare than slapping some ham between two slices of Wonderbread, but they are ever-so-delicious and WAY more nutritious, too.

Ten Alternatives to Conventional Lunch Meat


1. Tuna or salmon salad.
Though I'm not thrilled that salmon and tuna come in a can lined with BPA and who knows what else, it's a compromise I choose to make. We eat tuna or salmon salad once a week or so for a quick lunch. Just open the can and mix with a little mayo (homemade is best!) or plain yogurt if you’re in a pinch (or a combination - the yogurt is great for digestion!) Add some chopped celery and something onion-y (chopped onion, scallions, or chives). A bit of mustard, squeeze of lemon juice, and you’re done! Fresh herbs like parsley and thyme take it to the next level. 

2. Chicken salad.
Got leftover meat from roasting a chicken? Shred the meat and use the same technique as above, or try my Shallot Cranberry Chicken Salad. Or skip the “salad” part and just shred some chicken and throw it on a sandwich with some cheese and veggies.

3. Egg Salad.
Hard boil some eggs and plunge into cold water. Peel and chop. Add the same ingredients you would add to tuna salad, plus some paprika and parsley if you have it.

4. Deviled eggs.
These are an Easter tradition in my family, and we devour them! But they work great as a simple lunch, too. Here is a simple recipe. 

5. Hummus or other bean spread.
These are satisfying, inexpensive, and delicious! Try my recipes for Hummus, Roasted Garlic Black Bean Dip, and White Bean Dip with Garlic Scapes (even if you don’t have garlic scapes).
6. Quesadillas
Buy some traditionally prepared corn tortillas (we get El Milagro brand from our local Mexican grocery), or make some sprouted, soaked, or sourdough tortillas. Add some muenster cheese, fold in half, and cook in an iron skillet until the cheese melts. Serve with sour cream, guacamole, and/or salsa. If you had beans for dinner the night before, just reheat them on the stove in a saucepan to round out the meal. I also keep a couple cans of black beans handy for emergency lunches (like when the menu plan says "leftovers" but somehow there aren't any).
7. Grilled cheese and veggies sandwiches.
You know how to make grilled cheese, right? (Make sure you butter the bread!) If you want to take it to the next level, sauté some mushrooms, onions, and/or bell peppers and throw those into your sandwich, too! We also make a big batch of pesto every summer and freeze it in ice cube trays. Pesto grilled cheese is a definite favorite around here! Or skip the grilling and just eat a cheese sandwich. In that case, add some tomato, lettuce, and avocado. Yum!

8. Nut Butter Sandwiches.
Simple enough. Just be sure to buy all-natural peanut or almond butter with no added partially hydrogenated oils or sugar. (We LOVE Trader Joe’s Almond Butter.) Even better, make your own with soaked and dried nuts. I’ll do that some day, when I have a powerful food processor. Add some local raw honey or homemade jam and you've got a filling lunch and a slightly sweet treat all in one!

9. Leftovers.
This is our favorite thing to eat for lunch. Reheat some of last night’s dinner (preferably on the stove or in the oven/toaster oven). Or eat it cold! 

10. Nitrate/nitrite free, sustainably raised lunch meat
If you absolutely HAVE to have lunch meat, you can find healthy versions. Applegate Farms makes organic, nitrate free deli meats (and other cured meats like hot dogs and bacon!). They are more expensive, but if you only buy them occasionally and you save money by buying less processed food in general, perhaps you can fit it into your budget. There are certainly times in life where lunch meat can be a life saver!

11. Make your own lunch meat! The Nourishing Gourmet has a recipe for homemade chicken lunch meat that looks delicious! 


What’s your favorite simple and lunch meat-free lunch?

This is part of Fight Back Friday and Monday Mania.


  1. I know exactly which of the three places I shop has the cheapest Applegate farms hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meat lol. Their stuff is great. I still try to avoid it b/c it's processed and it's expensive, but it is awesome for social events. then 3 year old can still have a hot dog or a sandwich like the other kids.

  2. I would love to be able to purchase Applegate Farms deli meats (like the uncured ham) locally. No dice. I live in the boonies and no one carries it and no one wants to because it's so expensive.

    One question, if I order some of their deli type meats online, can they be frozen? I would want to make the S&H worth my while, so I don't want to order one package!

    I have a great recipe for pounded chicken breasts stuffed with ham and they are baked in a sauce made from raw milk cream and raw milk cheeses. It's so rich it's something we only do for special occasions, but I do not intend to make it anymore unless I can find quality ham. I've tried it with regular ham hunks, but it doesn't work out as well as with the deli slices because the breasts are rolled up with the ham and held together with a toothpick. Doesn't work well with chunks!

  3. Great suggestions, the easy lunch foods stymie people all the time when they try to make healthy transitions.

    As for the lunchmeat rolls, try chicken breasts or thighs (organic if not pastured) and pound them flat with a mallet and cook lightly in a skillet. Then you can roll them up.

  4. Anonymous: I think deli meats freeze just fine! On the rare occasion that we buy them I often end up freezing half the package for later.

  5. I also avoid lunch meats, which isn't very hard because I'm not fond of them. Although, ever since I've gotten pregnant I've been craving a turkey sandwich, which I can't eat because I'm pregnant, so I'm still able to avoid them. hehe

  6. Don't waste your money

  7. I don't recommend mixing yogurt and fish. Love all the other ideas. Thank you.