When it comes to healthy lunches, my mantra is to eat as many whole, fresh foods as possible. Your mid-day meal should be based on a variety of fresh produce – which will provide you with nutrients and fiber to keep your energy up and your belly feeling full until dinner – along with some lean protein, whole grains and definitely a big glass of water!!
Below are my suggestions for healthy carbs, proteins and fats when it comes to lunches – give them a try!
Regardless of the latest diet fad, our bodies need carbohydrates. They are your body’s chief source of fuel – you need them for energy. Complex carbohydrates are wholesome foods rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals – such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans – that help fill you up and give you a real energy boost.
For healthy lunches, I like to meal prep the following carbs:
Make a batch of quinoa or brown rice. These are a great base for a quick stir-fry (made fresh or in the morning and taken with you for lunch), are delicious in a salad, and are neutral enough to be used in a lunch that is inspired by the flavors of various countries. My favorite is a healthy Black Bean Burrito Bowl with Mango Salsa – tasty, filling and healthy!!
Cut up enough fruit to last three days. Go for a rainbow of colors to really up your nutrient intake, put it in a resealable glass container, and a side of fruit will soon replace chips in your lunchtime routine! Or add a scoop of cottage cheese, and you’ll be getting your protein and fat, too – a complete meal.
Cut up enough veggies to last three to five days. Vegetables can be hardier than fruit, and since they are soooo good for you, I like to prep enough to last the entire work week. Carrots and celery will last in the fridge, and I also like to prep strips of bell pepper, cucumber slices, and make sure I have a few bags of baby spinach on hand and ready to go. Toss any of these into a salad, add to the whole grains above to create a veggie power bowl, or add to a sandwich to increase the nutritional value. I have been known to make a lunch time meal of crudites with some homemade hummus and a hard boiled egg – fun and easy!
Have beans and legumes on hand. While cooking from scratch can taste better, canned beans and pre-cooked lentils are so easy, and I am all about making healthy meals as simple as possible! So I try to have some canned beans and pre-cooked lentils on hand – add them to a salad like my popular Bold Beet and Lentil Salad, or heat them up with some fresh garlic and add to a tortilla with fresh veggies and salsa.
As your body’s chief building material, protein provides the necessary ingredients for growing and for repairing muscle, blood, skin and other tissue. While you don’t want to go overboard on protein, it’s important to consume adequate amounts. (Research shows that protein requirements may actually increase slightly as we get older.)
I like to meal prep my protein by making 3-5 hard boiled eggs and eating them plain, as part of a sandwich or salad, or even with a smear of hummus on them.
I also keep marinated, cooked tofu on hand, and like to cook up some wild caught salmon because it is so good for you, and easy to turn into a salmon salad. Ground turkey or chicken is also an easy thing to cook up and keep in the fridge, and is a good source of lean protein.
I also like cottage cheese – it provides calcium and protein, and is a great replacement for sour cream on Mexican-inspired dishes and ricotta cheese in Italian meals.
Healthy fats are a vital part of a healthy diet. Some fat – especially from the unsaturated fats found in sources like nuts, avocados and fish oil – is needed for energy, supple skin and overall good health. Fat is broken down more slowly than protein or carbohydrate, so it helps you feel satisfied and full. It also brings out the flavor in food – and tasty food is always more gratifying!
For lunches, I always have avocados on hand – they help promote energy, are so filling, good for you, and can add a variety of textures. Avocados that are just ripe are perfect for salads and on top of a sandwich, while more rip avocados can be turned into a healthy guacamole (just mix up with a bit of salsa and fresh garlic!) and eaten with crudites!
I also keep a variety of raw and toasted nuts in the pantry, too. I love the texture sunflower seeds and walnuts add to a salad, you can chop up almonds and sprinkle on a whole grain bowl for added texture, and truly – when in a pinch, a small handful of nuts can tide you over if you don’t have any other healthy lunch options.
The good news is, you can use many of the above ingredients in my Mason Jar Salad recipe – it’s portable, healthy and sooooo good!!