September is a busy time of year for most people. Summer has come to an end, kids are back in school, and many adults are settling back into work after taking some time off. Healthy eating habits are often put on hold as a result, but they don’t have to be. It’s possible to eat well despite a hectic schedule. We’ve already explained why it’s important to make time for a nutritious breakfast. Now we’re going to talk about the benefits of an energizing, power lunch.
Why is it so important to take the time to enjoy a healthy lunch every day?
Lunch is a great time to refuel your body and your brain. Eating a balanced midday meal sets you up for a productive afternoon at work or school. A power lunch also helps prevent the dreaded mid-afternoon crash. Consuming the right foods in moderate portions will keep you energized for the remainder of the afternoon.
Foods to Include in Your Lunch Box
We all want a lunch that powers us through the rest of the afternoon without the dreaded 3 p.m. slump. To do this, you should incorporate a variety of foods.
“When it comes to lunch, aim for sensible portions of a balanced meal that includes whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables,” says Jason Lau, MS, RD, CDN. “Put fruits and vegetables front and center, covering about half of your plate, bowl or lunch box. Accompany them with whole grains and lean protein, which should each take up about a quarter of the remaining space.”
Mix and match any of the below ingredients to build your power lunch, or try some of the recipes below.
1. Whole Grains
Whole grains are filled with protein and fiber, which are nutrients that slow down digestion. Food is absorbed more slowly, helping you feel fuller longer. Whole grains are a good source of energy and contain B vitamins that are important for an optimal metabolism. A diet rich in whole grains can also lower total cholesterol and LDL (aka: bad) cholesterol. Try to include quinoa, barley, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread or other whole grains in your lunch each day.
- Open-Faced Vegetable Sandwich Recipe >
- Avocado Mint Pesto Pasta Recipe >
- Lemon Dill Quinoa Salad Recipe >
2. Lean Proteins
Lean proteins power your metabolism and fill you up. They also break down into amino acids, which aid in the growth and repair of cells and tissues that enable your body to function. Examples of lean proteins include chicken, wild caught fish, tofu, eggs, beans, nuts and dairy.
- Chicken and Spiced Apples Recipe >
- Salmon Cakes with Olives, Lemon & Dill Recipe >
- Avocado and Black Bean Bowl Recipe >
3. Good Fats
While a high-fat meal can induce a food coma, a moderate amount of fat is good for you. In fact, incorporating good fats (monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids) into your diet helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. You can find these good fats in wild-caught fish, nuts, nut butters, oils, flaxseeds and avocados.
- Tomato Almond Avocado Salad Recipe >
- Warm Green Bean Salad with Toasted Walnuts Recipe >
- Salmon Couscous with Zucchini and Sun-Dried Tomatoes Recipe >
4. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain an array of nutrients, so it’s important to include a variety of produce in your lunchbox to reap all of the benefits. Some of our favorites include dark leafy greens, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, carrots, berries and apples. But really, any kind of fruit or vegetable will do.
- Broccoli Quinoa Salad Recipe >
- Red Cabbage and Apple Salad Recipe >
- Cucumber & Black-Eyed Pea Salad Recipe >
5 Tips for Making Healthy Lunch Choices Easier
Now that you know which foods to include in a healthy lunch, here are five tips to make it easier to bring your midday meals to life.
- Use a calendar to plan ahead. This way, you won’t be scrambling to figure out what to bring for lunch every day. Zipongo’s Meal Planner is a handy tool that allows you to drag and drop recipes onto a calendar view. (Pro tip: You can then add the recipe ingredients straight to a grocery list.)
- Reuse dinner. Double your dinner servings when you cook. This leaves you with enough lunch-worthy leftovers to pack the very next morning.
- Have a list of lunch recipes on tap. Avoid decision paralysis by creating a list of your ten (or more) go-to lunch recipes. On days where you don’t feel like trying a new recipe, you’ll have ideas to draw from.
- Batch cook. Prepare big batch lunches on Sunday. Good recipe ideas include grain salads, chicken salads, casseroles, soups and stews.
- Keep a salad kit at work. In case of a lunch emergency, open salad kit and enjoy! Just remember to eat your salad kit within one work week.
What are your go-to healthy lunches? Share them in the comments below.