Lunchtime can be a busy time of the day. Many days, you may look forward to the midday break. Other days, you may put it off for as long as you can stand to get more work done.
Either way, convenience often takes priority with lunches, and this can mean opting for fast food or whatever you can find in the fridge or pantry.
Building a healthy lunch can be easy if you know what components to incorporate. Let’s discuss some of the key items to include in a healthy, filling, and delicious lunch. Then, you’ll have some fresh ideas to help get you started.
How to Make a Healthy Lunch
When you picture a healthy meal, you might envision a salad, salmon fillet, or plant-based item. While these certainly have their health benefits, there are many more options. There’s no need to get stuck in a rut when trying to be healthy.
Incorporate the following tips when selecting items:
- Choose healthy carbohydrates. Think fruit or whole grains. Many people tend to think that carbohydrates are an automatic unhealthy choice, but the key is to focus on ones that are nutritious and monitor your portions. Fruit contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Whole grains contain fiber and B vitamins. Both options are great when eaten as part of a balanced plate. The USDA recommends making at least half of your grains whole grains, with just over a quarter of your plate being grains at each meal. For fruits, the recommended serving is 2-3 cups per day, with a quarter of your plate being fruit per meal.
- Have a good serving of lean protein. For meats like poultry, that means about 3 oz or the size of a deck of cards. For fish such as a salmon fillet, 3 oz is about the size of a checkbook. Having enough protein is key to creating a balanced meal. This is because protein keeps you full longer than a meal that’s primarily made up of carbohydrates. Aim to have about a quarter of your plate be made up of a protein source.
- Incorporate healthy fats. These can include dairy products such as Greek yogurt or low-fat cheese, avocados, nuts, and seeds, or oils in a salad dressing such as olive oil. Although fats have often been deemed the culprit of an unhealthy lifestyle in the same way carbs frequently have, they’re essential to your health. Including these in your meal will also help keep you full longer, since fat digestion takes the longest compared to carbs and proteins. Combine all three and you will be full much longer compared to a carb-heavy meal.
- Don’t forget fiber. As we’ve discussed, fiber can be found in many food groups. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are great sources. Fiber is important for gut health and keeps you full longer by slowing digestion. So, including it in your midday meal means you’ll be less likely to get hungry again before dinner.
- Add color and variety to prevent boredom. If you make the same couple of meals on rotation, you’ll likely get bored. Variety is important to keep you engaged in your mealtimes and motivated with your goals. Pinterest or health food blogs are great resources for finding new recipe inspiration.Color is another factor you may not have considered. Meals that are more appealing to your eye may be more enjoyable to eat. Incorporating at least three different colors on your plate can help encourage you to eat your whole meal (which means more balance).
- Balance is the name of the game. In terms of mindset, avoid getting into an all-or-nothing mindset. This can impact your motivation and make it difficult to stick to a healthy eating plan. When it comes to food choices, focus on what you can control, rather than guilting yourself over what’s outside your control. Consider your budget, how much time you have to prepare meals, and your food preferences. Accounting for all these factors and being honest with yourself about what you can do within these parameters will make you more successful.
5 Healthy Summer Lunch Ideas
Now that you know the key components of building a healthy lunch plate, here are a handful of ideas to get you started. These can be paired with a side of fresh fruit or veggies, a cup of Greek yogurt, or whatever sides you like.
1. Whole Grain Lunchmeat Pinwheels
You can find whole-grain burrito-sized tortillas or spinach wraps and fill them with a variety of healthy items. Some ideas for protein include lean chicken, turkey, or ham. You can also fill them with tempeh or tofu for a plant-based protein option.
For healthy fat, mashed avocado or low-fat cream cheese makes a great spread to add creaminess. For a vegetable, try adding spinach or romaine lettuce. Bell peppers and onions taste great in wraps. Also, you can add hummus or tzatziki sauce if either appeals to your tastebuds.
2. Lettuce Wraps
Romaine lettuce is a great low-carbohydrate option for making a wrap. You can fill these leaves with anything you like; lean ground beef prepared with Mexican seasoning, Greek chicken with tzatziki sauce and cucumber, or something simpler like slices of deli turkey or ham with tomato and avocado. These wraps are another easy meal prep idea that you can make ahead of time.
3. Quinoa Bowls
Quinoa is a seed that’s prepared like a grain. It’s cooked similarly to rice. It contains protein and is a good source of carbohydrates as well. To make a quinoa bowl, simply cook quinoa according to package directions and add whatever toppings you like.
You can try black beans, chicken, shrimp, salmon, tempeh, sauteed veggies like spinach, kale, onions, or bell peppers. Avocado also goes well in quinoa bowls or a Greek yogurt-based savory sauce. Quinoa bowls are great for meal prep as well, because they taste great cold and reheat well.
4. Avocado Tuna Salad Sandwich
The USDA recommends getting 2 servings of fatty fish each week. That’s because these fish have DHA – a heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory fat that’s healthy for you. Tuna is an example of this type of fish, and one easy way to incorporate it into your lunch is to make a simple tuna salad sandwich.
While many tuna salads are traditionally made with mayonnaise, try using avocado instead for a healthier fat and more fiber. On whole grain bread, place a leaf or two of green leaf lettuce and spread your tuna salad on top. Place the remaining piece of bread on top, put it in a bag, and you’re set for the next day.
5. Berry Spinach Salad
If you tend to struggle to eat fruits and veggies as sides, try making them the main course. Using a generous helping of spinach as a base, combine sliced strawberries, fresh or dried blueberries, walnuts, avocado, and diced tomato in a bowl.
Toss and enjoy with your favorite healthy salad dressing. Good pairings include honey mustard (one part honey to one part yellow or dijon mustard) or balsamic vinaigrette.
Creating a healthy lunch is an important part of staying on track with your health goals. Making your lunch, rather than choosing fast food for convenience, can help ensure your midday meal is nutritious. This will provide better focus, energy, and keep you full longer.
Remember to be realistic with your goals and make a plan that you can stick to. Baby steps are okay and even advisable for long-term success. Get creative and keep yourself excited by searching for new ideas.
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