What are 5 healthy lunches?
This might come as a shock to some people, but regularly skipping meals will not give you skinny queen status. I think we have all been guilty of passively skipping meals every once in a while without experiencing any tremendous consequences. However, when skipping meals becomes a habit it starts to have negative effects on our metabolism, efficiency, energy, and blood sugar.
Now maybe you’re not concerned with losing weight, but rather you can’t seem to find enough time to sit down and eat a real meal. We completely understand how you feel. We know that simply fitting lunch into a busy workday is hard enough. Now imagine fitting a healthy, nutrient-dense meal into that packed schedule. It seems almost impossible. But it doesn’t have to be.
If you know the fundamentals of building a healthy meal and learn some time-saving tips and tricks, finding the time for a healthy lunch break becomes pretty easy!
What makes a lunch healthy?
You might be wondering, what makes a lunch healthy or not? What does a healthy lunch look like? What does healthy even mean? Well, we have gathered the facts, done the research, and successfully summed up how to easily make a healthy lunch with two key components: balance and portion size.
Before we dive into these two key components, it’s crucial we have an understanding of what “healthy” means. Healthy can look very different for you than it does for me. If I’m trying to gain weight, a healthy meal would be high in calories. If I were trying to develop a healthy relationship with food, healthy may look like adding an Oreo cookie to my plate to remind myself that no food is morally bad or “off-limits.” In the case of this post, a healthy lunch refers to one that will help in the prevention of chronic disease and the promotion of whole-body health. If that sounds like you, then read on!
Let’s begin with balance. A balanced meal should include three things: carbohydrates (aka. carbs), protein, and fat. Otherwise known as the three macronutrients, carbs, protein, and fat work together to help satisfy your cravings and give you the nutrients you need to make it through the day.
In the last few years, carbs have been given a bad rep. In reality, they provide our body with the glucose that is used as energy to support all our bodily functions like moving, breathing, and working. However, our bodies do have a limit. When carbohydrates are eaten alone, they can cause a spike in blood glucose levels, which is associated with insulin resistance and diabetes. Therefore, when building a meal, carbohydrates should be paired with foods that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help reduce the blood sugar spike and stabilize blood sugar.
Fat is another macronutrient that is commonly misunderstood. In the late 1980s, fat was mistakenly villainized and the low-fat diet craze (read: Ornish diet) followed. However, we have since discovered that fat is an essential nutrient. Our body needs fat in order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K. If we were to cut fat out of our diets completely, we would no longer be able to absorb these vitamins and our bodies would become deficient of these micronutrients, ultimately suffering grave consequences. Fat is also an essential structural component of our cells, especially in our brains. Therefore, we should try to incorporate healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, and cold water fish into our meals to support whole body health.
Lastly, protein should be an essential part of every healthy lunch. Protein is needed for almost every metabolic process in the body. It is also a key player in the growth and repair of our own muscles and tissues. Eating protein does not mean you must eat meat. Protein is found in plant-based foods like legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Another added bonus of incorporating protein into your lunches is that you will feel full for longer because protein reduces the amount of ghrelin, or hunger hormone, in your body.
The other key component to creating a healthy lunch is portion size. A majority of American society overeats due to a number of factors. , namely served portion size. Being conscious and knowledgeable of portion sizes is one way to ensure the overall “health” of your meal. So here is a simple breakdown of how much you should aim to consume for each major category: carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables, fruits, and fats.
This might sound silly, but the easiest way to break down portion sizes is by comparing the portion size to your hand. For example, one fist is equivalent to an appropriate serving size of carbohydrates like rice, fruit, vegetables, and grains. Furthermore, the size of your palm is the same as a portion of protein like pork, beef, tofu, fish, or chicken. Lastly, your thumb can be used to determine the appropriate serving size of fats like butter, mayonnaise, cheese, or peanut butter.
Now that you understand the importance of balance and portion sizes, you can easily create healthy lunches that will increase your energy and fuel your body while keeping you full and satisfied throughout the workday.
Why is eating a healthy lunch important?
Oftentimes, skipping lunch seems like the only option on a busy day. However, a healthy lunch can be a vital component of an overall healthy lifestyle. Here’s why:
Eat lunch to avoid the dreaded “food emergency.”
Skipping lunch can lead to extreme hunger later in the day. We call this a “food emergency”. It’s basically when you’re super hungry and you reach for the first snack you can get your hands on. During a “food emergency,” cortisol levels increase, which is associated with carb cravings. As we talked about earlier, carbs need to be eaten with a “buddy” (think: fat, fiber, and protein) to prevent a glucose spike. But, when we fall into a “food emergency” and are just reaching for the closest snack in our pantry, we forget about balance and portion sizes. Typically, we end up eating whatever we can in whatever amount of time it takes for our hunger pains to pass. Eating only snacky carbs also means that we are not getting all the nutrients our bodies need and receive from other foods like protein, fats, fruits, and veggies. Therefore, it’s important to eat lunch, to eat when you’re hungry, and promote regular eating habits throughout the day so that you can avoid a dreadful “food emergency”.
Kick the afternoon slump with a healthy lunch.
Additionally, eating lunch provides your body with the nutrients and energy necessary to keep you focused and working efficiently throughout the rest of the afternoon. It’s common for people to experience fatigue and low energy in the middle of the afternoon, which is most commonly referred to as the dreaded “afternoon slump”. This is partially due to our circadian rhythm, or the biological clock inside of our bodies, that naturally causes us to have less energy in the afternoon due to a drop in stress hormones and a decrease in blood pressure. One of the best ways to fight this unfortunate, natural occurrence is through proper nutrition and well-balanced meals. So next time you are behind on paperwork or late for a deadline and considering working through your lunch break, think about how much more productive you will be once you give your hard-working brain and body the fuel it needs to make it through the long work day.
5 healthy lunch ideas
Coming up with what to eat for lunch can be the hardest part of cooking and meal prepping. You might even be one of those people that ends up eating the same thing for lunch every day because it's quick, easy, and you know it will taste fine after sitting in the break room fridge for a few hours. But, you are starting to get sick of eating the same old food every day. Or maybe you’re the kind of person that eats out for lunch because your favorite restaurant is just across the street from the office. But, your bank account can’t handle that much longer. Either way, we are here to help you make nutritious and delicious lunches that are quick, easy, and won’t break the bank. We have hand-selected five awesome lunch ideas that will make your co-workers jealous:
1. Mason Jar Salads
Not only are these salads super trendy and aesthetic, but they are also the perfect lunch for when you’re on-the-go! Simply begin by adding your salad dressing to the bottom of the jar. Then, add your proteins, like meats and beans, followed by your veggies and cheese. Lastly, top off your mason jar with your salad greens. Layering your mason jar with dressing on the bottom and leafy greens on the top ensures your salad stays fresh and crisp until lunchtime.
2. Cool Wraps
Sandwiches are out and wraps are in. Not really, but wraps definitely put the cool in this cold lunch idea. If you hate how your sandwich bread is always soggy by lunchtime, try swapping the bread for a wrap. Additionally, those savory sauces and creamy mayo dressings that we often put on sandwiches are unfortunately often high in saturated fat. Try exchanging mayo or sauces for higher-protein options like hummus, greek yogurt, or pesto.
3. Buddha Bowls
Another trendy meal that has made its way onto our competitive list of healthy lunches is the buddha bowl. A well-built buddha bowl has five components: whole grains, veggies, protein, dressing, and sprinkles such as nuts, seeds, or herbs. The best part of this meal is that it is totally adaptable and can be made with whatever you have on hand in the fridge and pantry. It travels well in a Tupperware container and can be prepared the night before as a grab-and-go lunch option.
4. Chicken Salad Sandwich
Chicken salad and tuna salad are iconic lunch items that are high in protein and can be packed with flavorful veggies. To add even more protein to your meal, substitute mayonnaise for Greek yogurt. You will still achieve the same creamy texture, just with fewer calories and fat. Plus your gut will thank you for the probiotic boost!
5. Hard-boiled Eggs
Last but not least, we have hard-boiled eggs. Eggs for lunch might sound odd, but adding hard-boiled eggs to a salad, plate, or snack is a great way to increase the amount of protein in your meal. Hard-boiled eggs can be made well in advance and can easily be taken to work in a zip lock or reusable container.