Many of my clients who work away from home have a common obstacle: they don’t plan ahead when it comes to lunch. As a result, they usually end up eating something — like a fast food burrito, a hodgepodge of processed snacks, or heavy takeout — that leaves them feeling drained of energy and sluggish all afternoon.
Although bringing a healthy lunch to work takes a bit more time and effort, the results are worth it. Lunches prepared for work tend to be more nutritious, can help you regulate your blood sugar better, and stay focused and productive all afternoon. Additionally, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch can boost your motivation to cook a healthy dinner.
Here are 10 easy and nutritious lunches you can make and pack for work. Whatever your dietary needs – vegan, gluten-free, or low-carb – you’ll find a recipe on this list that’s delicious and good for you.
1. 15 Minute Lentil Soup
Soup is the go-to meal because you can cook a large batch that’s easy to store and reheat (you can even freeze leftovers). This easy variation will leave you feeling full and energized thanks to its main ingredient, Lenses. Lentils are full of fiber with more 15 grams per cup. A high fiber intake is linked to a lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Plus, this recipe is gluten-free and can easily be vegan if you use vegetable broth.
2. Shrimp summer rolls
Summer rolls are an ideal picnic as they do not need to be reheated and they are portable, perfect for snacking at your desk. This recipe combines vegetables with lean protein from shrimp, plus savory garlic, lime juice, ginger, and cilantro. Incorporating lean protein into your lunch breaks is crucial for maintaining consistent energy throughout the afternoon. Why? Protein prevents blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes that can make us sleepy and then grumpy hours after eating. To round out the meal even more, add a healthy fat like a sliced avocado or a side of chopped nuts.
3. Quick Chickpea Curry
This simple and mouth-watering recipe is easy to make, using ingredients you probably already have on hand, like canned chickpeas and ketchup. Chickpeas, along with lentils, beans, and other legumes, are classified as legumes. According to a 2021 review published in Critical journals in food science and nutrition found that those who ate about 150 grams of legumes a day (about 2/3 cup) saw improvements in blood pressure, inflammation, and body composition (i.e. your body fat ratio /muscular). For an extra nutrient boost, add a handful of fresh baby spinach for extra fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin A.
4. Egg salad with herbs and pickles
Instead of relying on traditional mayonnaise, which lacks protein and may contain artificial preservatives, this recipe combines hard-boiled eggs with Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein with more 16 grams per individual container. Protein is essential for building and maintaining bones, muscles, skin, and even immune cells.
For more nutrients, consider adding additional vegetables, such as minced bell pepper, chopped kale, or sliced grape tomatoes. You’ll also want to wrap a slice of whole-grain bread separately to serve the salad or round out your meal with a side of fresh, seasonal fruit.
5. Vegan Chili
Not only is this hearty recipe packed with fiber and nutrients thanks to its variety of vegetables, beans, and chickpeas, but it also has a bit of a kick to it (perfect for spicing up a lazy afternoon). It also includes avocados, which are an excellent source of healthy fats known to protect heart health and increase beneficial HDL cholesterol levels. Avocados also contain polyphenol antioxidants, which protect cells from damage that can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Just be sure to wrap your avocado garnish separately so it doesn’t get too mushy at mealtime.
6. Lentil Quinoa Lettuce Wraps
This recipe, one of mine, uses canned lentils as a fiber-rich protein source. This lunch option is also seasoned with healthy Mediterranean-inspired ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon, and herbs. A research from 2018 review discovered that extra virgin olive oil prevents hardening of the arteries (contributor to heart attacks and strokes) thanks to its content of anti-inflammatory antioxidants and its ability to relax blood vessels.
When packing this dish for work, add the precooked quinoa to the lentil mixture and include the lettuce separately to prevent it from becoming soggy. Then, when you’re ready to dig in, simply spoon the mixture into lettuce cups or serve over a bed of chopped greens.
7. Salmon and Sweet Potato Bowl
One of my favorite things about bowls is how easy they are to customize. This one combines salmon with spinach, roasted sweet potatoes, farro and harissa (a hot pepper paste native to northwest Africa). Not only is salmon a good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3s, but a 2020 analysis of over 900,000 participants published in Nutrients also found that for every 20 grams of fish consumed per day, the average risk of death from cardiovascular disease decreased by 4%.
To make this bowl gluten-free, simply replace the farro with brown rice. Or if you’re going for a low-carb lunch, save the sweet potato and replace the grain with extra spinach.
8. Lemon Thyme Chicken Salad
Salads sometimes get a bad rap for being bland, but this dietitian-prepared dish is bursting with flavor with olive oil, lemon zest, feta and fresh thyme. Opting for a salad instead of a sandwich or wrap at lunch can instantly double your vegetable intake and reduce excess carbs, boosting energy levels after meals. How? ‘Or’ What? The added antioxidants of vegetables improve blood circulation, while the elimination of excess carbohydrates prevents that dreaded afternoon crisis.
9. Mediterranean tuna salad
Turn canned tuna into a Tuscan-style dish flavored with pesto, chickpeas and olives. This satisfying recipe provides a generous serving of vegetables with two cups total of arugula, iceberg lettuce and grape tomatoes. It also healthily balances carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, so you’re consuming a wider range of nutrients and results. The best part? It only takes about 15 minutes to prepare.
10. Tofu Ceviche
Tofu is a quick and convenient protein option for plant eaters and omnivores alike, as it’s sold ready to eat, perfect for those times when you’re in a rush before work. Also good: One serving of this dish provides 17 grams of protein. This recipe combines tofu with avocado and a tangy vinegar-based sauce. Add chopped jicama — a root vegetable native to Mexico that can be eaten raw — or a side of fresh fruit for some healthy extra carbs.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Healthnutrition editor, a New York Times bestselling author and performance nutritionist in private practice who has consulted with five professional sports teams.
This story first appeared on www.health.com.
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