Pro Tips for Building a Healthy Lunch

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Making a Habit of Having a Healthy Lunch

Let’s face it, packing a healthy lunch every day can feel tedious. When you’re short on time or stressed out, making time for chopping carrots is often the first thing to fall by the wayside. Given the go, go, go, pace of our world, for many folks, that’s exactly what’s happening. According to Statista, 72 percent of Americans usually visit a quick-service restaurant for lunch. Egad! While it’s not impossible to eat healthily when you eat out, it certainly is more difficult.

In fact, research shows that 90 percent of Americans are not getting enough fruits and vegetables. Packing your own lunch is a good way to ensure your fruit and veggie intake deserves a gold-star. Plus, eating a protein and vitamin-dense midday meal is the key to sustaining energy levels and avoiding the dreaded 3 p.m. blood-sugar dip.

The good news is packing a healthy lunch doesn’t have to feel like a chore. It can, dare we say, be something you look forward to? The key is to have a game plan. Below, meal-planning pros share how they get the lunch packing job done. While some planning and pre-prep are involved, carrot chopping is totally optional.

Think Veggies First For Your Lunch Bag

Recent research suggests we need more than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. In fact, the greatest health benefits come from eating 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry.  A portion is equivalent to ½ cup of raw fruits and vegetables or a cup of leafy greens. Here’s a handy guide. That means a salad like this, would deliver more than half of what you need in a day. That brings us to our first pro-tip for packing a great lunch.
Put vegetables front and center in your meal prep. While sandwiches are great, to optimize your veggie intake you’ll want to bid them adieu in favor of dishes that are naturally veggie heavy like stir-fries, collard wraps, soups, salads and bowls.

Here Are Some Of Our Favorite Healthy Lunch Recipes:

1. Collard Wraps with Brown Rice and Dried Cranberries
2. Chicken Broccoli and Kale Salad
3. Kale Apple Salad
4. Figgin Love Salad
5. Curried Carrot Soup with Yogurt

Put Protein On The Side

Protein = Satiety = Less urge to raid your co-worker’s candy jar at 3 p.m. Making sure you’re getting a good amount of protein is essential at lunch for helping to sustain energy levels. Think of your protein addition less like the star of the meal and more like a supporting player. Think, eggs, tuna, sliced chicken, tofu and quinoa for your protein additions. “Prepare and cook extra portions of a lean protein like chicken or fish and keep it stored in the refrigerator to add to meals throughout the week,” nutritionist Tracy Lesht suggests to Reader’s Digest.

Here are some suggestions for how to get more protein in your diet.

Maximize Dinner For Leftovers The Next Day

Anytime you make dinner, make enough to pack for lunch the next day. During cleanup, make it a habit to also prepare tomorrow’s healthy lunch for work.

“I’ll often double a portion and pack up the extras right then so there’s no temptation for seconds,” Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition, tells SELF. Packing up your food immediately will also ensure everything stays super fresh. It’s a win-win.”

Get Lunch on the Calendar

It’s hard enough to get out the door in the mornings. Between coffee and showering who has time for making a healthy lunch? If time is often tight, consider making your lunches for the week in one day. Pull out your farmer’s market finds, tune into your favorite podcast and get chopping.

Here are some tips for how to prep a week’s worth of salad in one day from the Kitchn. “Taking the time out on Sunday and following this process is something that’s well worth your time,” the author writes.  “It’s an easy routine to get into and one we used for over three years that kept our salads from getting too routine or boring.”

Prep Ingredients That Go Together

This is a favorite trick of nutritionists,” writes SELF “Lauren Minchen, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.D.N., owner of Lauren Minchen Nutrition and Golda Bar, will grill a bunch of chicken on the weekend and keep that in her fridge. She also likes to have canned fish and other already-prepped proteins on hand.

Other ingredients you can make ahead include chopped and cleaned fresh fruits (which are also easy to add to breakfast and eat for snacks), big portions of cooked whole grains like quinoa or farro, and large amounts of roasted vegetables. These are all ingredients that can be easily stored and added to salads, grain bowls, soups, and so much more.”

Here are some classic veggie combos to get your creative wheels turning.

Bring on Bento Boxes For Nutritional Balance

We’re all familiar with the matching Tupperware hunt. You prep something amazing and then spend just as much time looking for a way to store it. Make it a priority to stock up on the right containers for the meals you want to eat. You can buy Tupperware, or repurpose washed jars from other foods, just want to make sure you have a variety of sizes (with lids) at your fingertips.

Another option is to opt for a bento box. The naturally separated compartments make it easy to store different foods and since it’s visually organized you can quickly make sure you’re getting a good amount of fruits and vegetables.

“Japanese bento boxes are the key to making enticing portable lunches,” writes the Huffington Post.  “Atlanta nutritionist Marisa Moore, a past spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says separating your lunch’s different components, so they don’t get all jumbled together, is a great way to add variety to your meal and make you feel excited about eating the lunch you’ve brought.”