Making time to eat lunch at all is the first step to ensure you stay fueled for the rest of the day. The second, and equally important step, is picking the right foods. Opting for chicken nuggets with a side of fries will satisfy you momentarily, but you’ll just wind up consuming too many calories and feeling sluggish. If, on the other hand, you fill your plate with healthy lunch foods, you’ll have a much more successful end to the day.
If these seven healthy lunch foods aren’t in your lineup, it’s time to give your midday meal a makeover.
1. Broth-based soup
More a category than a specific food, soup is one of the best midday meals you can eat. The key is to opt for broth-based versions. Eating Well explains these varieties fill you up without weighing you down thanks to high water content. If you need some ideas for versions to make at home, check out some simple recipes from Prevention. If you’re eating out, steer clear of creamy soups. Most restaurants offer plenty of healthy options and are happy to answer questions about ingredients.
2. Lean protein
Eating plenty of protein helps stave off hunger for hours. The exact protein you choose is really a matter of preference. Canned tuna, chicken, and tofu are all good options. If you choose to go with deli meats, just be sure to read the label. Some varieties are loaded with fillers you probably don’t want to be eating.
3. Whole grains
Steering clear of carbs? You might want to rethink that strategy. Whole grains are among the best foods you can eat. Fiber is a big part of why whole grains are so nutritious. Today’s Dietitian highlights some of the best choices along with their fiber tallies, including amaranth, barley, and brown rice. These starches are also perfect for lunch because they stand up well to travel much better than refined grains. If you’re a sandwich person, opt for whole-grain bread.
4. Nuts or seeds
Including a bit of fat helps give your meal a lot more staying power, so opt for nuts or seeds. They’re full of heart-healthy fats and also offer a great crunch to what can otherwise be a meal filled with soft foods. Pumpkin seeds, pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, and almonds are all good choices. Keeping a jar of your favorite nut butter at work is also a smart move. Simply spread it on some whole-wheat toast for a quick meal when you’re short on time. Avocado and olive oil are also great options for adding a healthy dose of fat to your meal.
5. A piece of whole fruit
Fruit is always a smart choice to satisfy your sweet tooth while getting a great dose of nutrition. For example, the USDA’s nutrient database shows one medium apple provides more than 4 grams of fiber and plenty of vitamin C for just 95 calories. Going for something whole like an apple or banana is especially smart for lunch because you can easily toss it in your bag without having to worry about making a mess or the need for refrigeration.
There’s no denying healthy foods can be pricey, but beans are still one of the best bargains in the grocery store. When you consider what you’re getting by eating these legumes, they’re an even better deal. A ½-cup serving of cooked chickpeas is about 50 calories and offers hefty doses of protein, fiber, and iron. Because they’re so sturdy, beans are especially great for those who make their own lunch. Toss some with your favorite grain, some roasted veggies, a simple vinaigrette, and a crumble of goat cheese for a simple and delicious salad.
7. Cruciferous vegetables
Tender lettuces might be the lunch standard, but cruciferous veggies will do a better job of keeping you full for the rest of the day thanks to potent levels of fiber. The USDA’s nutrient database shows 1 cup of chopped broccoli contains 2.4 grams of fiber while the same site reports 1 cup of chopped romaine has just 1 gram. While the broccoli also contains nearly three times the amount of calories, it’s still a negligible amount. Unless you’re eating mounds and mounds of veggies every day, this difference won’t impact your diet. Cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts are also great choices from this vegetable family.