15 Lunches That Will Leave You Starving Instead of Keeping You Full

Sure, breakfast is commonly dubbed the most important meal of the day. But we should also be making sure a good lunch is part of the daily agenda, too. Whether it is in the middle of a work day or with friends on the weekend, lunch allows you to refuel midday so you can stay on course until dinner. (Which, for some of us, doesn’t come until much later at night.)

Naturally, not all lunches are created equal. In fact, some mid-day meals leave us feeling famished within just a couple of hours. That empty feeling can leave us feeling depleted of energy. Even worse, reaching for an unhealthy afternoon snack that can derail fitness and weight loss goals. The key? Know what foods are guaranteed to keep you full, and avoid these lunch options that will leave you starving.

1. Sandwich on white bread

white bread slice on a natural wood backgrounds

Want to be famished by 3 in the afternoon? | iStock.com/divgradcurl

Don’t get us wrong — a sandwich is a great lunch option. That is, as long as you put it on the right kind of bread. And that processed, emoji-looking loaf  that you have been eating since you were a kid? Not the best option. “Your body quickly converts plain white bread into glucose, giving this food a glycemic index ranking,” Livestrong.com summarizes. The same goes for bagels and croissants.

But fear not! There is a way to eat your sandwich without starving two hours later. Livestrong.com continues, “Although processed foods, such as white bread, may cause an increase in hunger, whole grains tend to digest slowly, making you feel full longer. Whole grain breads contain both the bran and germ of the grain, giving them more fiber and making them digest slower.”

2. Salad that just has lettuce

Iceberg lettuce

Greens are good for you — but they aren’t enough to keep you full. | iStock.com

Salads are a tricky thing to master, as it’s so easy to add too many condiments that turn it from a healthy meal to an unhealthy one. But in creating the perfect lunch salad, you don’t want to be jumping into a bowl that is just made of lettuce. “If your salad is all veggies, odds are you’re getting some fantastic vitamins and fiber in your system, but not enough core proteins to keep you going till dinner,” Care2 explains. “This doesn’t just mean meats. Excellent, lasting proteins and good fats can be found in eggs, nuts, legumes, avocado and maybe a bit of cheese.” Plus, the same article explains eating a minimal salad can actually suppress your metabolism, making eating greens counter-effective for weight loss and management.

3. Sushi… well, sometimes

salmon sushi

Some versions of this tasty dish might not be enough to satisfy hunger. | iStock.com

Everyone has their favorite kind of sushi. It just so happens that some of those varieties are better at keeping you full than others. The usual white rice California roll? The rice — which is high in simple carbs — and the low amount of meat within the roll aren’t going to fill you up, mindbodygreen summarizes. For a lunch option that will fill your stomach, go for tuna or salmon sashimi. If you absolutely can’t make it through lunch without a grain, opt for brown rice.

4. Anything with ‘healthy’ on the label

grocery shopping, budget

The word “healthy” on a label is highly misleading. | iStock.com

So you are trying to revamp your diet after years of bad eating habits? Where do you start? Typically, anything with the word “healthy” or “fat-free” on the label will grab your attention. But these should be seen as warning signs when it comes to preparing a lunch meant to keep you full. “We tend to overeat those foods labeled healthy, according to a recent report published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research,” Kayleen St. John, R.D., told Eat This, Not That! “This tends to make people order larger portions and feel less full after eating foods touted as healthy.

5. Some smoothies

berry smoothie on a table

Does this berry smoothie pack enough punch to keep you full until dinner? | iStock.com

A smoothie can be a great on-the-go meal when it is packed with enough protein. But these fancy juice-filled things? They are going to leave you starving by 2 p.m. It also doesn’t help that drinking your food messes with the signal from your brain to your stomach that you are full. “Chewing foods is an important part of the digestive process and helps contributes to feelings of fullness,” registered dietitian nutritionist Beth Warren told SELF. “Sometimes people who drink their foods don’t have the same satiety feeling as with chewing a solid food.”

6. Microwave lunches

Dinner Cooking Inside Microwave Oven

Beware the meal that is bound for the microwave. | iStock.com

Not to knock the portion control market, but those pre-packaged microwaveable bowls are only going to have you dreaming of a gigantic dinner by mid-afternoon. How can these pre-made dishes, which claim to help you lose weight, leave you feeling so famished? Care2 explains these frozen dinner types, “often don’t have enough calories to fill you up. Additionally, there isn’t enough roughage, specifically, fresh fruits and vegetables to expand in your stomach.” Even if you have a little side salad, it’s probably best to skip the microwave meals altogether.

7. Takeout

Eating at the office

Your favorite Chinese food joint might be reliably delicious, but it can’t keep you full. | iStock.com/Ekaterina Molchanova

Everybody loves grabbing that Chinese takeout menu from their desk drawer and ordering their favorite foods come lunchtime. Unfortunately, takeout is hardly helping in the satiety department. Many of these dishes contain way too many calories and too much sugar. Plus, they’re often brimming with MSG, which may leave you feeling a little off. If you still want Chinese, find a takeout spot that specifies that they don’t use MSG.

8. Cereal from the break room

Coloful Fruit Cereal Loops

The fruit in this cereal isn’t real — kind of like the illusion that it could keep you full. | iStock.com/bhofack2

It happens — you forget to pack a lunch and don’t have time to leave the office, making the break room pantry filled with breakfast cereal your best meal option. Sure, it’s nice that your office has food stocked up so you don’t actually starve. But beware — that breakfast cereal you’re reaching for isn’t the lunch replacement you think it is. “The more sugar in your breakfast cereal, the faster it digests, and the hungrier you’ll be,” U.S. News & World Report explains. If cereal is the only thing you can reach for, look to add some protein to the side, like a hard-boiled egg.

9. Pizza by the slice

Slice of pizza

The reason it’s so hard to have just one slice? Because you’re still hungry! | iStock.com

Why is it so easy to devour a whole pizza? Because one slice isn’t enough to keep you satisfied, that’s why. So, as you might have already guessed, that pizza by-the-slice joint across the street from your office isn’t offering you a good lunch option. Cosmopolitan explains in detail the spike in different chemicals in the body that starts within minutes of taking that first bite of pepperoni pizza.  When your blood sugar returns to normal within a few hours, you’ll be hungry again.

10. Salad with fat-free dressing

close-up of salad dressing with veggies in the background

This container of salad dressing might be fat-free, but it sure isn’t hunger-free. | iStock.com

Earlier, we said you have to pack a couple things into your salad to stay full. One of those things should not be fat-free dressing. As Lily Nichols, R.D.N., of the Pilates Nutritionist explains, eating a salad with fat-free dressing is just as empty as if it were just a bowl of plain lettuce. “If you eat vegetables by themselves, you will not satisfy your hunger for very long. You can use this to your advantage if you simply want to distract yourself and chew something when you’re not really hungry, but if you actually need energy to get on with your day, get through a workout or simply hold yourself over between meals, plain vegetables won’t cut it,” she said. So if fat is what you fear, don’t resort to a bad dressing, just limit how much you are pouring on your greens. (Also, check out this list of go-to dressings from Eat This, Not That!)

11. Yogurt

tub of fruit flavored yogurt with spoon on colorful napkin

Sure this fruit yogurt is delicious. But will it keep you full and satisfied? | iStock.com/Peter Mackey

Yogurt has so much goodness packed into it that you would think it would keep you from being famished by 3 p.m. However, not all yogurts are created equal. “A typical 6-ounce fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt clocks in at 150 calories, 6 grams protein, 1.5 grams fat, and around 25 grams sugar,” Kayleen St. John told Eat This, Not That! “The higher carbohydrate load and very low-fat content will keep you looking for more to eat, even after your last spoonful.” Opt for a protein-packed Greek yogurt, and add your own fresh fruit or nuts to it.

12. Canned foods

Female with daughter choosing canned goods

These canned goods aren’t exactly good at keeping you full. | iStock.com/JackF

This one is kind of a no-brainer. Canned food sometimes contains MSG, which could be problemantic. Grandparents.com says, “MSG is also found in other foods you’d never suspect such as chicken nuggets, processed meats, canned soups and more. A study published in Obesity found that eating MSG may be associated with an increased risk of being overweight, independent of physical activity and total energy intake.” Yes, it is tempting to reach for that cheap canned soup or ready-cut vegetables when you are walking down the grocery store aisle. But think twice about whether it will actually satisfy your hunger.

13. Anything with white pasta

Pasta with Alfredo sauce

This delicious pasta dish won’t keep you full for very long. | iStock.com

We have all taken that yummy leftover pasta from last night’s supper into work for lunch. So why does it seem like it isn’t making you feel full? White pasta is similar to white bread in that it’s lacking the fiber you need to feel full. Livestrong.com says you need whole grains to slow digestion, or you’ll get hungry soon after eating. Can’t do without your pasta fix? Go with a whole-grain option, and add some extra meatballs. It will result in an all-around better meal, even if it is just your leftovers for lunch.

14. Fast food

Fast food with condiments

On top of being unhealthy, fast food doesn’t even keep you full! | iStock.com

Let’s be real. Outside of being speedy there isn’t much else to be proud of when it comes to eating fast food. You can add to the list that it won’t keep you full after your quick lunch break. Fast food is full of all of the things that will make you hungry within hours of eating lunch: sodium, refined sugars, MSG, the works. Plus, as an ABC Australia report tells us, all of that is added to fast food on purpose as a part of keeping the consumer hungry and coming back for more. Now why would you want to eat something that is meant to mess with your appetite, your waistline, and your wallet?

15. The non-existent lunch

Plate with crumbs and used fork

The easiest way to stay full is to eat in the first place. | iStock.com/serezniy

There is one surefire way for a lunch to leave you starving, and that is to not eat one at all. Sure, you might lose a pound or two in the process, but the risk outweighs the reward. “While your body’s exact reaction to a missed meal will depend on your age, health, and diet, the act of skipping can jump-start a range of physiological processes — both good and bad,” Prevention summarizes. In addition to being hungry by mid-afternoon and being more likely to reach for junk food.