Your midday meal is key to making sure you have the fuel you need to function at top capacity throughout the rest of the day. A healthy lunch helps you power through a busy afternoon, and eating the right lunch will keep you satisfied until dinner time.
Here's the good news: If you're wondering "what should I eat for lunch," there are countless nutritious lunch ideas that are easy to pull together. Let's dive in and learn more.
What is a healthy lunch?
Before we explore what you can eat for lunch, let's first define exactly what a healthy lunch looks like. The ideal balanced lunch provides the necessary nutrients and energy to support your health and optimal mental functioning.
Equally important, a healthy lunch regulates your hunger so you're less prone to snacking in the late afternoon and reduces your risk of overindulging at dinner. Take these things into account when planning healthy lunches:
- Protein: Protein builds and repairs body tissues and makes you feel fuller. For your protein, choose lean meats such as chicken, turkey, tofu, eggs, legumes, or fish. You can also get your protein allowance with 1½ ounces of cheese.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are high in fiber and more filling than refined carbohydrates. Whole grain options include whole grain pasta, farro, rice, or bread.
- Fruits and vegetables: Nutritionists recommend filling half your plate with vegetables and fruits to pack in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Healthy fats: Healthy fats are found in foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil. In addition to helping you feel more satisfied, healthy fats are essential for brain function.
- Hydration: A balanced lunch has plenty of hydration. Include beverages such as water or herbal tea.
Things to eat for lunch
The ideal healthy lunch has a lean or plant-based protein, a serving of whole grains, fresh vegetables, healthy fats, and fruit for dessert. An easy way to make sure you're implementing all of these foods is to make a salad or a lunch variety plate. You can also have a homemade soup and serve it with a slice of healthy whole-grain bread.
Now that you know how to balance out your lunches, here are some nutritious lunch ideas you can use to brainstorm your own healthy midday meals.
- Fresh veggies and hummus sandwich
- Chickpea lettuce wraps with roasted red peppers
- Egg and avocado sandwich
- Chopped cobb salad with diced chicken and boiled egg slices
- Meal-prep vegan lettuce wraps with beans and quinoa
- Summer rolls made with veggies
- Sub sandwich with whole grain bread, fresh veggies, and lean protein
- Chickpeas with sun-dried tomatoes and kale
- Pear quinoa salad with cranberries, spinach, and pecan
- Rotisserie chicken salad
- Protein salad made with albacore tuna, salad greens, chopped nuts, avocados, and tomatoes
- Lentil vegetable soup
- Black bean, whole-grain rice, and chicken burrito bowl
- Veggie burger
- Ricotta cheese on whole grain toast with toppings like roasted winter squash
How to meal plan for the week
Planning helps you make sure you're leaving the house every day with a healthy lunch. If you work from home, planning is just as important. It can be tempting to skip meal planning when you know you can pop into the kitchen and throw a meal together, but making lunch on the fly can be disastrous for your healthy eating plan.
To set yourself up for a week of lunchtime success, plan your lunches on your day off. Make a list of the lunches you want, and then head to the grocery store to stock up on items you need.
Have portioned meal containers and zipper food bags available so you can pull your lunches together with ease. When you have to scramble around to find a lunch container, it can be tempting to give up and just head out the door.
Meal-prepping is another option. If you're taking lunches that can be packed in advance, prepare an entire week of lunches on your day off. One option is to make a big pot of veggie-filled soup a couple of times a week, especially if you enjoy a hot lunch.
Quick and easy healthy lunch ideas
It happens to all of us at some point. The weekend gets away from us, and before we know it, it's Sunday evening, and we've not meal-prepped or planned lunches for the week. Or we rush out of the house in the morning without making lunch. Fortunately, there are some quick ways to grab a healthy lunch on the go.
If you need to pop into a grocery store to pick up lunch, go for some of these staples:
- Canned or vacuum-packed tuna on whole-grain bread or tortillas
- Boiled eggs (most grocery stores have these already cooked)
- Pre-cut veggies with hummus, tzatziki, or guacamole
- Nuts and seeds paired with a bagged salad
- Pre-cooked whole grain rice or quinoa and diced chicken breast
- Greek yogurt mixed with nuts or fruit
- Veggie, fruit, and cheese plate with whole-grain crackers
Overeating even healthy foods can make you feel sluggish in the afternoon. To keep your lunch portion sizes in check, it helps to understand what a healthy lunch portion is for your individual calorie needs and activity levels.
Very active adults need a higher-calorie lunch, especially if they work out in the morning. If you exercise in the evening or you're not highly active, a lower-calorie lunch probably works for you.
Here are some general portion size guidelines:
- Protein: 3-4 ounces (about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards)
- Whole grains: ½ cup cooked grains or 1 slice of whole-grain bread (1-2 servings per meal is appropriate)
- Vegetables: 2 cups of leafy salad greens or 1 cup of cooked vegetables
- Fruits: 1 piece of medium-sized fruit (1 apple or orange) or 1 cup of chopped fruit
- Healthy fats: ¼ to ½ of an avocado, 1 ounce of nuts, 1-2 tablespoons of seeds, or 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil
- Dairy: 1 cup of yogurt or milk, 1.5 ounces of cheese
Reaching your health goals with nutritious lunch ideas
After eating a healthy breakfast, you can power through your day by following your morning meal with a healthy midday meal. Evidation Members can track and get rewarded for healthy eating and staying active. Download our app to learn more.