Lunch is an important meal, providing the opportunity for an enjoyable midday break to re-fuel and recharge for the rest of your day.
With a bit of planning, lunch offers the opportunity to take a break and savor a tasty meal at home or on the go. Healthy lunchtime choices set you up for success with an overall plant-forward Mediterranean dietary pattern, so you can skip fast food restaurants or other less healthy, last-minute options.
So, what’s for lunch? Follow this simple “food group” formula and you will be on your way to more flavorful and healthful midday meals. Components can be assembled ahead of time and put together to take along or enjoy at home:
Step 1: Build a colorful vegetable base using salad greens and other raw or leftover cooked or roasted vegetables. Fruit adds nutrition and a touch of sweetness to salad. Dried cranberries, canned mandarin oranges, or fresh blueberries and other fruits all work.
Step 2: Add some whole grains, such as cooked brown rice, barley, or leftover whole grain pasta. Or, use a starchy vegetable, like cooked corn or cubed sweet potatoes, for healthy complex carbohydrate and fiber.
Step 3: Protein is important at all meals. Add cooked or canned fish (salmon and tuna), chicken, cottage cheese, or sliced hard-boiled eggs. A few scoops of canned beans or legumes are an excellent source of both protein and fiber – and they are filling! Go light on any cheese toppings – just a sprinkle of strongly flavored shredded cheese or feta crumbles adds a lot of flavor. Top with toasted nuts or seeds for additional protein and fiber as well as crunch.
Step 4: Use healthy fats, such as olive or avocado oil, and a dash of any vinegar or citrus juice or a couple of tablespoons of your favorite creamy salad dressing to top it all off.
I like to make a grain or bean/grain/lentil salad at the weekend to enjoy for lunch throughout the week, such as this favorite Lentil and Pecan Salad.
Tasty lunches are not limited to grain or salad bowls. Here are some other favorite lunch ideas:
- Plain Greek yogurt bowls with a drizzle of honey and topped with fresh fruit, granola, and pecans or your favorite nuts
- Dinner leftovers!
- Avocado toast with a fried egg on top
- Homemade or canned soup (add extra vegetables) & whole grain toast with melted cheese
- “Food group” snack plates – hummus drizzled with olive oil (black pepper and a pinch of paprika), cucumber slices, red pepper pieces, cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes, sliced apple, and whole grain crackers
- Egg scramble and vegetable wraps
Part of my lunch routine is to end with a cup of decaffeinated or herbal tea and a small piece of dark chocolate or another sweet treat. What’s on your lunch menu? 🙂
-Rose Clifford, RDN, MBA