Busy work days or managing a household may keep you from eating enough at lunch or skipping it all together, often leading to grazing on snacks late-day and feeling more hungry at night. If this sounds like you, you need focus on preparing the ingredients over the weekend to put together a quick and healthy meal. Balancing the right types of foods at lunch is important to meet the energy needs based your training load and to help with muscle gains and recovery. How to Balance Your Lunch Plate Lunch doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal, but here are some tips on how to include enough protein, healthy carbs, and fat to balance eating throughout the day.
Prepare extra protein at dinner to use for leftovers at lunch. Including enough protein, anywhere from 20-40 grams, is helpful to satisfy your hunger and to help with muscle gains and recovery. Preparing an extra portions of salmon or chicken at dinner makes it easier to use at lunch for wrap sandwiches, to top salads, or in a grain bowl without the hassle of cooking at lunch. It’s OK to grab a pre-made protein drink or bar occasionally, but whole foods are always best. Also, don’t just eat the protein bar or shake by itself, add fruit, nuts and some raw vegetables to make it more of complete meal.
Always include a healthy carb. Whether you are recovering from a morning workout or planning an afternoon training session, carbs are your primary source of energy. Carbs are not just found in bread, they include fruit, milk, yogurt, potatoes and other grains such as rice, couscous, pasta and farro. Each week consider roasting extra potatoes to use in a salad or with eggs at lunch, or make extra rice to use throughout the week in grain bowls or added to black beans and chicken for a quick meal.
Add a healthy fat. If you are not getting enough fat at meals, you may feel extra hungry mid-day resulting in grazing later. Either add healthy fat to a meal or use in cooking, such as adding avocado to a sandwich or toast, sprinkling a handful of nuts on a salad or in a yogurt parfait, using nut butter on a sandwich or blended in a smoothie, or using either avocado or olive oil to roast potatoes or on a salad as a dressing.
Quick & Healthy Lunch Options Now that you better understand how to balance your nutrients at lunch, here are some quick and satisfying lunch options to enjoy.
Eggs sauteed with spinach and tomatoes with avocado toast sprinkled with chia seeds plus a side of fruit.
Yogurt parfait made with either high protein Greek or Icelandic yogurt with chia/hemp seeds, added nuts, granola (less than 8 grams added sugar) and 1 cup of berries. Add hummus and veggies on the side to boost dietary fiber.
Grain bowl with either brown rice or couscous mixed with leftover roasted vegetables from dinner and either chicken, turkey, or salmon.
Nut butter sandwich prepared on high fiber/high protein bread (such as Dave’s Killer) with 1 small container of Greek or Icelandic yogurt mixed with 1 cup berries.
Wrap sandwich (whole grain) with either hummus spread or avocado, leftover chicken or turkey plus shredded carrots and mixed greens, plus a side of fruit and handful of nuts.
Protein smoothie- 1 cup milk (if you use plant based milk-suggest Ripple or Soy) blended with 1 cup Greek or Icelandic yogurt, ½ cup frozen berries, 1 small banana, 1 T peanut butter or ½ small avocado, 1 handful spinach plus a side of raw vegetables with hummus.
Athlete’s Salad- ½ cup roasted potatoes or butternut squash, ¼ cup black beans, ¼ cup chickpeas, 2 T pepitas or chopped walnuts, grilled chicken or seitan (leftover from dinner), ½ cup berries or ¼ cup dried fruit, shredded carrots, sugar snap peas and mixed greens with oil-based dressing.
Quick lunches on-the-go:
Take Home Message Skipping lunch or just eating a small snack midday is setting you up for feeling hungry and impacting your muscle recovery. Instead, front load calories by eating enough at lunch to boost energy levels and prevent late-day grazing. You don’t need to spend a lot of time prepping for lunch, but planning out your meals earlier in the week takes guesswork out and helps you make healthier lunch meal choices.