If your lunch has been feeling a little lackluster lately, you do not need to resign yourself to sad desk salads for the rest of your working days. With a little bit of advance planning and creativity, you can transform your lunch from bland to amazing. Here are our nine top tips to help you make a healthy and delicious lunch every day of the week:
Prioritize lean proteins.
Protein is the essential foundation of a healthy lunch. Try to limit your red meat consumption, which can raise the risk of certain health conditions like diabetes, and instead prioritize other proteins such as chicken, turkey, tofu, tempeh and beans. (Fish is always a healthy option, too. Just beware of being that person who microwaves fish in the office.) Also, watch for processed meats, such as deli meats, which can contain potentially harmful chemicals.
Choose whole grains.
Skip the white bread the next time you are making a sandwich and opt for whole grain instead. Whole grains are less processed and usually contain less sugar, making them a healthier choice. Choosing pasta and bread products made from whole grain flour, as well as eating other grains like quinoa and farro, will help you feel full for longer and contribute to regular bowel movements.
Add lots of vegetables.
Vegetables are full of not just fiber but also essential nutrients and antioxidants that will help keep you healthy. Try to incorporate some kind of vegetable into each lunch, whether they are a small side dish or the main attraction, like a salad. If you do not like plain or raw vegetables, there are plenty of ways to dress them up, like roasting them with a bunch of spices and extra virgin olive oil or quick pickling them in vinegar to give them some tang. You can also throw them in a delicious and hearty soup with a drizzle of chili olive oil.
Choose fruit over sweets.
When you hit that afternoon slump, it is tempting to reach for some candy or a sugar snap to give your energy a temporary spike. While they may taste delicious, these snacks have basically no nutritional benefit and often result in a blood sugar crash that arrives as quickly as the spike. Instead, pack a piece of fruit to give you a more gentle boost of energy when you start to flag. You can also pack along some nuts or a little bit of cheese if you want to add some protein and make your snack more filling.
Shake up your spices.
We love salt and pepper as much as the next person, but your meals can start to feel a little repetitive if you continually reach for the same spices over and over again. Challenge yourself to work with spices and flavors that you do not normally opt for. For instance, if you usually use lemon juice as your acid, try going for flavored vinegar instead. If you tend to reach for agave nectar, opt for raw honey in a different flavor instead. These simple swaps will make a huge difference in flavor and make your lunch interesting once again.
Choose what is in season.
For the best flavor and nutrition, consider buying produce that is currently in season — and if it was grown on a local farm, all the better! You will have more variety during the warmer months or if you live somewhere with a mild climate year round, but even the coldest places usually get at least some local produce in the summer. Try visiting a local farmers market or food co-op to see what is on offer. If you are feeling adventurous, pick at least one new ingredient on each trip to force yourself to try something new.
Try something new.
Salads and sandwiches are not the only things that you can eat for lunch. If you have access to a microwave at work, try bringing healthy leftovers like homemade soups, grain bowls and roasted vegetables and eating those instead. These meals are especially filling on a cold day and will help break up your usual food routine if you feel like you have fallen into a bit of a rut. Make it a goal for yourself to cook a certain number of new recipes a month to help you branch out and vary your diet.
Meal prep on weekends.
If you find it too time-consuming to prepare these meals every single night, then try meal prepping on the weekend (or whatever days you have off) and pre-packing your lunches in individual containers. That way, you do not have to worry about making healthy food every single night when you are already exhausted from work. You can just grab and go in the morning instead. If the meal contains items that will not keep well together — for instance, dressing that will make your salads soggy — pack them in a separate container and then put it all together right before you are ready to eat.
Pack smaller portions.
Lugging home leftovers from work is a pain, especially if you tend to go to the gym or run errands after work, so you will probably eat all the food you brought with you whether you are hungry or not. If you feel like you have been overeating at lunch, try packing smaller portions with you to see if that helps. If you tend to fill your Tupperware all the way to the top, consider purchasing smaller containers or getting bento boxes with smaller compartments built in to do the measuring for you.
Follow these tips to take your lunches to the next level and become the envy of the office fridge. Packing a tasty and healthy lunch does take a little more work than slapping together a peanut butter sandwich, but it is worth it to have a delicious, nutritious meal to break up your day and tide you over until dinner.