Lunch during weekdays can be a challenging time. With busy schedules, it’s easy to resort to grabbing fast food or processed snacks that leave you feeling sluggish in the afternoon. However, taking a break to eat a proper, nutritious meal is vital for maintaining energy levels and productivity throughout the day.
According to a 2021 survey by the New York Times Magazine, approximately 62% of American workers eat lunch at their desks frequently. While this allows employees to keep working, it often leads to mindless eating of unhealthy foods that can cause the infamous “food coma.” Proper nutrition is essential for cognitive function, focus, and avoiding the post-lunch energy crash.
Making time for a healthy lunch enables concentration, motivation, and work performance. It also provides an opportunity to take a mental break, socialize with colleagues, and reset for the second half of the workday.
With some simple preparation and planning, you can ensure you have nutritious, balanced, and delicious lunch options to turn your workday around.
1.Fuel Up With Homemade Pasta
Skip the same old boring takeout pasta and energize your day with homemade pasta dishes. Choose whole wheat or veggie-based pasta and load up on fresh vegetables, herbs, and lean proteins.
The vegetables, herbs, and spices in homemade pasta provide important nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, whole grains give you long-lasting energy, and lean protein helps you stay satisfied.
If you are in search of a dish that’s both quick and flavorsome, give this pasta puttanesca recipe a try. Originating from Italy, this dish offers a delightful medley of olives, capers, and a rich tomato sauce.
2.Build a Nutrient-Packed Salad
Salads are an easy way to incorporate various fresh, wholesome ingredients into one dish. Start with a base of leafy greens like spinach, kale, or mixed greens. Top with vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and peppers to add crunch. Include a lean protein like grilled chicken, salmon, tuna, or chickpeas. Sprinkle on seeds or nuts like walnuts, almonds, or pumpkin seeds for healthy fats.
Bring salad dressings and toppings like avocado, cheese, or hard-boiled eggs from home to add flavor and creaminess. Having vegetables and proteins ready to throw together makes assembling a salad quick and simple.
A balanced salad with fiber, protein, and healthy fats will provide sustained energy to power through the afternoon.
3.Make a Hearty Soup
Warm, nourishing soups are perfect for chilly weather and keep you feeling full all afternoon. Make a big batch of vegetable soup, chili, or stew on the weekend to have easy lunches throughout the week. Soups with beans or lentils offer a boost of plant-based protein.
Try adding veggies like carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes and spinach. Chicken, beef, or turkey can also be incorporated for extra protein. Whole grains like brown rice, farro, or quinoa lend fiber and nutrients.
Soup freezes well, so you can prepare multiple meals in advance. Reheat individual portions as needed for an effortless, comforting hot lunch.
4.Prep Make-Ahead Wraps
Wraps and sandwiches are convenient lunch options. Spend a little time on the weekend prepping ingredients like grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and roasted vegetables. Store them in the fridge to assemble quick lunches throughout the week by combining them with greens and sauces in a wrap or sandwich.
Some tasty combinations include:
- Turkey with pesto, mozzarella, and roasted red peppers
- Grilled chicken with avocado, lettuce, and Greek yogurt sauce
- Curried chickpeas with cucumber and spinach
Using whole-grain wraps or bread provides important nutrients and fiber. Making components ahead takes the work out of putting together a satisfying wrap on busy mornings.
5.Plan Leftovers and Batch Cooking
Take advantage of leftovers and batch cooking to minimize time spent prepping lunch each day. Cook extra chicken breasts, fish fillets, or lean beef at night to use in salads, wraps, soups, or bowls the next day. When making grains like brown rice or quinoa, prepare a large batch to incorporate into multiple lunches.
Roast a sheet pan of vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes to keep on hand for easy protein bowls.
Cook once and eat multiple times by repurposing leftovers in creative ways. An instant pot or slow cooker can be used to prepare large portions of chili, oatmeal, stew, or other dishes to have ready to pack up all week long.
6.Liven Up Your Lunch Bowl
Grain bowls have endless possibilities for combining wholesome ingredients in one vessel. Start with a base of brown rice, quinoa, farro, or whole-grain pasta. Top with sauteed, roasted, or grilled vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, and bell peppers.
Add a protein like chicken, shrimp, tofu or chickpeas. Then, finish with a sauce like pesto, salsa, hummus, or peanut sauce. You can also sprinkle on seeds, nuts, cheese, or avocado for healthy fats. Prepare several grain and protein components in advance, then assemble bowls throughout the week with seasonal vegetables and different sauce options.
7.DIY Bento Box Lunches
Bento boxes with compartments are ideal for balanced, visually appealing lunches. Fill them with fun combinations of finger foods like cheese, grapes, apple slices, crackers, nuts, and seeds. Or try small portions of leftovers like chicken, fish, rice, roasted veggies, and salads.
Get creative with themes like taco bentos with beans, meat, cheese, salsa, and guacamole. Or make a pizza bento with whole grain crusts, sauce, veggies, and pepperoni. The bento box compartments help you easily include proper portions of grains, protein, and produce for a nutritionally complete lunch.
8.Meal Prep Healthy Grab-and-Go Snacks
Having ready-to-eat snacks on hand prevents you from needing to rush out and make unhealthy convenience food choices for lunch. Meal prep snacks like trail mix, granola bars, roasted chickpeas, veggies with hummus, and chia pudding ahead of time.
Portion them out into individual containers to grab on your way out the door. You can also hard boil eggs, prep smoothie bags with frozen fruit, and pre-cut vegetables and fruits. A little weekly preparation makes it easy to eat well all week long.
Making time for a nutritious lunch during the workday is essential for maintaining energy, focus, and productivity in the afternoon. With some simple advance preparation like batch cooking proteins and grains, prepping vegetables, and assembling grab-and-go snacks, you can have healthy, balanced lunches ready to fuel your day.
Taking a true lunch break to eat mindfully and recharge also provides mental benefits to improve concentration and motivation. Planning ahead takes the stress out of figuring out what to eat each day. Following these lunch ideas will turn your workday around by helping you eat right so you can work at your best.