Making healthy lunch a priority
Welcome back! Last week we discussed why breakfast really is the most important meal of the day and to continue our series, we will now discuss healthy lunches. As I talk with some of my clients, lunch seems to be the meal that most struggle with. Whether it is eating out most days because you didn't think to pack a meal or skipping it all together because you are working through your lunch break. Neither of these options usually fuel your body with healthy nutrients or energy.
Whether you are getting your lunch from fast food or sit-down restaurants, you don't know exactly what you are consuming. These meals are typically very high in calories, fat, and sodium. If you have to eat out, try focusing on simple salads with lean protein or protein with vegetables on the side. On the other side of the spectrum, skipping meals is never the answer either. When you skip meals repeatedly, your blood sugar levels drop significantly which affects energy levels and nutrient storage. Your brain is smart. It realizes that you regularly go through extended periods without eating and believes it needs to adjust to survive. When this happens and you finally eat again, your body may store extra nutrients for when it happens again. This can lead to increased weight gain. This is why eating regular, healthy meals is so important!
A healthy lunch is similar to a healthy breakfast in the sense that it should consist of a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat (for more information on this, please view our previous blog). A slight emphasis should be placed on carbohydrates to keep you energized for the rest of your day and to help lower the amount of carbs needed at dinner. The best carbs to consume during lunch are complex carbs as opposed to simple carbs. Complex carbs contain fiber, starch, and more/stronger sugar molecules whereas simple carbs typically only contain one or two sugar molecules and no (or VERY low amounts of) fiber. See examples of each below.
Simple carbs are broken down very quickly so while you may get a boost of energy quickly but that will also end very quickly and you could experience the "sugar crash" as many call it. This leads to decreased energy, lethargy, irritability, and more. Complex carbs are broken down at a slower rate so they will provide energy for an extended period of time as well as help keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. Pairing your lean proteins with quinoa, brown rice, kale, spinach, whole wheat bread/tortilla, berries, bananas, potatoes, etc. will ensure a slow and steady energy supply for the rest of your work day.
Some meal ideas are:
-Spinach salad with grilled chicken, vegetables, light dressing and fruit on the side
-Tuna with quinoa and vegetables on the side
-Crockpot chicken and vegetables
-Whole wheat sandwich with grilled chicken and veggies with fruit on the side
-Salmon on brown rice with fruit & veggies on the side
Try this fall favorite for a change in your normal routine:
Bean and spinach slow cooker soup
3 14-ounce cans low sodium (or even better, homemade!) vegetable broth
1 15-ounce can tomato puree
1 15-ounce can small white beans, drained/rinsed
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach or kale
Finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1. In a slow cooker, combine vegetable broth, tomato puree, beans, rice, onion, basil, salt, pepper, and garlic.
2. Cover; cook on low-heat setting 5 to 7 hours or on high-heat setting 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.
3. Just before serving, stir in spinach or kale and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
*Pair with raw fruit and vegetable(s) on the side for a healthy, well balanced lunch
One other important factor in lunch is timing. You want to spread your meals as best as you can throughout the day to keep blood sugar levels stable. Try consuming your lunch midday somewhere between 11:00 and 2:00, depending on when you consume your other meals.
The last tip I have for you is one to help make packing a lunch easier. Consider utilizing a slow cooker to prepare large batches of meals. Cooking healthy soups, low fat chili's, chicken and potato dishes, This way you can have a healthy, nutritious meal without having to put in any extra effort in the morning. This article has some healthy and easy recipes you could try out, just always add vegetables if there aren't any in the actual dish! https://www.bustle.com/articles/135907-15-easy-crock-pot-recipes-that-are-too-simple-to-mess-up
Try out some of those recipes and let us know which is your favorite in the comments! Next week, we will discuss how to make dinner as healthy as possible. Please visit our homepage for more information on our various programs and customized plans!
Happy eating, all!