Healthy lunches don’t have to be limited to the same old sandwiches. Skip the bread and pack these easy, tasty, and healthy alternatives for your midday meal. Here are some good ideas from Kelly Kennedy, RD.
Are you stuck in a lunch rut, unsure of how to break the cycle of boring sandwich after boring sandwich? You’re not alone. It’s easy to get set in your ways and fall back on the same old standbys every day, especially when you’re pressed for time. But, the “usual” gets old quickly and, even worse than being boring, it doesn’t allow you to include the variety of whole foods your body needs to be properly nourished.
What’s so great about variety? Well, past research has found that consuming a greater variety of healthy foods (up to 17) was linked to a 42 percent lower rate of dying from all causes, compared with consuming fewer (eight or fewer).
According to the USDA’s MyPlate, a well-balanced and nutritious meal fills half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with whole-grains and lean protein and a side of dairy to round things out. If your current lunch routine is more along the lines of Wonder bread and a couple slices of bologna, it’s time to mix things up and maximize your nutrition at the same time. Try the following ideas to revitalize your lunch routine.
7 Healthy Lunches That Aren’t Sandwiches
Here are some healthy lunches so you don’t end up eating a sandwich everyday.
1.Greek Chickpea Salad
Not every salad needs lettuce, which is good since many leafy greens (kale being a notable exception) can wilt if packed ahead of time. This Mediterranean-inspired alternative uses canned chickpeas as the base for a filling vegetarian lunch. According to the USDA, you’ll get almost 10 grams (g) of protein in just ⅔ cup of chickpeas. Give the beans a thorough rinse to get rid of the liquid they are packed in and about 40 percent of the sodium at the same time, according to Today’s Dietitian. If you don’t have chickpeas on hand, any canned legume will do.
Mix ⅔ cup canned chickpeas (drained and rinsed), ½ cucumber (chopped), 2 tablespoons (tbsp) crumbled feta cheese, 2 tbsp chopped kalamata olives, 2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, a few slices of red onion, and 1 ½ tbsp of Italian dressing.
Nutrition per serving: 340 cal, 17g fat (4g sat fat), 12g protein, 40g carbs, 9g fiber, 11g sugar (0g added), 860mg sodium
2. Buddha Bowl
This one-dish meal will make you feel as zen as the name implies because it’s super easy to toss together and a staple for any plant-based diet. You can basically use any colorful veggie, whole grain, or legume, which makes it a great way to use up leftovers or fresh produce that’s nearing the end of its life. Plus, if you add a fermented food like kimchi, you’ll be getting a good dose of probiotic bacteria, which has been linked to digestive health and other potential benefits, according to an article in Today’s Dietitian. Use this recipe as a guide to riff on your own bowl using whatever you have on hand or like.
Place ½ cup cooked quinoa, 1 cup chopped kale, ½ cup shelled edamame, 1 shredded carrot, and ¼ cup kimchi in a large bowl and top with a mixture of 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
Nutrition per serving: 370 cal, 20g fat (2.5g sat fat), 15g protein, 37g carbs, 9g fiber, 7g sugar (0g added), 490mg sodium
3. Mexican Lettuce Wraps
Lettuce wraps often use Asian-inspired flavors, but they can be a great way to use leftovers from Taco Tuesday, too. Mixing ground meat with beans cuts your saturated fat and adds more fiber. Avocado, another good source of fiber with about 5 g per ½-cup serving, according to the USDA, is also rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. When picking your lettuce, make sure it’s something that’s larger in size and can stand up to a little bit of weight from the other ingredients, such as Bibb or iceberg. Pack the lettuce leaves separately and assemble the wraps just before eating.
Spread 3 to 4 rinsed and dried lettuce leaves on a plate. Fill with ¾ cup (about 3 ounces) cooked seasoned ground turkey taco, ½ cup rinsed low-sodium black beans, ½ cup thawed frozen corn, ½ cup chopped tomatoes, and 3 tbsp of shredded cheddar cheese.
Nutrition per serving: 460 cal, 17g fat (6g sat fat), 39g protein, 4g carbs, 12g fiber, 6g sugar (1g added), 710mg sodium
4. Bento Box
There is something so visually appealing about a bento box (a lunchbox with multiple small compartments popularized in Japan). What’s more, bento boxes are usually served cold or at room temperature, so putting them together takes minimal prep work and time. The most nutritious and satiating bento boxes contain fruits and vegetables for fiber as well as a good dose of protein, both of which will keep you feeling full until your next meal and could help decrease how much you eat later in the day according to the results of a study published in June 2018 in Current Developments in Nutrition.
In a bento box container or several small containers, place ¼ cup hummus, 1 carrot sliced into sticks, ½ cup cucumber rounds, 1 cup assorted fresh berries, and ½ cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt.
Nutrition per serving: 300 cal, 7g fat (1g sat fat), 20g protein, 45g carbs, 9g fiber, 21g sugar (0g added), 360mg sodium
5. Banana Peanut Butter ‘Sushi’
Even if you don’t love raw fish, this sushi-shaped alternative is as fun to eat as it is delicious. Choose a nut butter that contains only nuts and salt so you’re not getting any unnecessary added sugar or chemical stabilizers. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and heart-healthy fats, according to USDA data. And research has found that eating three servings of bananas a week was associated with a 5 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
On a whole-wheat soft taco tortilla, spread 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter, and place 1 medium banana across the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and slice into “sushi” rounds. Optional: Add 1 tbsp of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips before rolling up.
Nutrition per serving: 450 cal, 20g fat (2.5g sat fat), 12g protein, 59g carbs, 8g fiber, 20g sugar (4g added), 470mg sodium
6. Cucumber-Hummus-Turkey Roll-Ups
These sushi-style rolls are the perfect finger food. You can mix it up by varying the flavor of hummus you use or trying other vegetables — carrots, bell peppers, and sprouts all make great choices. Add a slice of deli turkey or leftover chicken breast before rolling them up for even more protein.
Thinly slice a cucumber lengthwise to create 5 to 6 long, flat sheets. Spread each with 1 tbsp of hummus and place a few thin slices of bell pepper and fresh dill horizontally on top. Place half a slice of deli turkey (or leftover chicken breast) on top of each, roll up, and enjoy. Secure with a toothpick and remove just before eating.
Nutrition per serving: 330 cal, 9g fat (1.5g sat fat), 26g protein, 39g carbs, 7g fiber, 13g sugar (3g added), 890mg sodium
7. Mason Jar Salad
Quart-sized mason jars make the perfect pack-ahead salads for a lunch on the go. Simply layer your ingredients with the dressing at the bottom so it doesn’t touch your greens until you’re ready to eat it. Then shake, remove the lid and enjoy. Tuna is a great choice for lean protein, and varieties that are packaged in water rather than oil will be lower in calories. Light tuna (sometimes called skipjack) is lower in mercury, a known toxin, than white or albacore varieties, and can be consumed safely up to three times a week, according to the FDA.
In a quart-sized mason jar, layer 1 can of drained low-sodium tuna, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 2 tbsp of white wine vinegar, ½ chopped red bell pepper, 1 shredded carrot, 1 diced roasted beet, and 2 cups of baby spinach. Top the mason jar and refrigerate until serving.
Nutrition per serving: 320 cal, 11g fat (1.5g sat fat), 36g protein, 23g carbs, 8g fiber, 11g sugar (0g added), 590mg sodium
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