Here are some simple tips for effortless and stress-free lunches:
*Batch cook a lunch for the week. Make a chili or a soup in the slow cooker and eat it through the week with a side salad.
*Double your dinner recipes so you always have leftovers for next day’s lunch.
*Write down 3 easy to make lunches that you and your family enjoy. Put this list on your fridge’s door as a reminder and include the ingredients in your grocery list every week. This way you can turn to your tried and true recipes when you find yourself in a pinch for time.
*Stock your kitchen with basic staples that can be easily combined into meals. Dry staples such as grains and whole wheat pasta. Marinara sauce. Canned beans. Canned salmon and sardines. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Having staples at hand will help you create a quick and healthy meal in the form of a salad, an open face sandwich, or a picnic style lunch! (see examples below).
THE IMPORTANCE OF LUNCH FOR SUSTAINED ENERGY IN THE AFTERNOON
Whether you are home right now or back at the office, eating a healthy and balanced lunch will help you stay energized during the afternoon.
Have you ever felt the energy slump around 3pm? The one that makes you want to get a large coffee or a sweet snack? This decrease in energy can be a natural consequence of our own internal circadian rhythm, which makes us a bit sleepy in that 2-4pm window. But it is also exacerbated by factors such as dehydration, high carbohydrate intake, blood sugar dysregulation, or low levels of B vitamins.
A balanced lunch can help minimize that afternoon slump. We want to eat a lunch that is rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and non-starchy fruits and vegetables. In addition, we want to minimize high glycemic foods such as sweetened beverages, chips, cookies, white bread, and white rice or very fatty meals like fast food to avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster and a heavy digestion (which can also contribute to sleepiness).
B vitamins deserve a special mention when discussing energy levels as they play an important role in helping our cells make energy! Good food sources of B vitamins include wild salmon, eggs, dairy, beef liver, beef, oranges, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, whole grains, nutritional yeast, sweet potatoes, lentils, almonds, avocados, carrots, and bananas.
Besides eating a balanced lunch, remember to stay hydrated and to get some movement and outdoor time (if possible) when you hit the low energy window in the afternoon. A good general rule of thumb is to drink half of your weight in ounces every day. I recommend drinking most water between meals to not interfere with digestion as we eat (to not water down the acidic environment needed to digest food in our stomach). Because hydration needs vary with age, activity level, during pregnancy and other factors, please listen to your thirst cues during the day.
Grabbing a high protein snack, drinking unsweetened green tea, or having a square of unsweetened dark chocolate can also help improve your energy levels.
EXAMPLES OF EASY AND NUTRITIOUS LUNCHES
*Doctored up leftovers. Stretch dinner leftovers by serving them with a side salad (a green salad or a tomato and cucumber salad for example), with steamed or roasted vegetables, or with an avocado toast.
*A balanced salad. Add lots of colorful non-starchy veggies plus protein and fat. Easy protein options are walnuts, cashews, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts, tofu, shredded chicken, canned salmon, canned sardines, or canned tuna. Delicious whole food sources of fat are nuts, olives and avocados (unsweetened shredded coconut is a fun one too!). Dress with a simple olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.
*Salmon salad or egg salad. Mash the salmon or chop the egg and combine with Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Then serve with a green salad or as an open face sandwich on toast. You may also roll it into blanched collard greens.
*Hummus and veggie sandwich. Hummus is loaded with fiber and protein, making it a very satiating option. I love adding fresh spinach and sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers to sandwiches for an extra crunch!
*Mediterranean whole grain and bean bowl. Quinoa is the grain of choice at our house because it is done in just 15 minutes! Other great options are brown rice, millet, sorghum, or barley for example. Combine with your favorite canned beans and spices such as salt and cumin. Top with spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, artichokes, feta cheese, and olives.
*Picnic style lunch. A fun option for kids and adults! Possible options: bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, olives, celery sticks, hummus, mozzarella cheese, whole grain crackers, whole grain sourdough, avocado slices, hard-boiled eggs, nut or seed butter, apple slices and orange slices (with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top). How to do it: grab 3 foods from each of the PFFs (protein, fat, fiber) categories and then mix and match to your heart’s content!
TRY THESE DELICIOUS 15-MINUTE LUNCH SALADS!
*Mango and chickpea quinoa salad
*Mediterranean tuna pasta salad
*Black bean and veggie salad
*Curried kale salad
NUTRITION FUN FOR THE KIDDOS
*Try a new food this week. What did you think? Use your five sense to explore it. How does it taste, smell, feel, look, and sound?
*Finger paint the new food you tried this week.
*Talk to your child about the effect of sugar on their energy. Share with them how eating a lot of added sugar can make you very hyper at first (wiggle around and ask them to do it too!) and then it will make very tired and sleepy. Together, choose 5 snack foods that are low in added sugar and add them to the grocery list for the week. For example: string cheese, berries, apples, nut or seed butter, hummus, carrots, pumpkin seeds, etc.