Healthy Lunch Ideas – Tips for Eating Clean and Nutritious Food

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Maybe you’ve made a decision to change your diet, exercise and lose some weight. Maybe you’re just tired of the same old thing for lunch. You know fast food, sandwiches and chips are not healthy, but you can’t think of any healthy alternatives. Whatever your motivation to change the way you eat, you’ve made the right decision to trade in your high-fat, unhealthy lunches for leaner, healthier fare. Keep your lunches balanced by including lean protein, fiber and clean carbohydrates. Strive to include 4 foods from each food group to ensure that you get plenty of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Keep calories in mind when planning your healthy lunches. You need calories to fuel your body throughout the day and to avoid feeling hungry until your next meal. A regular supply of calories will provide a constant supply of energy. Your lunch should be about equal in calories to your breakfast and dinner. Make your lunch colorful, too! Include delicious vegetables and fruits to make your lunch appealing as well as tasty.

Sandwiches
The sandwich is probably the most common lunch choice. You can make your lunch sandwich healthier by dropping the white bread and using whole grain breads instead. You don’t have to settle for whole wheat only. Whole grain options include buckwheat, oat and rye. Whole grain blends may include not only whole wheat, but also corn and spelt. In addition to the delicious taste and flavor, whole grain breads are rich in vitamins, minerals and important trace nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and selenium. Choose low-fat, high protein fillings for your sandwich such as chicken breast, tuna, turkey breast, peanut butter, sliced boiled eggs or lean, thinly sliced roast beef. Replace mayonnaise with low-fat, low-calorie spreads. Add some sliced cucumber, sliced tomato and spinach greens to your sandwich to add texture, flavor and nutrients. One day each week try a vegetarian wrap sandwich. Load a pita bread wrap with your favorite raw or stir fried vegetables. Add some low-fat salad dressing or a sprinkle of soy sauce just before you are ready to eat your wrap for extra flavor. Make tuna salad with low-fat salad dressing instead of mayonnaise and spread it over sliced rye or whole wheat bread. If you like some chips or crackers with your sandwich, try healthier options such as baked chips or whole grain crackers.

Salads
The same salad day in and day out can be boring. You will probably be hungry again within an hour after eating only a salad for lunch. Lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes are delicious but sometimes you need to dress up your salad without adding hundreds of extra calories. Crumble some tuna or grilled, skinless chicken breast over the top of your regular lunch salad along with nuts like almonds or walnuts to add lean protein, vitamins and heart healthy fats to your salad. Top your salad with shredded carrots instead of cheese to enjoy the color without the extra calories. Toss together some sautéed shrimp, artichoke hearts and cooked bulgur wheat. Layer this over fresh spinach leaves for a delicious, nutrient rich lunch salad. Fruit salad is a sweet, but healthy option for lunch also. Chop, slice and dice your favorite fruits and stir them up with ½ cup of orange or pineapple juice. Bean salads are tasty and packed with protein. Toss cooked and drained garbanzo beans, black beans, green beans, lima beans and wax beans in a cool vinaigrette dressing for a spicy lunch alternative packed with protein and vitamins.

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Make the Most of Leftovers
If you are already eating a low-fat, nutrient rich dinner then leftovers will make a perfect healthy lunch the next day. After dinner, place lunch size portions in microwave safe containers. Tonight’s leftover rice can be tomorrow’s delicious lunch. Place leftover rice in a container and top with grilled or steamed vegetables. Sprinkle with teriyaki sauce for a healthy Asian-inspired, healthy lunch. Chop leftover grilled or baked chicken into squares and fill a pita wrap. Top it with chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions and romaine lettuce leaves. Squeeze the juice of a fresh lime over the top and wrap it up for lunch. You can use leftover lean beef or pork in place of chicken. Toss leftover whole grain pasta with chopped vegetables and a zesty vinegar, olive oil and cilantro dressing.

Bulk Cooking
Bulk cooking can be the solution to preparing healthy lunches for those who are strapped for time. Pre-plan your lunch menu for the upcoming week and cook everything on the weekend. Make a pot of vegetable soup, meatless or regular chili, cook brown rice and some beans. You can then store and freeze individual portions in microwave safe containers. Pastas and fish dishes and foods that contain mayonnaise, sour cream and cooked eggs don’t do well in the freezer, so avoid recipes that include these ingredients. Plan your weekly menu around what you already have in your refrigerator and pantry to save time and money. Date containers using a permanent marker prior to freezing. Discard food that is not eaten within two months. Eat frozen food within one month for the best flavor.

Convenience Foods
Convenience foods, such as dried and frozen meals, are quick and easy. Frozen meals might not be the best choice if you are trying to improve your nutrition while cutting calories. However, there are healthier alternatives. When shopping for frozen lunch foods, don’t be fooled by the packages that declare the contents are healthy. Read the nutrition information on the back of the package. Look for calories, fat, sugar and sodium content. Select foods that are low in sodium, contain little or no sugar and are low in calories. The best frozen dinners will have about 500 or fewer calories, less than 10 grams of fat and less than 2 grams of saturated fat. Choose dinners that have 8-10 grams of fiber and 10 or more grams of protein. A healthy frozen meal should provide at least 10 percent of the daily recommended value of minerals and vitamins. Choose no-salt-added or low sodium dinners, if available. Many frozen dinners contain more than 600 grams of sodium. Shop for meals that include servings of vegetables, whole grain and lean meat, chicken, turkey or fish entrees.

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About Author

Robin Reichert

I'm an AFPA certified personal trainer, AFPA certified nutrition consultant, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I'm also an active member of the world's largest association for fitness and wellness professionals. See my profile page for more information!

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