Packing a healthy and well-balanced lunch can help you avoid those notorious afternoon energy slumps. But, it’s easy to fall into a lunch-time rut with the same boring salads or sandwiches on regular rotation. For some inspiration, we turned to registered dietitians to find out exactly what they eat for lunch. These 12 lunches pack a serious nutritional punch — add them to your rotation and say goodbye to boring, unhealthy lunches forever. Bonus: You’ll find yourself not only feeling better but also logging far more productive afternoons!
1. Chickpea Salad Wraps
Chickpea salad wraps packed with plant-based protein and fiber are a go-to lunch for The Nutrition Twins Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, authors of “The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure.” Like all pulses, chickpeas have been shown to regulate blood sugar and insulin, reduce belly fat, and rev your metabolism so you burn more calories, the pair explains. The collards and spinach are loaded with phytonutrients, vitamins A and C, and calcium. The Nutrition Twins say they enjoy 1 1/2 servings for only 330 calories, but 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber. They’ll also add in a serving of Greek yogurt and a few berries to boost the protein and antioxidants in their meals even more.
How to make it: Get the recipe here.
2. Shrimp Scampi With Zucchini Noodles
Swapping out starchy noodles for zucchini ribbons (aka zoodles!) can help you avoid a blood sugar spike-and-crash caused by carb-heavy foods, explains Catherine Metzgar, Ph.D and R.D. on the clinical team at Virta Health, a type 2 diabetes reversal clinic. “Zoodles take on the flavor of whatever sauce you choose to make,” says Metzgar, who is an expert in nutritional biochemistry based out of San Francisco. The veggies provide fiber and important nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C, she says. “The lean protein from the shrimp also helps me meet one of my seafood servings for the week. Fat is also a key ingredient here — it helps keep me full, so I won’t need an afternoon snack.”
How to make it: Metzgar uses a simple sauce of olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese for the meal’s base. She says she either grills or sautes the shrimp in garlic and butter before finishing it with a squeeze of lemon. Her lunch is leftovers from the night before, so she’s added a bit of butter before re-heating. Her pro tip: Finish with some red pepper flakes and another squeeze of lemon.
3. Tuna Avocado Lettuce Wraps
Skip the bread or tortilla and use fresh greens like Boston lettuce wraps as the vessel to hold your wrap together, suggests Meghan Sedivy, R.D. with Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Downers Grove. “The avocado makes a great swap for a traditional tuna salad by incorporating healthy fat and adds veggies with diced pepper, onion, and celery,” Sedivy says. The tuna, she explains, acts as a great lunch-time protein to keep you full all afternoon long. For a heartier lunch, pair the wraps with quinoa or a sweet potato.
How to make it: The recipe serves four and can be made in 15 minutes.
- 2 (5 ounce) cans albacore tuna in water, drained and chopped
- 1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1⁄4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 butterhead lettuce leaves
1. In a large bowl, combine tuna, avocado, bell pepper, onion, lemon juice, garlic, and black pepper.
2. Spoon mixture into lettuce leaves and wrap.
4. Avocado Sea Toast
Avocado toast isn’t just for breakfast, says Kerry Clifford, R.D., also with Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Downers Grove. This open-face sandwich includes avocado, smoked salmon, and a sprinkle of dill on top of a slice of sourdough bread. “This lunch is a great source of protein and healthy fat to keep you full and energized throughout a busy day,” she says. “The toast combinations are endless, so get creative.”
The recipe serves four and can be made in 15 minutes. (Hint, hint: Bring some for your co-workers and be the office hero). Of course, if your break room doesn’t have a toaster, you can eat this as an open-faced sandwich or save it for a Saturday lunch.
How to make it:
- 4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices sourdough bread
- 2 ripe avocados, seeded and peeled
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/8 teaspoon Fresh Thyme fine sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 ounces sliced smoked salmon
- 2 seaweed crisps, coarsely crumbled
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1. Toast bread in toaster.
2. In a small bowl, mash avocados, lemon juice, salt, and pepper with a fork.
3. Spread avocado mixture on toasts.
4. Top with slices of smoked salmon and seaweed crumbles, and sprinkle with dill.
5. Stir-Fried Rice With Shrimp
Julie Upton, M.S., R.D. and co-founder of Appetite for Health, says she usually takes dinner leftovers and turns them into healthy lunches without following the script of a recipe. One of her favorites is an Instant Pot veggie stir-fried rice with shrimp that she tosses together. “I have a cup of fresh fruit, water, and, because this lunch is right after a workout, I’m also eating a Rachel Pauls Foods Happy Bar, which is made to be easy on your GI tract,” Upton says. She says her lunch registers at about 450 calories and provides fruit, produce, lean protein, and plenty of fiber to keep her satisfied.
For those who prefer following a recipe, check out this spicy shrimp fried rice dish from Skinnytaste for inspiration.
6. High-Fiber Salad
This high-fiber salad spiked with grains and courtesy of Lisa Bruno, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian, is far from boring. “It combines the best of everything — greens, lean plant-based protein, plus a grain, which makes the plant-based protein complete and adds fiber,” she says. Plus, a salad allows you to eat mindfully. “You cannot shovel it down, like you can a sandwich,” Bruno says. “It helps to keep you aware and connected to your meal.”
How to make it: Combine the following ingredients
- 2 to 3 cups baby spinach
- 1/2 cup chopped cabbage
- 1/4 cup lentils
- 1/4 cup brown rice or farro
- 1/2 chopped cucumber
- 8 baby tomatoes
- 1/2 of EVOO
- Juce of half of a fresh squeezed lemon
- Balsamic vinegar to taste
7. Rainbow Salad
Taste the rainbow with this bright and flavorful salad courtesy of Rebecca Elbaum, a registered dietitian in New York City. “I love a big salad with all food groups for lunch,” she says. “I especially focus on grains and protein; this combination helps to keep me full for the rest of the work day.”
How to make it: Elbaum starts with a base of kale or spinach and then add any vegetables. Next, she adds beans, tofu, chicken, or fish, and a grain like quinoa, brown rice, or sweet potato. She tops off the salad with a healthy fat like avocado or nuts.
8. Southwestern Black Bean and Quinoa Quiche Cups (and Chocolate, Too!)
KC Wright, a New Hampshire-based R.D., bakes a batch of these protein-packed quiche cups on the weekend and stashes them in the refrigerator or freezer so she’s got a quick, go-to lunch throughout the week. “These cups are a triple pack of protein with the eggs, beans, and quinoa, which keeps me on task through my day. And, their savory, cheesy flavor is satiating.” She also adds sliced veggies and 1/4 cup or 1/3 cup of baba ganoush to her lunch. (She also preps the baba ganoush over the weekend). “The veggies have lots of crunch power and insoluble fiber while the eggplant dip is a great source of soluble fiber — both fibers are filling and boost intestinal health and reduce blood cholesterol respectively,” she says. She also likes to enjoy a cup of Siggi’s Icelandic yogurt; the Mixed Berry and Acai is her go-to flavor. The yogurt is a good source of calcium and vitamin D and contains more protein and less sugar than most yogurts, she says. “For dessert, I enjoy an ounce of good dark chocolate, minimum 70 percent cacao content,” Wright says. “Aside from providing some good antioxidants, it’s just good for my soul.”
How to make it: Get the recipe here.
9. A Salad With Chicken Sausage
Sharon Lehman, a registered dietitian based near Philadelphia, says her typical lunch is a large salad topped with a protein, like chicken sausage. Her favorite is from Trader Joe’s. “I focus on fiber and protein at each meal to keep me full longer,” she says. Also, since there’s a warm, cooked element with the sausage, she says she feels more satisfied and like she’s had a proper meal. She also treats herself to a piece of dark chocolate after lunch.
How to make it: Start with a bed of spinach. Top the spinach with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and add sautéed bell peppers, red onion, and sliced chicken sausage. “I drizzle my veggies with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for an all natural salad dressing and a bit of heart-healthy fat from the olive oil,” Lehman says.
10. Collard Wraps
Collard greens stuffed with protein and veggies wrapped up are an easy-to-make lunchtime hit for Chelsey Amer, M.S., RDN and virtual dietitian and creator of CitNutritionally.com. She stuffs the collard greens with whatever leftover protein she has on hand, which could be shrimp, tofu, or hummus and then loads it up with veggies. “This combo keeps me full, without weighing me down, plus it’s a great way to use up leftovers,” Amer says.
How to make it: Find the recipe and inspiration here.
11. Beauty Bowls
Never make a so-so salad again. Barbie Boules, Chicago-based registered dietitian, says she makes “Beauty Bowls” throughout the week. She sets aside time to meal prep healthy ingredients, separating them into containers with lids so she has a nice mix of carbs, proteins, and fats at her fingertips every day. “Healthy eating is all about variety,” Boules says. With her beauty bowl matrix, she provides a wide variety of suggestions across categories like fruits, veggies, starches, proteins, fats, and dressings so you can create an endless amount of bowl combinations.
How to make it: Get Beauty Bowl inspiration here.
12. Caprese Salad With an Egg
Gia Diakakis, R.D. — a pediatric dietitian in Chicago’s North Shore with Feed to Succeed — gives her caprese salad an extra punch of protein with a soft-boiled egg. “If you have the ingredients, it’s super fast and nutritious,” she says. “You have a combination of vegetables — yes, I know tomatoes are technically a fruit — calcium, healthy fats, and great protein.”
How to make it:
- 1 sliced tomato
- 1 fresh mozzarella ball (about one cup), sliced
- About 7 fresh basil leaves
- Olive oil
- Balsamic reduction glaze
1. Layer the tomato slices with basil leaves and a slice of fresh mozzarella.
2. Sprinkle salt.
3. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic reduction glaze.
4. Place soft boiled egg on top.
Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.