Step away from sad, soggy salads with these satisfying midday meals.
Prepping a brown-bag lunch before work can seem like a gargantuan effort some mornings—we get it.
But when you grab easy, greasy food at lunch, you’re not only hurting your health—your productivity levels can dwindle too, explains Isabel Maples, R.D.N., a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
According to Maples, your ideal desk lunch should account for roughly a quarter of your total daily calories. If the average person eats between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day, this is 450 to 500 calories.
As for the ideal macronutrient breakdown? Aim for about 25 grams of protein, 60 grams of carbohydrates, and 17 grams of fat. This formula is ideal for keeping you full, satisfied, and focused for the afternoon, Maples explains.
And fear not: Salads aren’t your only option for a nutritious workday lunch. In fact, they’re hardly even your best option, with some dressings packing as much sugar and sodium as a fast-food burger. Here, Maples and Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet, share their favorite non-salad desk lunches that anyone can easily make, grab, and go.
1. Pita Stuffed with Chicken, Chickpeas, and Feta Salad
The (surprising) star of this tasty Mediterranean-style midday meal is an ingredient you can usually get for a couple of dollars a can.
“Canned chickpeas are an unsung nutrition hero,” Maples explains. “They’re cheap, easy, and packed a combination of fiber and protein that keeps you feeling full longer.” Pair it with an apple or orange for even more fiber.
How to make it: Make the dressing by mixing together 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ tablespoon oregano, and pepper to taste. Combine with ½ can chickpeas (drained and rinsed), ¼ cup feta cheese, 1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved or quartered), and about 1 cup rotisserie chicken (optional). Refrigerate until use. Serve in a whole-wheat pita bread. It serves two, so be sure to pack up your second helping for the following day.
2. Egg Salad Sandwich with Smashed Avocado
This recipe has all the creaminess and flavor of regular egg salad, but the addition of heart-healthy avocado prevents you from overdoing it on the mayo, Gans says. The eggs are an excellent source of protein, while the bread is a solid source of fiber.
How to make it: Chop two hard-boiled eggs into small pieces. Combine with ¼ of an avocado and ½ tablespoon of mayo or plain Greek yogurt. (If it looks a little dry, feel free to add a tad more mayo.) Spread on two slices of whole-grain bread.
3. Veggie Hummus Wrap
Packed with whole grains, dairy, fruits, veggies, and protein in the feta and hummus, this lunch is designed to keep you satisfied until dinner, Maples explains.
How to make it: In a container, mix ¼ cup of feta cheese with two tablespoons of hummus, chopped lettuce, chopped tomato, and shredded carrots. Roll the fillings into the tortilla at lunchtime to prevent a soggy wrap. Pair with vanilla yogurt and berries.
4. Classic Peanut Butter Sandwich with Baby Carrots
This is one of Maples’ favorite lunches because it keeps you full (and avoiding the vending machine a few hours later) in two ways. First, there’s protein in the peanut butter. Second, the carrots are packed with fiber and require a lot of chewing, which helps with smoother digestion.
How to make it: Just like your favorite childhood version, spread two tablespoons of natural peanut butter on two slices of whole-wheat bread. (If you’d like, add a sliced banana right before eating.) Serve with baby carrots and an apple.
Have a sweet tooth? Add a chocolate milk to the meal. “It tastes indulgent, but there are plenty of options today with minimal added sugar,” Maples says.
5. Turkey Sandwich with Hummus
Swapping mayo for hummus provides extra fiber and protein, which helps with satiety, Gans says. Veggies provide antioxidants and can help strengthen your immune system for long days at the office. Pair with a few baby carrots for added crunch.
How to make it: Spread about 2 tablespoons of hummus (any flavor) on a 100 percent whole-grain sandwich thin. Top with 4 to 6 ounces of fresh roasted turkey, fresh spinach, and two tomato slices.