You already know that a healthy lunch is important for staying focused, energised and satiated through the afternoon—but "healthy" doesn't need to mean boring. In fact, eating the same old desk salad every day can actually increase the odds you'll get cravings for not-so-wholesome fare, like fast food and dessert. That's why so many nutritionists get creative with their mid-day meal; they know it's key to staying on track with a clean diet. Plus, eating a different, delicious lunch each afternoon can enhance an otherwise ho-hum workday.
Preparing your meals at the beginning of the week (aka meal prepping) has been proven to help diversify your diet: A recent French study found that participants who planned their menu for the days ahead had more varied and healthy meals and lower rates of obesity than those who didn't map out their dishes.
To inspire you, we've gathered our favourite nutritionist lunches from Instagram to show you just how healthy and delicious a midday meal can be—whether savoured at home or in the office. Not only are these dishes pretty darn easy to make, but they also lend themselves perfectly to weekend meal prep.
For bone health: Ginger miso golden beet salad
Nutritionist Kimberly Snyder satisfies crunchy lunchtime cravings with a powerhouse veggie salad made of thinly sliced golden beets, fennel, parsley and coriander. Fennel tends to be an overlooked salad ingredient, but it's time that changed. Not only does it have a delicious anise-like flavour, but it also contains a variety of nutrients—including calcium, iron and zinc—that contribute to bone health. (Fennel is also one of the many foods that can help you de-bloat.)
PRO TIP: Top this salad with Snyder's go-to dressing made with 1 ½ Tbsp sesame oil, 2 tsp fresh lime juice, 1 Tbsp raw miso paste, 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger and 2 tsp coconut nectar. Concerned this salad won't keep you full until your next snack or meal? Pair it with lean protein like skinless chicken breast, a blend of beans and lentils, or any of these 5 high-protein foods nutritionists want you to get more of.
For heart health: Cashew broccoli slaw tuna salad
Upgrade boring tuna salad with inspiration from dietitian Stacie Hassing who serves her fish on baguette slices. To make a similar salad at home, combine heart-healthy tuna (canned in water, not oil) with your favourite crunchy veggies, such as diced bell pepper and diced cucumber, and fold in Whole-30-approved Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil Mayonnaise or a combination of plain Greek yogurt and Dijon mustard, to taste.
PRO TIP: When choosing your bread, keep in mind that fibrous whole grains (including sprouted grains) are always better than refined grains, which are stripped of their nutritious bran and germ.
For a healthy gut: California ‘Crunchwrap’ supreme
Skip the taco shop at lunch and opt for this homemade California "crunchwrap" instead. Dietian Liz Shaw created this crunchy lunch recipe using ingredients like jalapeños, crisp flatbread, pulled chicken breast, and guacamole. The star of this dish, however, is the fibre-rich black beans, which are filling and support gut health.
PRO TIP: If you can't find a wholesome flatbread at the market, use a 6-inch whole grain wrap as a stand in.
For blood sugar maintenance: Tortellini, chicken, & arugula salad
Myth buster: Nutritionists do eat pasta; they're just smart about it. For instance, a bowl of plain, unadorned noodles may cause a spike in blood sugar, leaving you ravenous later. That's why dietians balance those carbs with veggies and lean protein for a satiating meal. In this pasta salad recipe by nutritionist Emily Dingman cheese tortellini debuts alongside skinless chicken thighs, rocket and cherry tomatoes for a lunch rich in slow-digesting fibre and protein, both of which will help you stay full well into the afternoon.
PRO TIP: To keep your noodles tasting fresh all week long, store the dressing in a separate container and pour some over each serving of pasta right before you put fork to mouth.
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For decreased cancer risk: Purple sweet potato salad
You've likely had your fair share of kale salads for lunch—and you'll likely have many more. But that doesn't mean you should settle for a boring bowl of greens. Nutritionist Gena Hamshaw upgrades her kale by topping it with protein-packed lentils, hummus and mashed purple sweet potatoes. While mashed spuds may be the last thing you'd expect to find in a salad, they add a creamy texture and irresistible flavour to the dish. They're also packed with anthocyanins, pigments that have been associated with reduced cancer risk.
PRO TIP: If you can’t find purple potatoes in your market, pick up orange sweet potatoes, instead, and use this recipe to create the perfect, savory mash.
For strong bones: Avocado quesadilla with greens
This cheesy Tex-Mex staple gets a bad rap, but dietitians Willow Jarosh and Stephanie Clarke prove it can easily be a healthy lunch. They make theirs with wholesome ingredients like whole-wheat tortillas (rather than ones made with nutrient-void white flour) and go light on the cheese. To round out their meal, they pair their quesadilla with sautéed greens, salsa and a few slices of avocado, which is rich in bone-friendly vitamin K.
PRO TIP: If you cook your quesadilla over the stove, drizzle the pan with canola oil, which is low in saturated fat but high in healthy fats, including one omega-3 fatty acid that may lower blood pressure. It also has a high smoke point, meaning you don't have to worry about it releasing toxic chemicals at moderate cooking temperatures.
For healthy blood pressure: Maple salmon & pomegranate cauliflower
This is an easy meal to make in large batches—enjoy some for dinner and save the remaining portions for lunch throughout the week. This savoury dish from registered dietitian Lyndi Cohen boasts cooked salmon, avocado (rich in blood pressure-lowering potassium) tossed with cherry tomatoes and red onion; leafy greens; and roasted cauliflower (bake florets on 200°C for 40 minutes) seasoned with Harissa and topped with pomegranate arils, mint and pistachios.
PRO TIP: Have leftover avocado from your side salad? To keep it from browning, sprinkle it with an acidic agent such as lemon or lime juice and store in an airtight container for up to a day.
For cholesterol management: Avocado club sandwich
Marinated Portobello mushroom caps, avocado, tomato, radishes and pea shoots are among the healthy ingredients stuffed into this sandwich from dietitian McKel Hill. Portobellos are a fibrous alternative to high-sodium processed sandwich meat, which the World Health Organisation has classified as a carcinogen, or something that likely causes cancer. Score even more health benefits from the tomatoes, which are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked to cancer prevention and healthy cholesterol levels.
PRO TIP: To marinate a mushroom cap, whisk two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice, and sprinkle with your favourite herbs and spices (a few good options: garlic, rosemary and a dash of salt). Pierce mushroom caps and place in a dish. Drizzle with marinade, cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes. To cook, roast at 220°C for 20 minutes.
MORE: 30 Ways To Cancer-Proof Your Life
For bowel health: Veggie and cheese chickpea pasta
For a healthy alternative to traditional pasta, dietitian Sammi Haber turns to fibre- and protein-packed chickpea pasta, which keeps you full longer than traditional noodles and promotes bowel health. Here, she topped her pasta with tomato sauce, Parmesan and spring onion for a flavourful dish that's still relatively low in calories.
PRO TIP: Check your tomato sauce for added sugars. Some companies add the sweet stuff to make up for less-than-flavourful ingredients like cheap vegetable oils or dehydrated vegetables. Ideally, your sauce will have less than four grams of sugar per serving. (For more ways to make pasta night diet friendly, don't miss these 6 ways to make Italian food flat-belly friendly.)
For an energy boost: California roll sushi cups
If you want the savoury taste of sushi without all the starchy white rice, look no further than this creative avocado sushi recipe by dietitian Rachael Hartley. An easy meal to share with friends or co-workers, this two-step recipe offers a fresh take on the California roll. It features ingredients including crabmeat (packed with fatigue-fighting B12), cucumber, soy sauce and mayonnaise (yes, even nutritionists enjoy indulgent condiments sometimes, but don't overdo it—the recipe calls for less than 1 tablespoon per serving!).
PRO TIP: Top your meal with low-sodium soy sauce to ward off bloat and high blood pressure.
For lean muscle maintenance: Grilled cheese
Believe it or not, health experts love gooey grilled cheese goodness just like the rest of us. Holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy makes her go-to grilled cheese recipe a little healthier with pear slices (you can also use apple slices). Adding fibrous fruit to your sandwich makes for a more nutritious and satisfying meal—not to mention it provides an unexpected juicy flavour. Complete the sandwich with Dijon mustard, white cheddar or hard goat cheese (both of which contain calcium, a mineral that helps maintain muscle mass), and a touch of butter for cooking.
PRO TIP: To ensure the fillings don't leave your bread soggy, toast the bread before cooking it in the skillet.
For electrolyte balance: Cauliflower pizza
Reinvent pizza for lunch by taking inspiration from dietitian Shira Lenchewski. Her cauliflower pizza recipe boasts a healthy crust made with nothing more than cauliflower (a potent source of electrolyte-balancing potassium), eggs and a pinch of salt and red pepper. Toppings include pesto, tomatoes and fresh basil, but you can mix things up to best please your tastebuds.
PRO TIP: In addition to serving as a low-carb pizza crust ingredient, cauliflower can stand in for rice (just pulse florets in the food processor), or take the place of spuds for lightened up mashed "potatoes."
For muscle recovery: Healthy chicken teriyaki bowl
A healthy teriyaki bowl goes light on the sauce and heavy on the greens, as nutritionist Jessica Sepel proves with this fresh dish. One serving of rice is ½ cup—so you'll want to spoon a pile of grains the size of a baseball into your teriyaki bowl. Meanwhile, a serving size of muscle-repairing chicken is 75gms, about the size of your palm or a deck of cards. Top both with avocado slices and your favourite veggies to complete the dish.
PRO TIP: Marinate the chicken in a low-sodium teriyaki for at least three hours before cooking in a frying pan over a medium flame.
For proper nervous system function: Chicken & broccoli macaroni
Get comfortable with the idea of comfort food being healthy. To pull off this tempting dish, dietitian Caitlyn Elf, tossed whole-wheat macaroni and cheese with grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli for a balanced pasta meal. It's a delicious way to sneak in the green vitamin-rich veggie, which your mom had good reason to encourage: Part of the cruciferous vegetable family, which also includes kale and cauliflower, broccoli gets its bitter taste from sulforaphane, which may inhibit the progression of cancer cells. This tree-like green also contains folate, which supports nervous system function and may decrease breast cancer risk in women.
PRO TIP: Need to get dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes? Swap grilled chicken for a pre-made rotisserie bird and use frozen broccoli that steams right in its bag.
For improved immunity: Beet burger
Trade frozen veggie burgers and fast food patties—many of which have additives and loads of sodium—for a healthy homemade beet burger. Even if you're not a big fan of this root veggie, you'll probably relish this easy burger recipe from dietitians Jessica Jones and Wendy Lopez. It showcases a ton of other flavourful ingredients including onion, sunflower seeds, red beans and garlic, offering the benefits of beets (which are rich in immune-boosting vitamin C) without an overpowering root vegetable flavour.
PRO TIP: Ditch the top bun on your burger to cut back on carbs and boost the staying power of your meal with a wholesome side salad, instead.