If you’re looking to drop stubborn weight fast, it may be time to rethink your lunch strategy. While many people consider breakfast the most important meal of the day, lunch gives you the energy to finish work, keep those 3 p.m. sugar cravings at bay, and maybe power through an evening workout. However, not all midday meals are created equal, and if weight loss is your priority, making the right choices is a must.
If you’re unsure about what to eat or how to structure your lunchtime, you’re in luck. We have rounded up some expert-approved pointers and science-backed tips that will help steer you onto the right track. With these dos and don’ts, you’ll have all the information you need to transform your lunch hour into a fat-burning, nutrient-dense midday refuel session.
1. Repurpose What You Have
Your favorite healthy dinner recipe can easily turn into tomorrow’s noontime meal. “If I brown bag it, often I’ll take whatever leftovers I have from the night before and wrap it up over a bed of greens (I buy the boxed organic spinach or arugula— it’s easy, fast and washed!),” Amy Shapiro, RD, CDN of Real Nutrition NYC. She recommends throwing in some quinoa or brown rice if you have any left over. You can also add some of the 40 Best-Ever Fat-Burning Foods to accelerate that 10-pound weight loss.
2. Get Social
Using your lunch hour to make new friends will not only help your social life; it may also boost your weight loss efforts. A study published in
Physiology and Behavior shows that while socializing during a meal can cause an increase in food consumption, eating with strangers does not. Take this research as a sign that it’s time to branch out from your standard lunch crew and catch up with some coworkers you’re less familiar with.
3. Choose Green Tea
If you think Coke pairs perfectly with your salad or sandwich, think again. Instead of tacking on plenty of empty calories and sugar, pair your healthy lunch with a beverage that is equally beneficial. Green tea is a great weight-loss beverage, thanks to its metabolism-boosting catechins and caffeine, which will act as the perfect midday pick-me-up.
4. But First…Salad
Starting your meal off with a salad will add fiber and antioxidants to your diet and decrease your overall calorie consumption, according to a study published in the journal
Appetite. Research shows that subjects who ate salad before their main course consumed less calories than those who enjoyed their greens with their meal. The salad first group also drank more water, a huge plus given H2O’s metabolism-boosting potential.
5. Mix it Up
You’re bound to get sick of your healthy lunch staple sooner or later. Instead of struggling to fight off midday hamburger cravings, keep some creative afternoon meal ideas in mind. If you’re drawing a blank on appetizing recipes, check out our list of 30 Healthy Lunch Ideas That Aren’t Salad.
6. Brunch Redefined
You might think of brunch as a weekend-only affair, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy some healthy breakfast foods in the afternoon. In fact, Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, that her favorite midday meal is a vegetable omelet with a side salad. Some of her go-to vegetables to toss in are mushrooms, spinach, and onions.
7. Don’t Under Eat
Yes, maintaining a calorie deficit will lead to weight loss but skimping on lunch will not do your diet any favors. A satiating mid-day meal will help you power through the rest of the day and resist cravings, so don’t be afraid to eat a full, balanced plate of food. “Include adequate protein and healthy fats like walnuts or avocado to boost satiety,” Moore advises. “Instead of an all-vegetable salad try a bed of salad greens with grilled salmon, snap peas and walnuts for crunch, and an olive oil vinaigrette for a more satisfying meal,” she recommends.
8. Nix Liquid Lunches
Blended beverages such as protein shakes can be a healthy way to pack in nutrients, but they will not fill you up the same way a proper meal will. “Skip the smoothie shop,” Moore cautions, because drinking your meal will not keep you as satisfied. “That empty feeling may lead you back to the vending machine,” she warns.
9. Go on (Healthy) Autopilot
If going home and cooking a nutritious lunch is impossible for you, you’re not alone. Instead of throwing in the towel and ordering something decadent, have a plan for what you’ll eat once noon strikes. “Having a healthy lunch in the fridge or identifying your go-to restaurant for healthy meals can help you achieve your goals,” according to Moore. She recommends filling half of your plate or bowl with vegetables and rounding out your meal with protein, a healthy carbohydrate, and a drizzle of a heart-healthy fat.
0. Say No to a Carb-Fest
A pasta feast will not only hurt your dieting efforts; it may harm your productivity for the rest of the day, too. Shapiro cautions that a high-carbohydrate meal will cause you to feel sluggish and ready for a nap. “Eat until you are satisfied, NOT full,” Shapiro recommends, so that you can avoid that food coma feeling and stay productive throughout the afternoon.
1. Pile on the Protein
Protein is a must if you’re looking for a lunch with serious satiating power. Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, credits the macronutrient with helping people stay fuller longer, but understands that plain chicken breasts can get boring fast. Instead, Rizzo favors chickpeas, lentils, and dry peas, because their combination of protein and fiber is extra effective when it comes to quashing hunger. Some of her favorite high-protein options include lentil soup, bean salad, and greens with chickpeas on top. 40 Nutrition Experts Told Us The Foods You Should Be Eating Every Day, and there are several high-protein options you can choose from.
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