Breakfast may be the “most important meal of the day,” but lunch is certainly a huge deal as well. A good, healthy lunch can help keep your energy levels high and prevent you from mindless mid-afternoon snacking later. But what would be considered the healthiest lunches to have? We reached out to a few registered dietitians and asked them their recommendations for the healthiest lunches you can possibly have.
Here are the meals they say are the best-of-the-best, and for more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of the 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make.
“One of the healthiest lunches you can have is grilled salmon over a colorful salad,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. “Salmon is high in protein which helps you to feel full and rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids (known as “good fats”). A colorful salad contains an assortment of veggies, which are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and the different colors ensure that you are getting a mix of different nutrients. I love a blend of romaine lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, red peppers, and cucumbers.”
“Did you know that seafood is one of the best dietary sources of animal protein? It’s packed with vital nutrients, such as heart-healthy omega-3s, and has less saturated fat and cholesterol than other protein options,” says Rima Kleiner MS, RD, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist at Dish on Fish. “Protein may help our brains recognize the hormone leptin, which helps us feel fuller longer and provides energy for our bodies.”
“I love putting veggies and grain bowl together because you can use up what you’ve got in the fridge and create endless variations,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN. “I like starting with a base of high fiber barley or quinoa and adding whatever colorful veggies I have on hand. This time of year it’s probably roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots, plus a bit of kimchee for probiotics and then a packet of tuna for high-quality protein. I like the ones from Bumble Bee because they come in tasty flavors like Thai Chili, they require no prep, and they offer important vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D (so important for winter!), iron, and selenium.”
“I am a huge fan of packing my lunch like you would your kid’s for school,” says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook. “One of my go-to’s is the ‘Adult Lunchable’ that includes cheese, whole grain crackers, grapes, turkey, veggie like mini sweet peppers, baby carrots or cherry tomatoes, and some nuts. With fiber, protein, and healthy fat, you will get full faster and stay full longer, plus get tons of nutrients!”
“So many people get protein and veggies on their salad, but then find themselves sluggish mid-afternoon because they did not get carbohydrates at lunch,” says Goodson. “The ultimate salad is one with all the food groups. As a dietitian, one of my favorites is a pan-seared salmon salad with mixed greens, goat cheese, berries, pecans, and a grain like quinoa or farro. The best part of the 5-Food Group salad lunch is that you can mix and match your proteins, cheese, nuts, fruit, and grains to make all kinds of combinations to keep it interesting and flavorful. Including all five food groups will help you feel more satisfied and less likely to go grazing on snack foods a few hours later.”
Or try our Warm-Kale Quinoa Salad, which includes all of the food groups Goodson recommends!
“Soup and salad lunches offer an opportunity to get lots of healthy foods such as veggies, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds,” says MyNetDiary’s Registered Dietitian and MS, Brenda Braslow. “These plant-based meals offer loads of protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber to keep our bodies healthy and immune systems strong.”
Try our Veggie-Packed Minestrone Pesto Soup with a simple green salad for lunch!
“A quick and easy lunch I rely on quite a bit is what I call [the] Egg Scramble Whole Wheat Tortilla Wrap,” says Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD of Eat Well To Be Well RD. “Scramble two eggs with black beans along with diced cherry tomatoes and diced avocado. When cooked, place in the whole wheat wrap with a sprinkle of pepper jack cheese topped with fresh salsa and you’re done. Protein-packed, fiber-filled, rich in monounsaturated fat, and simply delicious, this keeps me satiated for hours until dinner. I’ll also include a side of fruit such as a few apple slices, grapes, or a small pear for a more well-balanced meal and for extra fiber.”
Try our version with this Fiber-Filled Breakfast Burrito recipe!
“Lunch is an important meal of the day. You want to go for, not only what keeps you full, but also what gives you the energy to go about the next five or so hours of school, work, or any other day’s activity,” says Edie Reads, RD and chief editor at healthadvise.org. “You also want to avoid [processed] carbs. These are unhealthy, will easily lead to weight gain and digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.”
Reads says salads, in particular, are a great choice for lunch.
“Make yours with lots of proteins, and greens,” says Reads. “If you want, you can top it up with some dressing. Try out the Mediterranean-style salad.”
This Greek Salad Recipe is a great place to start!
“Some vegetable curry will also do,” says Reads. “it comes packed with lots of vitamins and antioxidants. You’ll also feel full for longer and may not need to snack.”
Try our version with this Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Curry Stir Fry!
Rachel Paul, PhD, RD, CDN, recommends making a stuffed avocado salad for an easy, filling, low-carb lunch idea.
“[To make], slice an avocado in half and take out the pit,” says Paul. “Mix a can of tuna with 1/4 cup diced grape tomatoes. Add the tuna to the avocado halves and sprinkle with everything but the bagel seasoning. Have 1 to 2 cups of baby carrots on the side. This meal is full of protein, fat, and high fiber veggies, making it very filling—it will keep you full for hours.”
Or try our version with this Light Avocado Crab Salad!
Breakfast sandwiches make for great lunch sandwiches, too!
“It consists of carbohydrates, protein, and sodium that are healthy and also can help in weight loss,” says Shannon Henry, RD for EZCare Clinic.
To make this particular sandwich, cook up two eggs. Spread a little bit of butter on your bread and add a slice of Swiss cheese, fried egg, avocado, cheddar cheese, and the remaining bread slice. Grill on the stove for a few minutes on each side until golden brown!
For more lunch ideas, try one of these 73+ Best Healthy Lunch Recipes.