How to Make a Balanced, Nutritious Lunch

Lunch tray filled with healthy meal
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Sometimes that mid-afternoon meal can make you feel sluggish and sleepy. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you take a few minutes to learn how to prepare a balanced lunch, you'll set yourself up to feel stronger and more energized throughout the entire afternoon.

Here are some tips for creating balanced and nutritious lunches for work or home.

Making a Balanced Lunch

A balanced lunch will satisfy your hunger at meal time. But it should also keep you feeling full and energized through the late afternoon slump so. There are three essential components to include:

Choose Lean Proteins

If you build your lunch around a source of protein, you'll help keep yourself feeling satisfied in two different ways. First, protein takes longer to eat and longer for your body to digest. So a protein-rich meal will last longer while you're eating it, and it will keep you feeling full longer.

Also, protein helps to build and maintain muscle mass, which keeps you strong, vibrant, and able to tackle daily tasks. Proteins also often contain energizing nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, and iron.

Pick Fiber Filled Foods

High-fiber foods are essential for sustained energy. Eating fiber is similar to eating protein in that it takes longer for your body to digest. So fiber helps you feel full for a more extended period. If you choose fiber-rich bread for your sandwich or fill your salad bowl with foods high in fiber, you set yourself up for sustained energy later in the day.

Fiber also improves digestion, helps lower cholesterol levels, and reduces your risk of colon and breast cancer.

Hydrate Well

Not getting enough hydration during the day may cause you to feel tired and increase brain fog. When it comes to choosing your beverage, water is usually the best choice. Research shows drinking enough water can help keep mood and fatigue levels stable.

It might be best to skip the caffeinated and sugar-filled sodas at lunch for better energy levels. These drinks can be especially problematic around noon because even though they may provide a quick boost of energy in the short run, they may leave you dehydrated and zapped of energy later while contributing nothing to your nutrition. Drink plain or flavored water instead, or try diet soda.

How Much Should I Eat?

The average adult needs about 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day to maintain their weight. The actual number of calories you need will be different depending on your body composition and activity levels. If you eat three meals per day, consider eating about a third of them at lunch, or a little less if you like to add snacks.

Tips For Packing Nutritious Lunches

Packing a lunch that will provide the nutrients your body needs is not complicated. It's a good idea to make lunch at home and bring it with you to work. This will ensure you have enough food in the right proportions and combinations that you enjoy to keep you full and energized.

  • Pair lean protein with healthy fat and fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, and veggies
  • Choose fruit and veggies that pack well
  • Prep easy options for grab and go lunches

To ensure lasting energy and satisfaction throughout the day, pair a serving of lean protein with veggies to make a simple, satisfying lunch. A bowl of soup or salad will do the job or grab a ready-to-eat protein snack with a piece of fresh fruit. You can also make a nutrient-rich smoothie if you're in a rush.

Fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in fruits and vegetables should be included in your lunch. These foods help balance your blood sugar and energy levels, fill you up, and taste great while proving your body with the nutrients it needs.

Choose fruit that doesn't bruise easily and packs well such as apple slices, oranges, berries, grapes, and melons. Chop up veggies to serve with a dip or in a salad or atop a sandwich, such as carrots, snap peas, greens, celery sticks, and grape tomatoes. Veggies also taste great in soups, burritos, and casseroles.

Whole grains will sustain your energy for longer than refined types. This means prioritizing whole grain bread, brown rice, and quinoa over white bread, potato chips, or baked goods (although those are still great to add as a treat in smaller portions).

Nutritious fats will keep your meal satisfying and tasty while providing essential fatty acids to your diet. Excellent fat sources to include in your lunch are nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, and avocados. Use them as a snack, on top of salads, or in dressings.

A Word From Verywell

Your lunch should be a welcome reprieve from your busy day, providing a chance to connect with yourself and your physical and mental needs. This includes a satisfying, enjoyable meal that helps keep you full and energized for the rest of the afternoon.

Focusing mainly on nutrient-dense foods and including tasty, filling options will give you the re-set you need to keep being productive. Remember that enjoying your food is essential and including foods you love is always a smart decision.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.