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What to Eat Part 2: Lunch Recipes and Prep Tips

"Taking a half hour or an hour away from your regular work day can actually help you be more productive during the time when you are actually working."

How many of you work through lunch? How many of you eat your lunch in your office or in your cubicle? Or how many of you are doing something else like working or reading or watching TV while you’re eating lunch? 

Today’s live post with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD is part 2 in her “What to Eat” series. This time Dr. Nancy is tackling the best lunch meals to keep the body fueled, energized, and productive for the afternoon. Learn why taking a real lunch break and eating something nutritious and delicious during that time is so important, more than even dinner. Plus, learn which are the best lunch food options to choose, with a few of Dr. Nancy’s favorite lunch recipes which are easy and quick and some can even be prepped on the weekends. Don't miss this fun and helpful discussion!

Video Highlights

  • 04:19: Recap of Part 1
  • 05:22:Why a Lunch Break Matters
  • 14:46:Prepping for a Healthy Lunch
  • 18:03: Lunch Around the World
  • 21:09: Evolution of School Lunches Over Time
  • 24:18:What a Nutritious Lunch Should Include
  • 26:20:Tips for prepping your lunches in advance
  • 28:24:Easy Salad Options 
  • 34:51:Mediterranean Tuna Spinach Salad
  • 40:05:Buddha Bowl
  • 46:14:Roasted Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup
  • 54:46:Wrap-Up

Part 1 Recap

InPart 1 of this series, we discussed the importance ofeating breakfast. Eating breakfast every morning has so many health benefits: 

  • It helps regulate hormones
  • Keeps the body’s circadian rhythm functioning properly
  • Gives you longer lasting energy throughout the day
  • It can help ward off things like inflammation and heart disease

If you watched or read Part 1, you learned how skipping breakfast is bad for your health. Well guess what? Skipping lunch has its disadvantages too. 

Why a Lunch Break Matters 

In one study that surveyed American workers,over half said they are unable to take a full lunch break away from their desks. Additionally, a little less than half of those people have a snack drawer they can dip into throughout the day, most notably around mid-morning and then again in the late afternoon, around 3 p.m. 

For those whodotake a lunch break, they’re usually only taking a half hour or less, and in a different study, a lot of those people actually feel guilty or judged for it. And lot of people simply don’t feel like theycantake a lunch break. In fact, they feel discouraged to do so, and almost a quarter of American feel they’re going to be judged by their boss or not considered hard-working enough if they take some time out for lunch. The sad truth is that’s where our society is today. Nearly a quarter of bosses polled think their employees who take regular lunch breaks aren’t as hard-working as those who don’t. 

But if the bosses who discourage taking a lunch break actually looked at the numbers, then they would change their tune: In fact,90%of those who do take a lunch break say they feel refreshed and happier, as well as more productive and creative in the afternoons. Almost as many people — 80% — have more job satisfaction. They say they feel more invested in the work and in the company when they regularly break for lunch.

Almost every sporting event has some sort of halftime so the athletes can take a break and recover so they have enough energy to finish the rest of the game. The same concept can be applied to taking time out for lunch. Think of it as the halftime of your day. 

Taking that time gives you an opportunity to step away from a challenging problem. Then when you come back to it, you’ll be looking at it with fresh eyes and with potentially new, creative ideas. 

It may sound counterintuitive, but taking a half hour or an hour away from your regular work day can actually help you be more productive during the time when you are actually working. By not taking a break, you’re increasing your chances of running out of steam by mid-afternoon, especially if you don’t take the time out to eat something, as well. You need to refuel both mentally and physically!

That time spent away from your work — whatever that may be, whether it’s a desk job, or you’re a homemaker, or some sort of caretaker — can also be a time when you practiceself-care byexercising,practicing yoga, or taking time for some deepbreathing exercises. Sitting behind a desk all day or performing daily work tasks if you’re part of the labor force can be brutal on your body, especially your joints!

Most importantly, though, taking a lunch break canreduce stress. If you watch Dr. Nancy’s show regularly, you know stress can lead tonumerous health problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • And lastly it can fuel chronic inflammation in your body. Your health thrives when you eat regularly. And taming inflammation daily is so important as we age. Remember to take measures to better manage stress in your life, but also to boost your inflammation and ache and pain fighting efforts by taking aCurcumin supplement every day.

Okay, back to the importance of a lunch break to help manage stress… when you’re constantly dealing withwork-related stress, you’re not going to be very productive in any area of your life. 

Okay, so it’s settled — from now on, if you don’t already, commit to takingat least 30 minutes out of the middle of your day to take a break and recharge your batteries. 

Prepping for a Healthy Lunch

But lunch is notjustabout taking a break; you need something healthy to eat while you do it, and that is going to involve a bit of prep on your part. Grabbing a quick snack from the vending machine or chowing down on pizza and French fries won’t do your health any good, nor will it give you sustained energy and increased productivity to get you through your afternoon. 

Of course for some of you the mere mention of having to prepare something for lunch every day might trigger stress. But not to worry. We’re going to give you some easy recipes you can make, and tell you how you can even prepare some ingredients on the weekend… without spending your entire Sunday cooking. 

Lunch Around the World

Lunch traditions around the world vary widely, just as breakfasts do. Americans typically default to sandwiches and chips, but let’s look at what a mid-day meal looks like in other countries.

  • In Korea, lunch could often include some sort of soup, meat, and fermented vegetables like kimchi.
  • Indian lunch might be rice, beans, and curried foods
  • People in the Philippines might also be eating rice, as well as meat in a lettuce wrap
  • Japanese people might eat fish, rice, and salted vegetables like pickled spinach for lunch
  • In Mexico, people would eat a torta, which is a type of sandwich
  • Russian lunchers may eat porridge or rice with meat, and yogurt
  • A French lunch would include something like chicken and sauteed spinach or salad, and half a grapefruit, bread, and cheese
  • In Nigeria, lunch would include beans, meat, and rice
  • In Norway, it could be a salad with berries and yogurt
  • In Cuba, rice and tender meat called Roqa Vieja
  • In the UK, it could be shepherd’s pie, yogurt, and a piece of fruit

Evolution of School Lunches Over Time

  • In the 70’s, a school lunch would include meat loaf, mashed potatoes, peas, and milk
  • In the 80’s, a school lunch would include tater tots, a sloppy joe, milk, and chocolate pudding
  • In the 90’s, pizza, fries, corn, milk, and canned fruit
  • In the 00’s, soda, garlic bread, salad, spaghetti and ice cream
  • Today, school lunch includes things like fresh vegetables, apples, orange juice, a chicken sandwich and a cookie

What a Nutritious Lunch Should Include

InPart 1 of this series, we mentioned a quote — “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” We recommended that breakfast contain about 300 - 500 calorie range for women, and for men it should include around 375-625 calories. Breakfast should be a fairly large meal and include a healthy combination of vegetables, lean protein, fruit, and maybe a healthy grain thrown in. 

Lunch should really be no different, but it should be a little bit smaller than the portion size you ate at breakfast. Eating a more moderate sized meal in the middle of the day can help prevent you from snacking later on and can help sustain the energy boost you got at breakfast going until dinner.

Tips for prepping your lunches in advance: 

  • Wash, cut, chop, and dice fresh vegetables like broccoli, kale, carrots, onions, radishes, scallions, celery, cucumber, and zucchini.
  • Hard-boil about a half dozen to a dozen eggs.
  • Bake or boil a few breasts of chicken.
  • Cook or roast veggies like beets, sweet potatoes, or parsnips
  • Make a large portion of a healthy whole grain, like brown rice or quinoa

If you’re a great multi-tasker, you could have all this done within an hour or two. Even if you’re not, it really shouldn’t take you that long. Once you’ve got all this yummy food prepped, you can either put your actual meals together or put everything infood-safe containers so you can grab from them and create a meal the night before. 

Easy Salad Options

One of the easiest, low-prep lunch meals you can make is salad. It’s healthy and it’s versatile — aside from lettuce and vegetables you can put almost anything in a salad:

  • Berries
  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Grapefruit
  • Quinoa
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Hard-boiled eggs

The possibilities are truly endless. The choices for your base are pretty endless, too. You could use spinach, kale, mustard greens, or Swiss chard. Plus, a salad is an excellent opportunity to get a large dose of the daily nutrients you need. 

Mediterranean Tuna Spinach Salad

Unfortunately, traditional chicken and tuna salad are loaded with processed, inflammatory-inducing ingredients like mayonnaise and dried fruit. Instead, try this healthytuna saladalternative that doesn’t sacrifice taste.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 5-ounce can of chunk light tuna in water or a fresh 4-ounce tuna filet cut into chunks
  • 1 ½ tbsp tahini
  • 1 ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 ½ tbsp water
  • 2 tbsp parsley
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 1 medium orange, peeled and segmented

To make the tuna salad, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, and water. Add the tuna and the parsley and stir to combine. Serve over the spinach and the orange and enjoy! Super easy, right? You could also substitute half a chicken breast for the tuna if you prefer. 

Buddha Bowl

Another extremely easy recipe that’s also extremely healthy is aBuddha Bowl

Bowls in general are great because, like salad, they’re versatile and you can use almost any ingredient over top a rice or ancient grain base. 

Here’s what you’ll need for the Buddha Bowl:

  • 1 cup brown or wild rice, or cooked quinoa
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

That’s for the base. Toppings can include:

  • 1 bunch of kale, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 orange, peeled and segmented
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

You definitely won’t need to be dipping into the snack drawer if you eat this for lunch every day!

To make this delicious, nutritious bowl, first prepare the rice (remember, a lot of this can be done on Sunday and then all you have to do is assemble the bowl either the night before or morning of work) by combining the rice, water, and garlic and bringing to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and let simmer for about 15 minutes or so. You want the rice to be tender but not mushy. If you’re using quinoa, rinse in a fine mesh sieve until water runs clear, then add water, cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside for 5 minutes before uncovering.

Once done, let the rice cool for about 5 to 10 minutes and then toss it with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, mint, salt, and pepper.

In a separate bowl, toss the kale with 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp rice vinegar. Divide the mixture between two food safe containers and top each one with 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds, half the orange slices, half the avocado slices, 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds and a hard-boiled egg. Season the egg with salt and pepper.

Again, when using rice or an ancient grain like quinoa or amaranth as a base, you can top it with almost anything, including:

  • Sweet potato
  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Scallions
  • Black beans
  • Mediterranean tuna or chicken salad
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Cucumbers
  • Red onion
  • Kale
  • Avocado
  • Watermelon radishes
  • Ground chicken or turkey

And once you’ve got your bowl combo down, you can add lots of beneficial spices like:

  • Ginger
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Cayenne
  • Black pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove

Roasted Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup

Soups are another great lunch option that break up the monotony of salad and can be prepped in advance. One of our favorites isRoasted Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 pound carrots, chopped into similar size pieces
  • 1 medium (about 1 ½ pounds) butternut squash, peeled and chopped into similar size pieces
  • ½ cup shallots, sliced
  • 2 tbsp avocado oil
  • 4 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

First, preheat the oven to 400°F. Then, place the carrots, butternut squash, and sliced shallots on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle with avocado oil and sprinkle with salt. 

Lightly toss this to coat, and roast for 30 minutes, or until the carrots and squash are tender when you poke them with a fork.

Once cooled slightly, transfer to a blender along with the water or vegetable stock, coconut milk, ginger, salt and pepper. If you have a smaller sized blender, you may need to do this in two batches. Or if you have an immersion blender, you can transfer the ingredients to a large bowl and blend them that way. You want to blend until smooth and creamy, adding additional stock or water to thin it if you need to.

You can garnish this soup with a drizzle of coconut milk, cilantro, pumpkin seeds or roasted chickpeas for a little extra crunch. 

Wrap-Up

In Part 2 of Dr. Nancy’sWhat to Cook series, we talked all about the importance of lunch. Almost every single person who takes time out of their work day to eat and either go for a walk, do some deep breathing, or practice some other form of self-care reported that they are more invested in the work that they do and they also feel more productive, creative, and energetic. 

Skipping lunch and not taking at least 30 to 60 minutes for a break in the middle of the day can lead to: 

  • Excess snacking throughout the day or overeating at dinner
  • Increased stress and anxiety levels, which can lead to chronic inflammation, obesity, and heart disease
  • Decreased productivity
  • Low energy
  • Brain fog
  • Depression

To make your life easy, do as much prep as you can on Sunday. Take an hour or two to wash and cut vegetables, hard boil some eggs, cook a few chicken breasts, or make a big vat of soup. 

Some healthy lunch options include salads and bowls that offer you a lot of versatility. Start with either a base that consists of some sort of green like spinach or kale, or a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice. Top with healthy, anti-inflammatory foods and spices like avocado, baked sweet potato, oranges, pumpkin seeds, almonds, beets, cucumbers, shallots, red onion, ginger, garlic, or turmeric. Let us know what yummy combos you come up with!

Be sure to tune in to Part 3 of this series where you’ll get lots of delicious dinner ideas!

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