Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: What's in your lunch box?

Jane McClenaghan – a lunchtime menu that's packed with nutrition will help maintain and sustain your energy levels throughout the working day Picture: Mal McCann
Jane McClenaghan

IS YOUR lunch box packed with good nutrition, or is it the same boring thing week in, week out? Forget soggy sandwiches and limp lettuce, it’s time to give our lunchboxes a makeover. Fresh, vibrant salads and hearty, warming soups can turn a boring lunch into something worth taking a break for.

:: Prepare and plan

The key to eating well Monday to Friday is preparation and a little bit of planning. Most of us are busy enough today without having to think about tomorrow too. So if you can spare half an hour twice a week making some nutritious and delicious lunches you can enjoy a whole new lunchtime menu that is packed with nutrition and will help maintain and sustain your energy levels (and maybe even help to curb chocolate cravings!) throughout the afternoon.

For me, Sundays and Wednesdays work best, so I try to make something on Sunday that will do lunchtime on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then Wednesday’s prep is for Thursday and Friday.

:: Strike a balance

When you are thinking about what you want for lunch, spare a thought for the nutritional balance. If you find that you tend to slump around 3pm, it could be down to what’s in your lunch box (or what’s not in your lunch box).

Think protein first of all. Sufficient protein may help support energy levels and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Aim for about a palm-sized portion.

Choose from:


meat and poultry


nuts and seeds


pulses (peas, beans, lentils)

natural or Greek yoghurt

cheese (cottage, goat’s or feta)


Next think about getting at least two of your five a day. Maybe a flask of homemade soup, a great big fresh salad, or simply some raw veg sticks like carrots, pepper, sugar snap peas or chopped broccoli. Pack as much colour into your lunch as you can.

Add some slow release carbohydrates like oatcakes, wholegrain rice, wholemeal pitta and a little bit of good fat (oily fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, humous or avocado) and you are good to go.

Lunch box ideas

Here are some ideas for your batch cooking this weekend:

:: Soups - remember to add in some leftover chicken or pulses to get enough protein in there. Make a thick, hearty soup to fill you up, and make enough so you can freeze any leftovers.

:: Frittata - layer any vegetables you like into a casserole dish. Check out my recipe below for an idea.

:: Wholemeal pitta pockets packed with mackerel, salmon, houmous or leftover chicken, fresh green salad leaves, grated carrot, alfalfa sprouts or scallions and a little mustard or mayo.

If all else fails and you are there is nothing in the fridge for lunch, then a pot of houmous, some oatcakes and a handful of raw veg sticks is a great filler.

Recipe of the week

Spinach, Red Pepper & Cottage Cheese Fritatta

(Serves 4-6)

Olive oil, for greasing

1 red onion, finely sliced

1 red pepper, sliced

100g spinach

6 eggs

300g cottage cheese

1 pack fresh parsley

Fresh green salad to serve

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Lightly grease a 20cm square tin or casserole dish. Layer the sliced onion, peppers and spinach in the dish and place in the oven for 10 minutes to soften.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the cottage cheese. Chop the parsley and add to the egg mixture.

Take the vegetables out of the oven and pour the egg mixture over. Bake for a further 20-25 minutes, or until just set. Leave to cool a little before cutting into slices and serving with a fresh green salad.

:: More from Jane at

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