Health

Nutrition: The secret to making sure you get a healthy lunch

Plan ahead and make sure you have a hearty bowl of soup for your lunches during the week
Plan ahead and make sure you have a hearty bowl of soup for your lunches during the week Plan ahead and make sure you have a hearty bowl of soup for your lunches during the week

WHAT are you munching for lunch? Are you one of those well-organised people who plan ahead to make sure your midday meal is packed with nutrition, or do you wing it? I think if we are honest, most people are a bit of both.

Monday comes around and we have great intentions of eating well, but when life gets busy, our nutritional intentions start to slide.

Ironically, that is just when we need to make sure we are optimising our nutrition. We have a higher demand for nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium and zinc when we are under stress and running in fight-or-flight mode.

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Planning is the secret to good nutrition. That doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the kitchen slaving over meal prep at the weekends, but it does need a little bit of thought. You will be better nourished, and better off than relying on M&S sandwiches or the corner café if you can plan ahead.

1. MAKE TWO LUNCHES A WEEK

To feed yourself well Monday to Friday, all it takes is two meal preps. Make enough to do two or three days and you’ve cracked it. Rustle up a pot of soup on a Sunday to have Monday and Tuesday, and make a seasonal super salad on Tuesday evening for lunches on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

2. PLAN AROUND YOUR PROTEIN

Make sure you are eating a decent portion of protein at lunchtime to help stop the mid-afternoon energy slump. That could be leftover meat or chicken from last night’s dinner with your salad, eggs in mini frittatas or hard boiled, adding beans or lentils to your soup, or topping your seasonal salads and soups with seeds, feta or a dollop of natural yoghurt. Aim for a palm sized portion, or the equivalent of 25-30g protein with your lunch. Use an app like myfitnesspal to check you are getting enough.

3. REMEMBER THAT LUNCH IS A MAIN MEAL

Lunch isn't a snack, so make it substantial enough to give you enough energy to get through the rest of your working day.

4. LOAD UP ON VEG

Pack in a couple of portions of vegetables (salads, soups, veg sticks) to get two of your five-a-day quota ticked off the list.

5. CHECK YOUR CARBS

White bread, white pasta and wraps will leave your energy crashing and trigger cravings for sugary junk food later in the afternoon, so make the swap to low GI, higher fibre options. Fill up on fibre and use ready-to-eat grains like steamed brown rice, ready-cooked quinoa or lentils as the base for salads. Swap bread to oatcakes and houmous as an accompaniment to your soups and use wholemeal pitta pockets instead of wraps to improve your nutrition.

Here are some simple ideas to shake up your lunchtimes:

:: Seasonal salads with beetroot, shredded kale or red cabbage, grated carrot, chopped apple, red onion. Add some herbs like parsley or fresh mint and add a dressing – cider vinegar with olive oil and a teaspoonful of mustard would work. Add a pop of protein and you are good to go. Try different combinations – beetroot, carrot and orange with feta, or kale, apple and carrot work well.

:: Make a pot of soup once a week. Use fresh or frozen veggies and get creative with flavourings and toppings. Add pulses for protein and serve with a topping of herby toasted seeds for a flavour bomb and an extra protein point.

:: Use your muffin tin to make a dozen mini egg muffins. Chop, slice or dice any veg you like – try sun-dried tomatoes with red onion, parsley and broccoli. Top with a little grated cheese, bake for 15mins or so until cooked through and golden and pack three or four into your lunchbox with some of that leftover seasonal salad. These freeze well too.

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