Pack a Protein Lunch

Cook’s notes: Inspired in part by dietician Megan Kober’s article on Balancing Blood Sugar and Dana Shafir Wellness. I’m always looking for ideas on better ways to pack lunch. These are balanced meals that emphasize veggies over bread for the starch portion. Non-starchy vegetables are unlimited: eat all you want!

The formula

See the Building Blocks section below for details.

  • Protein: 1 serving = 20 to 30 grams / 1 serving for snacks and 1 to 2 servings per meal
  • Healthy Fats: 1 serving = 12 grams / 1 serving for snacks and 1 to 2 servings per meal
  • Fiber: at least 5 grams per meal. Mostly vegetables and fruit.

Sample meal: 3 to 4 oz. protein; 1 healthy fat; 1 to 2 vegetables (1/2 cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw vegetables); 1 fruit serving; and 1 optional starch (1/2 cup rice, quinoa, pasta, or potato).

Vegetarian

Black bean burrito, 1 oz. tortilla chips, 1/4 cup guacamole, 1/2 cup raw jicama slices, and 1 cup pineapple chunks.

Chili with beans (1 cup) and shredded cheese, 1 corn muffin, 1/2 cup cooked green beans, and 1/3 cup fruit salad.

Hummus platter: 2 Tablespoons Hummus, 1/2 whole-wheat pita, 1 oz. mozzarella cheese, 12 olives, 1 mini cucumber, 6 cherry tomatoes, and 1/2 cup grapes.

Quiche (1 slice), 12 baby carrots, 1 oz. pretzels with Greek yogurt dip, and 6 strawberries.

Quinoa platter: 1/2 cup quinoa mixed with 1/2 cup beans, 1/2 cup roasted veggies, 1/2 cup steamed broccoli, 1 to 2 Tablespoons vinaigrette, and 1 pear.

Chicken, Tuna, or Turkey

Chicken salad (3 to 4 oz.), 1 oz. cheese, 1 serving of crackers (2 g fiber minimum), 1 cup raw red bell pepper strips, 1 cup blueberries, and 1 oz. dark chocolate.

Mixed green salad with crackers: 2 cups mixed greens, 3 oz. chicken, 1 oz. cheese, 1/3 cup beans, 1 cup raw veggies, 6 black olives, and 2 Tablespoons vinaigrette. Add 1 cracker serving.

Mixed green salad with quinoa: 2 cups mixed greens, 3 oz. grilled chicken breast, 1/4 cup diced cucumbers, 1/4 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup black beans, 1/4 cup cooked quinoa, and 2 Tablespoons vinaigrette.

Sandwich (2 slices whole-grain bread spread with mustard, 3 to 4 oz. chicken or turkey, and 1 slice cheese). 1/2 cup coleslaw, 1 cup side salad with vinaigrette, and 1 banana.

Sandwich (3 to 4 oz. chicken or turkey) with avocado slices, grape tomatoes and bell pepper slices, and 1 cup of berries.

Stir fry: 3 to 4 oz. chicken, 1 cup cooked veggies, 1/2 cup brown rice topped with 1 oz. almonds.

Sweet potato: 1/2 baked sweet potato topped with 3 oz. diced chicken, BBQ sauce, 1 oz. cheese, and 1/4 cup black beans. Serve with 1 cup cooked spinach.

Taco salad: 2 cups mixed lettuce, sliced tomato, 1 oz. crushed tortilla chips, 3 oz. sautéed ground turkey, 1⁄2 cup black beans, 1 oz. cheddar cheese, salsa, and diced avocado.

Teriyaki chicken (3 to 4 oz.), 1/2 cup noodles, 1/2 cup sautéed spinach, 3/4 cup raw snow pea pods, and 1 orange.

Tuna salad (3 to 4 oz.) sandwich, 1/2 cup cooked zucchini, 6 cherry tomatoes, and 1 cup watermelon chunks. To make tuna salad, combine a 5 oz. can tuna, drained; 1 to 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt; 1.5 teaspoons lemon juice; 1 Tablespoon sweet relish; and salt and pepper to taste.

Turkey kielbasa or chicken sausage (3 to 4 oz.), 1/2 cup brown rice, 1 cup sautéed baby spinach and mushrooms, and 1 cup diced mango.

Turkey roll-up: Spread 1 whole wheat tortilla with 2 Tablespoons cream cheese, and top with 3 to 4 oz. sliced turkey. Roll up and slice. Serve with 12 baby carrots, 1 mini cucumber, and apple slices.

Turkey meatballs (3 oz.), 1/2 cup pasta with tomato sauce and shredded cheese, 1/2 cup sautéed spinach, 1 cup side salad with vinaigrette, and 1 peach.

 

Building Blocks

  • Protein: 1 serving = 20-30 grams / 1 serving for snacks and 1-2 servings per meal
    • Chicken or turkey, 3 to 4 oz.
    • Cottage cheese, 3/4 cup
    • Eggs, 3 each (or 6 egg whites or 3 to 4 oz. egg salad)
    • Greek yogurt, 1 cup
    • Salmon or other fish, 3 to 4 oz.
    • Shrimp, crab, or lobster, 3 to 4 oz.
    • Turkey bacon, 4 strips
    • Tuna packed in water (or tuna salad) 3 to 4 oz.
  • Healthy Fats: 1 serving = 12 grams / 1 serving for snacks and 1-2 servings per meal
    • Avocado, 1/2
    • Cheese, 1 oz.
    • Cream cheese, 2 Tablespoons
    • Guacamole, 1/4 cup
    • Hummus, 2 Tablespoons
    • Olives, 10 to 12 each
    • Nut butter, 1 Tablespoon
    • Nuts or seeds, 1 oz.
    • Vinaigrette dressing, 1 to 2 Tablespoons
  • Fiber: at least 5 grams per meal. Prefer produce over grains: add 2 vegetables and 1 piece of fruit to your lunch.
  • Vegetables
    • 12 baby carrots
    • 5 cherry tomatoes
    • 3/4 cup snow peas
    • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or vegetable juice
    • 1 cup soup
    •  

      1 cup raw vegetables

    • 1 cup leafy greens
    • 1 cup coleslaw
  • Fruits
    • 2 Tablespoons dried fruit — raisins or dried cherries
    • 4 dried apricots
    • 1/2 cup canned, fresh, or frozen fruit; or fruit salad
    • 1/2 cup cherries, grapes, or pineapple cubes
    • 1/2 cup unsweetened fruit juice
    • 1 cup berries
    • 1 cup melon
    • 1 medium piece of fresh fruit (4 oz.) apple, apricot, plums, nectarine, peach, pear)
  • Optional starches:
    • Bread (whole-grain), 2 slices
    • Beans, 1/2 cup
    • Corn, pasta, quinoa, or rice: 1/2 cup cooked
    • Crackers or tortilla chips, 1 oz.
    • Mini pretzels, 1.5 oz.
    • Pita pocket, 1/2
    • Rice cakes, 1 to 2 each
    • Sweet potato, 1/2 cup

Small-batch salad dressings:

  • Zone Dressing: Combine 2 Tablespoons water, 4 teaspoons rice vinegar, 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard, and 2 teaspoons jam without added sugar
  • Vinaigrette: 4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar; 2 Tablespoons olive oil; 1 Tablespoon mustard; salt and pepper; 2 cloves (1 teaspoon) minced garlic; and 1 teaspoon sweetener (honey, jam, or maple syrup)

 

 

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