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).


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)




5×5 Lunches


Photo courtesy

Cook’s notes: I saw some lovely bento box photos on Pinterest and started jotting notes. All of the lunches had 5 common elements, which means they could easily go into a table. Each row represents the original meal. Mix and match to create new lunches.

(“Five by five” is a phrase I first heard on the show Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It comes from radio communications and means “the best possible quality and strength.”)

There are several vegetarian options, and all of the lunches are nut-free.

Protein Starch Veggie Fruit Dessert
Turkey Kielbasa Brown rice Sliced cucumbers Diced mango Yogurt pretzels
Deli turkey roll-up Pretzels Baby carrots Apple slices Macaroon
Cubed chicken Cheese and crackers Red bell pepper strips Blueberries Dark chocolate
Teriyaki chicken Noodles Pea pods Orange slices Chocolate raisins
Tuna salad Potato salad Zucchini Watermelon Carrot cake
Hummus Pita triangles Cherry tomatoes Grapes Cookie
Quesadilla Tortilla chips Guacamole Jicama slices Pineapple chunks
Quinoa salad with veggies Popcorn Steamed broccoli Pear Brownie


Turkey Chili for Two

IMG_0677Cook’s notes: This hearty chili is very satisfying. I was happy to find a great chili recipe that makes only a small batch. It’s perfect for lunch. In addition to using turkey instead of beef, I added a little cinnamon. Serve 1 cup turkey chili with shredded cheese.


1/2 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 roasted garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dried shallot
1 can (14-1/2 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (16 oz.) chili beans in sauce, undrained [mix of kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans]
1.5 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt

In a large saucepan, cook turkey and onion over medium heat until meat no longer pink. Add garlic; cook one minute longer. Drain.

Stir in the remaining ingredients; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through.

Source: Adapted from Taste of Home (link).

Tuna Salad for Two

IMG_0681Cook’s notes: Adapted from a really great tuna salad recipe on Allrecipes. The original post says, “The secret ingredients are curry and Parmesan cheese.” This is a great recipe. It’s much more interesting than a standard tuna salad, and it’s not all gooped up with mayo.

I have scaled the recipe to use a 5-oz can of tuna (about 4 oz. drained) and cut back on the mayo.

Serves two.


5 oz. can of tuna (packed in water), drained
2 Tablespoons mayo
2 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish (any brand without corn syrup)
2 teaspoons shredded Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons Italian Herb mix
1/8 teaspoon (dash) curry powder
1/8 teaspoon (dash) dried shallots
1/16 teaspoon (pinch) garlic powder

Flake the tuna with a fork and mix all ingredients together until well-blended.

Review: Two Balsamic salad dressings with Greek Yogurt

IMG_0678Cook’s notes: A simple combination that brings nice flavor to a veggie snack. The Greek yogurt makes a thick dip, and the Balsamic makes it tangy.

Mix together 1/3 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (plain) and 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Stir well until fully combined. Chill. Serve with baby carrots, cucumber slices, red pepper strips, or other raw veggies.

Source: Adapted from an article on yogurt-based dips.


For a similar dressing with a thinner texture that’s great drizzled on a salad, make Creamy Balsamic Greek Yogurt Vinaigrette: blend 1/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt (plain), 1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar, 1/8 cup olive oil, 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard, and 1 Tablespoon honey. Add salt and pepper to taste. It’s too thin to use as a dip, but it’s superb on a salad. I had this dressing recently on a salad with mixed baby greens, shredded cheddar, brown rice, chickpeas, shredded carrots, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, and sliced black olives.

Snacks without Nuts

Cook’s notes: It’s easy to get into a snack rut, for me, of 1 apple with 1 oz. cheddar for my afternoon snack. Plan ahead, so you don’t just grab some chips from the vending machine. Adding produce to snacks is an easy way to improve your daily eating.

Here are some templates with fruits and vegetables to make planning snacks easier.

  • 1 oz. cheddar and 1/2 cup grapes
  • 1 oz. cheese and 2 slices deli turkey
  • 1 oz. cheese, 1 serving crackers, and 1 mini cucumber
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese with 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup yogurt with 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup black beans, 1 oz. cheese, and 1 corn tortilla with salsa
  • 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds with 1 oz. turkey jerky
  • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal with 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup raw veggies with 1/4 cup hummus
  • 1 cup chocolate milk and 1 banana


Fruit choices: Match with 1 oz. cheese, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup cottage cheese or yogurt, 2 graham crackers, or 1 oz. turkey jerky.

1/4 cup raisins
2 Fig Newton cookies
1 apple
1 banana
1 pear
2 mandarin oranges
1/2 cup blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries
1/2 cup seedless grapes
1 cup cherries

Vegetable choices: Match with 1 oz. cheese, 1 serving of crackers, 1/4 cup hummus, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, 1/2 cup bean salad, 1/2 cup roasted chickpeas, 2 slices deli turkey, or 2 cups popcorn. Vegetables are also tasty with Russian Dressing Dip, which is made with Greek yogurt.

1 mini cucumber
1/2 cup marinated beets
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
1/2 cup raw veggies
1/2 cup red bell pepper
1/2 cup roasted squash
10 snow pea pods
12 baby carrots
12 cherry tomatoes

Quinoa and Chickpea Salad

Multigrain salad with beans and a lemon-cumin dressing

Multigrain salad with beans and a lemon-cumin dressing

Cook’s notes: I made this salad for our first Vegan Potluck club at work. Serves at least 4 people.

2 bags of Minute Rice multigrain medley (link): equivalent to 6 oz. raw quinoa / 4 servings when cooked

4 oz. (4 cups) baby spinach, wilted in a skillet with a little extra-virgin olive oil

15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, drained

Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette
Adapted from Chris Scheuer (changed honey to maple syrup)

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz.) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook the multigrain medley or quinoa according to package directions. Meanwhile, cook the spinach.

Combine the cooked grains, spinach, chickpeas, and tomato.

Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Cover and shake vigorously until well combined.

Pour the vinaigrette over the mixture and stir to combine.

DISCLOSURE: This post is not sponsored by anyone. I paid for any products listed here and liked using them. This is my personal blog, and I am not compensated to create posts.