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


Nut-free Snacks with Protein


Cook’s notes: Here is a list of snacks that are balanced with carbs and protein but don’t rely on nuts. I’m not allergic to nuts, but it’s nice to have nut-free snacks. I put nuts in my morning smoothie and don’t always want to eat them again in the same day. Hard-boiled eggs are also high in protein, but I can’t stand their texture, so they are not listed here.


Pick one dairy or protein serving: Match with one fruit, veggie, or grain:
1 oz. cheese (2 Babybel cheeses, 1 Laughing Cow wedge, 1 string cheese) 1 cup berries, blueberries, cherries, grapes, or pineapple chunks
Black beans with salsa, 1 cup 1 piece of fruit: apple, banana, nectarine, orange, or peach
Canned tuna, 3 oz. 2 small fruits: Mandarin oranges, plums
Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup Applesauce, 1/2 cup (unsweetened)
Cream cheese, 2 Tbsp. Dried fruit (1 oz.): 9 apple chips, 4 dried apricots, 1/3 cup dried fruit, or 2 Tbsp. Craisins or raisins
Deli turkey, 2 oz. 1 low-fat [black bean] brownie
Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup Bread: 1/2 bagel, 1 corn muffin, 1 slice whole-wheat bread, 1 English muffin, 1/2 pita pocket
Hummus, 2 Tbsp. Plain oatmeal, 1/2 cup
Low-fat milk, 1 cup Popcorn, 3 cups
Roasted chickpeas, 1/2 cup Tortilla chips, 10 each
Sunflower seed butter, 2 Tbsp. Whole-wheat Fig Newton cookies, 2 each
Sunflower seeds, 3 Tbsp. 1 cup raw veggies: Baby carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper, or sugar snap peas
Turkey jerky, 1 oz. 1/2 cup cooked veggies or baked sweet potato

Sample combinations:

  • 1 cheese stick with 1 serving of crackers
  • 1 cup lowfat milk with 1 banana
  • 1 Laughing Cow cheese wedge and 1 cup raw red bell pepper strips
  • 1 oz. Brie with 1 cup cherries
  • 1 oz. cheddar cheese and 1 cup grapes
  • 1 oz. turkey jerky and 1 orange
  • 1 string cheese with 3 whole-wheat crackers
  • 1/2 bagel [or 1 rice cake] with 2 Tbsp. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup black beans with salsa and 10 tortilla chips
  • 1/2 cup roasted chickpeas with 1/2 cup baked sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese and 1/2 cup pineapple chunks
  • 1/2 cup plain oatmeal with 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup berries
  • 2 Tablespoons hummus with 1 cup baby carrots
  • Half sandwich: 1 slice whole-wheat bread topped with mustard and 2 oz. turkey or chicken
  • 2 ounces deli turkey, 1 ounce aged cheese, 1 cup mini pearl grape tomatoes, and 4 pitted Kalamata olives (EatingWell:  October/November 2005)
  • Mix 3 oz. canned salmon with low-fat mayonnaise, and eat with 1 serving of whole-wheat crackers


Slow Cooker Turkey Breast

Cook’s notes: It’s really easy to make half a turkey breast (bone-in) in a slow cooker. I looked at several recipes on line, and they all agreed. This turned out well.

Note: The turkey breast must be thawed, not frozen.

  1. Rinse turkey breast and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Rub olive oil over both sides of the turkey breast. Be careful of the bones on the cut side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Season with chicken dry rub.
  4. Place turkey breast meaty side up, in slow cooker.
  5. Cover and cook on low 8 hours, or until the minimum internal temperature is 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
  6. Remove from slow cooker and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.
Menu: We served the turkey with buttermilk biscuits, green beans, and roasted sweet potato.

Recipe Roundup: Tried and Liked for Oct 2014

Cook’s notes: Here is a selection of recipes from other cooks that I tried out — these are good, no changes needed. Go to the original site, linked below, for the recipe and to see their photos.

Beets and Greens (link)
As the orginal recipe writer said, “This is a great way to use every part of the fresh beets you buy. You can get two delicious side dishes out of this one vegetable.” Sautee the greens in olive oil with 2 crushed garlic cloves and salt and pepper. Finish with maple vinegar to keep the greens from getting too bitter.

Chinese Chicken Coleslaw Stir Fry (link)
We had a bag of shredded cabbage, and I wanted to make something besides coleslaw. This is an easy weeknight dinner from The Weary Chef blog. Leftovers taste great the next day. We served this over steam-in-bag frozen brown rice pilaf, to get a few more veggies in.

Parmesan-crusted Tilapia (link)
I’m learning to cook more varieties of fish. This one has a light cheese coating. Serve with rice and broccoli.

Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Truffles (link)
Made for me by a coworker; the coconut flavor really comes through in a nice way. Delicious!

Roasted sausages (link)
Jamie Oliver has a great recipe for roasted sausages on a rack — it took more than 20 minutes in our oven, but this is a very easy recipe. As he says, “You don’t have to worry too much about browning them on all sides as you can let the oven do the work and you don’t need to keep turning them.” Just roast them until they are no longer pink inside.

Rosemary Garlic Chicken Rub (link)
We used the “All-Purpose Spice Rub” recipe with 4 teaspoons rosemary and 2 teaspoons oregano (instead of 3 teaspoons each) to make Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker — it’s an incredible blend of flavors. I also tried this rub on the Simple Bone-in Turkey Breast with a 2.5 lb turkey breast.

  • 4 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Menu: Rosemary Garlic Chicken, steamed sweet potatoes (made in microwave), Beets and Greens (link above) made with maple vinegar and diced apple, blanched green beans

Spaghetti squash in the microwave (link)
Very simple, didn’t heat up the whole house, and this method is quite clever. It doesn’t require you to set the two halves side by side: “cook any size spaghetti squash in half the usual space and doesn’t require plastic wrap at all.”

Trader Joe’s Albondigas (Meatball Soup) based on chowhound discussion (link)
Combine in a saucepan: 1 box (32 oz.) low-sodium chicken broth; 1 jar salsa (12 to 16 oz., any flavor); 1 can (15 oz.) black beans with their juice, do not rinse; and 1 bag frozen turkey meatballs. Simmer until meatballs are heated through. Cut meatballs into 8 pieces and return to soup. Serve hot with shredded cheese and tortilla chips. Optional garnish: diced avocado and lime wedges.

Weeknight Menu: Roasted Sausages, Broccoli, and Apple Coleslaw

Cook’s notes: This is an easy weeknight recipe, perfect for the autumn season. I wanted to try a coleslaw recipe that was low in added sugar and didn’t have mayonnaise or a lot of oil in it. The original recipe called for 2 Tablespoons of sugar; I cut this down to 1/2 teaspoon. However, with the addition of the apple, you could omit it altogether.

Jamie Oliver has a great recipe for roasted sausages on a rack — it took more than 20 minutes in our oven, but this is a very easy recipe. Just roast them until they are no longer pink inside.

The broccoli recipe is one we rely on a lot. You can roast the broccoli at the same time as the sausages.


  • Roasted sausages, any flavor; we had mild Italian chicken sausage with basil
  • Oven-roasted broccoli for two
  • Honey-mustard sauce for dipping sausage pieces (recipe below)
  • Apple Coleslaw (recipe below)

Honey Mustard Sauce

This sauce has a reduced amount of honey and lots of mustard. Place all ingredients in a container with a secure lid, and shake to combine. Store the leftover dressing in the refrigerator.

1/4 cup olive oil (4 Tablespoons)
3 Tablespoons vinegar [any kind]
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Apple Coleslaw

1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bag shredded coleslaw mix (about 16 oz)
1 large apple, cored and diced (such as Braeburn)

Make the vinaigrette: In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. (Whisk in optional 1/2 teaspoon sugar.) Toss the vinaigrette with the coleslaw; stir in the diced apple.

Board Game Menus: Dinner or Snacks

Here are two easy menus for 6 people to eat while playing board games.


Lasagna Dinner Menu

This easy dinner menu features prepared lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and garlic bread — just bake them in the oven while you play the first round. The lasagna can be either with beef or vegetables, depending on your guests’ preferences. Dinner is hearty, so you don’t need a lot of appetizers or dessert. You could add green beans to the menu.

  • Pre-dinner nibbles: Vegetable tray with dip
  • Lasagna
  • Eggplant parmesan
  • Garlic bread
  • Mixed green salad with assorted dressings
  • Chocolate-covered almonds
  • Lemon bars

Afternoon Snacks Menu

This finger-food menu is designed for when you don’t need to serve a main course.

  • Whipped Feta Dip (link)
  • Hummus
  • Pita bread wedges
  • Cucumber slices
  • Baby-cut carrots
  • Assorted olives
  • Honey-cinnamon Pecans
  • Brownies