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)




Mild Guacamole and a Southwest Babe Bowl

img_1757Cook’s notes: Sometimes guacamole with a lot of garlic and jalapeno is tough to digest. Lime juice is more authentic, but we only had lemon juice, and it still turned out well. This perfectly mild version is delicious and easy.

Serves 8

  • 4 ripe Hass avocados, halved and pitted
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1.5 teaspoons dried cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Scoop the avocados and place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the avocado halves. Toss to coat with lemon juice. Sprinkle the dried cilantro and salt over the avocados. Using a fork, mash until a smooth consistency is achieved. Taste the guacamole “(over and over)” and adjust seasoning if necessary. Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator. Stir before serving.

The next day, you can use the guacamole as part of an “Ultimate Babe Bowl” (balanced macro bowl) from Megan Kober, who is a registered dietician. “The whole purpose of a Babe Bowl is being able to pack loads of vegetables, fiber-packed starchy vegetables or grains, healthy fats and lots of protein into one meal,” Kober says.

Southwest Babe Bowl

Place the ingredients in a bowl, mix, and eat.

  • Protein | 4 oz. rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed and meat cut into chunks
  • Healthy Fats | 1/4 cup mild guacamole
  • Vegetables | 2 cups baby spinach
  • Starchy Carbohydrates | 1/2 cup black beans (rinsed and drained) and 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • Bonus Bites | 1 to 2 Tablespoons homemade salad dressing, such as Small Batch Italian Dressing

Adapted from Chipotle — The Not-So-Secret Guac Recipe and The Nutrition Addiction

Chicken Casserole with Tortilla Chips

Cook’s notes: My sweetheart made a huge batch of Mexican-style slow cooker stew with chicken, black beans, corn, red pepper, and cilantro. We had a 4-quart cooking pot full of delicious stew, but there are only two of us in the house. I turned the leftovers into a casserole for a potluck dinner with friends.

Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a 13×9-inch baking dish evenly with cooking spray, then scatter 1.5 cups of crushed tortilla chips evenly on the bottom.

Cook 1 bag frozen brown rice, and spread cooked rice over the tortilla chip pieces.

Spoon leftover chicken and sweet potato stew in a thick layer over the rice.

Sprinkle about 3/4 cup (6 oz.) shredded Mexican cheese over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from My Favorite Mexican Casserole recipe |

Roasted and Pickled Beets

beetsCook’s notes: the beets are so good this way, but the dressing — oh my! Delicious.

3 medium beets, scrubbed and trimmed

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Coat beets lightly with olive oil.
  3. Wrap beets in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until cooked through, approximately 45 to 60 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes, and then peel and dice.
  5. Drizzle with the balsamic-maple dressing.

3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Adapted from Roasted and Pickled Beets Recipe – and a beet recipe by Bobby Flay

Black Bean and Quinoa Salad

Cook’s notes
: This excellent recipe is adapted from the Pam Anderson formula for bean and grain salads.

2 cups cooked quinoa
15-oz. can canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup canned corn, drained
1 cup diced tomato
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
4 thin-sliced scallions
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
Dressing: 1/3 cup of your favorite vinaigrette: lemon vinaigrette

Following package instructions, cook the quinoa and place in a large bowl.

Add beans, veggies, cheese, and herbs to bowl.

When ready to serve, drizzle salad with your favorite vinaigrette and toss to coat.

Small batch version

  • 1/2 cup cooked grains
  • 1/2 cup beans
  • 3/4 cup veggies
  • 1/8 cup cheese
  • 1 scallion
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbs
  • 4 teaspoons dressing

Adapted from A Formula for Bean and Grain Salads — Three Many Cooks

Pitcher of Arnold Palmers (Lemonade-Iced Tea)

1LemonCook’s notes: Inspired the claim that “A true Arnold Palmer isn’t made with equal parts iced tea and lemonade; in fact, it’s three parts iced tea to one part lemonade” (link). The lemonade in this recipe is made with reduced sugar.

Combine the following in a 2-quart pitcher:

  • 6 cups strong tea, brewed with 6 tea bags in 6 cups hot water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1.5 cups hot water

Apple Harvest Salad with Maple-Balsamic Dressing

Maple Salad DressingCook’s notes: I made this salad recently for a Grilled Cheese Housewarming Party. The hosts asked everyone to bring a kind of grilled cheese sandwich or a compatible dish. It’s a pretty salad … and it goes well with grilled cheese. The recipe is easily cut in half.

6 cups mixed green lettuce
6 cups butter lettuce
1 Braeburn apple, cored and diced
1 Granny smith apple, cored and diced
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Maple-Balsamic Dressing
1 cup olive oil
6 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine the salad ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.

Put all the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-sealing lid. Close the lid firmly and shake vigorously to combine.


Pumpkin Pie Spiced Milk

pumpkin-vintage-color-1475656833nqoCook’s notes: Used plant-based milk and cut the sugar. Use any kind of milk you like: 2% cow, whole milk, almond milk, etc. Makes a wonderful holiday drink.

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Milk

  • 1 cup coconut milk (in a carton, not canned)
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (recipe below)

Heat the milk in a mug (60 – 90 seconds in microwave). Stir in sugar and spices. Blend well and serve warm.

Pumpkin Pie Spice from Dessert for Two. Blend together and keep in a small jar:

  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Adapted from Kid-Friendly Chai Tea | Horizon

Pear & Chickpea Salad with Lemon Dressing

pearchickpeasaladlemon dressing: whisk together

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried scallion
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried herbs
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper



  • 2 cups mixed greens
  • 1/2 ripe pear, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted almonds
  • 1 Tablespoon crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon dressing (above)

Tip from Love and Lemons: In a small bowl, toss the chickpeas with a bit of the dressing and some salt and pepper. Marinating the chickpeas for a few minutes helps them become more flavorful.

Toss all of the salad ingredients together with as much dressing as you like. Season to taste. Add a bit more feta cheese, if you like.

Adapted from Pear & Arugula Chickpea Salad Recipe – Love and Lemons

Custom Chicken Soup

Chicken SoupCook’s notes: This soup was delicious. It does make quite a bit, but the recipe could be easily halved. The original recipe said “serves 4”, but it’s more like 8 to 12 hearty servings. This is adapted from Pam Anderson’s “Supper Soup Formula.” I customized the recipe by selecting the veggies and starch. It’s a wonderful soup with good flavor. I did have to add more chicken broth the next day to thin it out.

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin and bones removed. Cut into pieces to yield 1 lb. diced cooked chicken
  • 1 lb. vegetables:
    • 1 can (15 oz.) corn, rinsed and drained, yields about 10 oz.
    • 10 oz. or so shredded cole slaw (cabbage and carrot mix)
  • 1 quart (32 oz.) chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes (from a can)
  • 1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 teaspoons dried herb mix
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 20 minutes.

Adapted from Supper Soup Recipe : Food Network