If you’re one of the many people concerned about eating too much these days, particularly afternoon and evening snacking, I have one question for you: Are you eating enough for lunch? (Breakfast matters too, but I’m just focusing on lunch today.)
Eating more than you’re comfortable with is a complicated problem with many possible drivers — stress and other emotions, restrictive dieting, overloaded to-do lists, inadequate rest, pantries full of tempting treats — but physical hunger can pour fuel on that fire, so let’s address that and at least start by making sure you’re well nourished.
What if you don’t feel like cooking at noon? Join the club. I rarely feel like cooking lunch! Preparing one good meal a day is enough for me, thank you very much. We almost always just reheat leftovers for lunch (usually supplemented with raw veggies and fruit). But what if you have none?
Here are three solutions that work in our house:
1. Big batch of chili or hearty soup
Cook once, eat twice, right? When you make soup or chili, double it and you can cook once and eat three or four times at least, depending on the size of your batch and your brood. Invest in a collection of single serving storage containers so that you can freeze it in those and always be five minutes from from a warm, satisfying meal.
Chili is perfect for quarantine, because the key ingredients are shelf stable. Beans provide protein and fibre, two things often in short supply at lunch, so you can skip or cut back on the meat if you like. Soup is a flexible vehicle for vegetables, whole grains, and protein.
Either way, make sure you have enough protein. For meat, fish, or chicken, we’re looking for about 60-90 grams (~2-3 ounces) — the old deck-of-cards serving size.
If you’re relying on beans or other legumes, 3/4 cup (cooked) would be ideal. But that’s a lot! If you can’t stomach that much, complement with some shredded cheese on top, a slice of sprouted grain toast with peanut butter, or a greek yogurt. (Here’s more about how to get enough protein in your meatless meals.)
Our favourites include:
- Turkey Chili with Barley from Julie Van Rosendaal,
- Black Bean Salsa Soup (from my cookbook),
- Creamy Butternut Squash Soup from Energize Nutrition,
- West African Peanut Stew from Budget Bytes:
2. Kitchen sink wraps
If you keep large tortillas on hand, you can easily turn random fridge finds into lunch. Look for tortillas where the first ingredient includes the phrase “whole grain,” “sprouted grain,” or at least “whole wheat.” Again, combining protein-rich foods and vegetables (or fruit) is key here, as well as lots of flavour!
If you have time and patience, warm your wrap in a frying pan set on medium heat for a crispier, warmer treat. Also, wrap pro tip: this is too much filling! But if you warm up the tortilla before rolling it, it’ll be more flexible. Just 20 seconds in the microwave will do the trick.
Some of our favourite combinations:
- Hummus and feta with fresh lettuce or spinach, shaved carrots, and/or whatever other vegetables you can drum up, plus sunflower or pumpkin seeds for crunch.
- Leftover salmon with cream cheese, corn, green onions, and/or avocado.
- Peanut butter and banana with chopped walnuts, plus sliced strawberries and/or raspberries if you have any on hand.
- Black beans, corn, salsa, chopped tomato, avocado, and cilantro.
- Eggs, cheddar cheese, salsa, spinach. Why not have breakfast at lunchtime?
These are just to give you ideas though – just improvise with what you have, and enjoy!
3. “More than salad” bowls
People often go for salads at lunchtime, but when I look at food records I often see not quite enough protein and/or grains in them. You might think skipping grains will help you keep the calories and therefore your weight down, but while it works for some people in the short run, for many this strategy will leave you hungry and hunting for more later in the day.
So instead of salad, think “bowl”:
- Start with about 1/2-1 cup of cooked whole grain like farro, brown rice, or quinoa.
- Then go hunting for vegetables. Add a handful of whatever greens you have on hand. Longer lasting vegetables that work in bowls include cabbage, carrots, and beets. Try shredding, shaving, or spiralizing them. A fun texture makes such a difference with raw veggies.
- Next, what do you have for protein? Cooked chicken or fish? Chickpeas, slivered almonds, or fried tofu?
- Finally, make sure you have something for flavour! Cheese, avocado, olives, chopped pickled vegetables, or sun-dried tomatoes. Don’t forget the fruit drawer! Chopped apples, grapes, or orange slices add sweetness and crunch.
- If you like, drizzle on some kind of dressing. Dressings with tahini in them pull bowls together well. Salsa or hummus works too.
If you like a recipe, here are a few that we love:
- The iconic Glory Bowl, from Whitewater Cooks
- The Big Vegan Bowl, from Oh She Glows
- Protein Power Goddess Bowl, from Oh She Glows
Again, don’t worry if you don’t have some of those ingredients on hand. They’re just meant for inspiration. Improvise away!
For more simple lunch ideas, take a peek at my Budget-friendly meals for when you *really* don’t feel like cooking.
What’s on your lunch menu? Nourish yourself! You can’t conquer the world if you’re underfed. Snap a pic and share in the Facebook community. And happy eating!