Nutritionists share the perfect equation for how to make a delicious and satisfying lunch that will help you lose weight—plus lunchtime mistakes to avoid
Lunchtime! You know scarfing down a burger and fries isn't the best choice if you're trying to slim down, but how do you know what is? We've enlisted the expertise of two nutritionists—Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D., of C&J Nutrition—to share the perfect equation for how to make a delicious and satisfying lunch that will help you lose weight. Follow their advice below to start seeing results.
If you're trying to lose weight, aim for the 400-to-450 range. If you're trying to maintain your weight, especially if you work out, aim closer to 500 calories.
Go for the gold and get 20 to 30 grams of protein, which is about 17 to 25 percent of your lunch calories. A healthy dose of midday protein will help prevent the dreaded afternoon slump and will keep you feeling satisfied post-lunch so you're less likely to reach for sugary pick-me-ups.
Shoot for at least eight grams of fiber, which is 30 percent of the daily recommended total of 25 grams per day. Including fiber-rich carbohydrates (whole grains, starchy veggies, and fruit) and fiber-containing fats (nuts and seeds) will help you reach your fiber goals.
Yes, you need to eat carbs! Go for 50 to 65 grams, which is 45 to 55 percent of your lunch calories. Carbs offer your brain and your body energy, so skimping can leave you feeling sluggish. Overdoing it can also have the same affect, so stick to this range. Avoid refined carbs, like foods made with white flour and white sugar, and go for whole grains, whole grain breads and pastas, and starchy veggies and fruits.
Healthy lunches should have four grams of sugar or fewer, but if you enjoy foods that contain natural sugars (like grapes or dried cranberries in your salad, sweet potato or squash in soups, whole pieces of fruit, or natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey in sauces or dressings), then aim for fewer than 20 grams of sugar. Be mindful of the hidden sugars in certain products like sandwich bread; read labels, and choose those without added sugars.
Including healthy fats in your lunch makes your meal more satisfying, so strive for 13 to 18 grams, which is 30 to 35 percent of your total lunch calories. Including healthful sources like nuts, seeds, oils, avocado, and olives can help beat sugar cravings later.
Enjoy your lunch about one to three hours after your morning snack. If you eat breakfast around 7:30 and your morning snack around 10, aim to eat lunch around 12. Or if you like to exercise at noon, enjoy your lunch when you get back around 1. If you tend to forget to eat because you're so busy, set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to stop and nosh!
A Few Examples of Perfect Lunches
Photo: Jenny Sugar
Sesame Ginger Quinoa Salad with Vanilla Greek Yogurt (5.3 ounces) and Blueberries (1/4 cup):
Total fat: 13.6 g
Saturated fat: 1.7 g
Carbs: 58.4 g
Fiber: 8.1 g
Sugars: 20.2 g
Protein: 28.1 g
Photo: Lizzie Fuhr
Spinach Feta Wrap with a Pear and Raw Almonds (14):
Total fat: 19.5 g
Saturated fat: 5.1 g
Carbs: 54.1 g
Fiber: 12.2 g
Sugars: 20.4 g
Protein: 20.5 g
Photo: Jenny Sugar
Butternut Squash Lentil Soup with a Slice of Whole Wheat Bread Smeared with Avocado (1/4 fruit):
Total fat: 9.5 g
Saturated fat: 1.6 g
Carbs: 67 g
Fiber: 22.4 g
Sugars: 20.2 g
Protein: 22.3 g
Greek-Yogurt Chicken Salad on a Whole Wheat Pita With an Apple and Salted Cashews (10):
Total fat: 14.1 g
Saturated fat: 3.2 g
Carbs: 63.8 g
Fiber: 10.1 g
Sugars: 22.5 g
Protein: 29.7 g
Lunch Mistakes to Avoid
1. Waiting until you're famished. Busy schedules can make hitting that midday meal tough, but avoid heading to lunch when you're starving. Not only will you inhale your lunch quickly and reach for more food because your body hasn't had time to register that it's full, but also, it can also throw off your natural hunger and fullness cues for the rest of the afternoon, which can lead to eating more later in the day.
2. Eating out. Do you know how many calories are in that soup and salad you ordered from the cafe? It seems like a healthy lunch, but hidden high-calorie ingredients could make your lunch well over 600 calories. Pack lunch from home so you know exactly how much you're eating.
3. Not taking a break. When you mindlessly gobble down your lunch while doing something else like working or watching TV, your mind will be too distracted to be able to fully register each bite, so you'll tend to take in or crave more calories. Get away from your desk, get outside, or eat lunch with a friend.