As we busily work away, whether at home or in the office, lunch needs to be ready, healthy and nutritious enough to help support your afternoon energy for the rest of the day. Here are some tips to help you with this.
Nutrients to include in your lunch
A helpful way of organising the proportions of your food is to picture a plate. Half of this should be filled with vegetables and fruit, a quarter with lean protein, a quarter with complex carbohydrates and a small amount of foods that may be less healthy but fine to have on occasion.
A variety of foods in your lunch will ensure you are consuming a balance of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to power you through the day.
Protein can help you feel satisfied for longer and keep energy levels stable after eating. If you are vegetarian, plant-based sources of protein include tofu, lentils, and beans.
When it comes to carbohydrates, choose ones that are wholegrain, high in fibre and low in glycaemic index (GI). The GI rates carbohydrates according to how quickly they raise the glucose level of the blood.
Low-GI foods provide a slower and more sustained release of energy than refined and high-GI carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice.
This means low GI foods can provide a more stable level of energy for the day and prevent dips in energy and hunger pangs.
Iron is a mineral in food and has a role in transporting oxygen in the blood from the lungs to all the other cells throughout the body, which is important for energy.
Sources of iron include spinach, dark chocolate, beans and red meat. Eating these foods with foods containing vitamin C can boost the absorption of iron.
Due to the bulkiness of foods that contain viscous soluble fibre, this delays the transit time of food through the digestive system, helping you to feel full for longer. Foods high in fibre also are lower in glycaemic index, so blood sugar levels don’t rise too quickly.
There is a place for fat in the diet as long as it is in small amounts, and they are healthy, unsaturated fats such as those from olive oil and nuts.
Some lunch ideas
These are an easy meal to make, with the tuna providing omega 3 fats, along with some lean protein from an egg in the recipe. They are good for freezing and also make for a healthy dinner option if pressed for time, and one that kids are likely to enjoy.
Wrap or sandwich:
A lean ham or chicken wrap with avocado, your choice of salad and cheese provides a balanced lunch. Choose wholegrain or rye bread which are low GI options.
Here, any protein can be used, whether it be lean chicken, roast beef, tuna or beans together with some vegetables such as broccoli or spinach, fetta cheese, some tomato and a dressing.
Omelette or scrambled eggs
This can be a great way to throw in any leftover vegetables from dinner to use, adding nutrients to the meal. Grated cheese thrown in can make a delicious omelette.
The beauty of this meal is that you can add toppings of your choosing. You can use the ready-made pizza bases or even pita bread to build your pizza.
Potatoes are a great source of carbohydrates and this is another lunch idea where you can tailor the fillings to your liking. The most popular are bacon, sour cream, cheese, and chives. However, you can fill them with anything you desire.
Another meal that enables you to make it the way you like. You could use lean beef or some of the vegetarian patties sold at the supermarkets and add a salad of your choice, such as beetroot, tomato and lettuce.
Using lean mince meat or substituting with lentils, this is great to make in bulk and freeze for later use. It includes plenty of tomatoes for vitamin C and fibre.
You can make a healthy version of this using brown rice for more fibre and protein and substitute the ham for leaner cuts of ham or even tofu.
Some tips to keep in mind for a healthy lunch
Bulk prepare lunches
Preparing a bulk number of lunches, for instance, on a Sunday, can ensure you have healthy options on hand. This can also help preserve your energy during the week. If suitable, freeze them for another day or week to have.
Avoid skipping meals
This is to keep energy levels even throughout the day and prevent a big hunger pang, overeating and tiredness due to insufficient fuel.
If you are unsure, the Australian Dietary Guidelines provide helpful outlines on the sizes of meals. A big meal can cause the blood glucose levels to rise more rapidly than a smaller serving.
Make it simple
Try to prepare meals or recipes that use limited ingredients and have minimal preparation time as complicated meals will drain your energy, which is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
Stay hydrated with water, as tiredness can be a symptom of dehydration.