How to create a balanced lunch

Jun 21, 2019

Preparing lunchboxes may seem a tedious task, a bit of an uphill struggle. But preparing ahead can boost your health. Making your own lunch allows you to ensure each meal is balanced, has enough protein in it, and gives more energy. You can even save some money doing it.

Meal prepping

Prepping your lunches is a great way to keep track of what you’re eating. But if like many of us you struggle to find time to make lunch during the week, you could try and prepare your lunches for the whole week on a Sunday. Once they're ready, add two to the fridge for start of the week and then put the remaining three in the freezer for the end of the week. You’ll likely spend less money, and best of all, you only need to take your lunch out of the fridge each morning. No further work required!

Things to consider when prepping your lunch

It’s important to make sure you’ve got balance between the macro nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats), when prepping your food. As a quick reminder:

  • Carbohydrates = rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, vegetables, fruit
  • Proteins = meat, fish, dairy, eggs, soya, quinoa, or combing at least two of the following in lunch (nuts, seeds, peas, beans, lentils, grains)
  • Fats = avocado, oily fish (mackerel, sardines), nuts, seeds, and saturated fats (animal fats) in moderation

Power of protein

Nutritional therapists talk a lot about protein,the macro nutrient which fills you for longer, giving you more sustainable energy. For many the mid-afternoon energy slump is due to insufficient protein at lunchtime. 

As an approximation we suggest 0.75g protein per kg body weight. As an example, a person who weighs 11 stone should aim for 53g of protein per day. As an approximation of grams of protein:

  • Chicken breast contains 35g protein
  • A tin of tuna contains 25g protein
  • An egg contains 6g protein

It may help to have a think about how you spread your protein throughout the day. Many people might be a bit light on protein for breakfast so there’s scope for having more protein included in your lunch box.

Switching grains

If you haven’t already tried it, add quinoa to your shopping list. It’s cheap, easy to cook (boil it in water like rice - for as long as rice) and it’s mild in flavour. It’s biggest selling point is that it’s a protein. Yes it looks like cous cous and it cooks like rice, but cous cous and rice are carbohydrates (sugars), whereas quinoa is protein!

Add it to soups, stews, salads or on the side like you would have done with rice. Replacing carbohydrates on some days with quinoa cuts down on the amount of carbohydrates you’ll eat which for most people can assist with weight management goals.

Food for thought: fats

After years of negative reports about fats - increased cholesterol and weight gain - we often struggle to convince people to increase the omega 3 (good fats) in their diet.

Now however we know a bit more about fats, particularly omega 3 and how essential it is for our health (heart, joints, skin etc). Fats also keep you fuller for longer which is a big bonus when many people tend to have an energy slump mid-afternoon.

Where possible add some good fats into your lunch - ½ avocado, handful of nuts and seeds, oily fish (mackerel, sardines). Each of these can be bought ready to eat so there’s no fuss or prep required from you.

Fruit & vegetables

Hopefully you’ve already had one piece (clenched fist size) of fruit with breakfast. Now to tick off at least another one or two of your 5-a-day with lunch.

Include in your lunchbox some uncooked vegetables (most will lose some nutritional value when heated) - how about carrot batons, sticks of celery, cucumber or pepper. Save your second piece of fruit for the mid-afternoon snack when you can combine this with some yogurt or a handful of nuts and seeds.

Make your salads more exciting and interesting by putting in something to add a bit of interest - feta cheese, olives, capers, anchovies, radish, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar, pesto etc. Don’t forget to add in some vitamin C (squeeze of lemon, raw vegetables) with leafy green vegetables to get the added bonus of additional iron conversion.

Purchasing on-the-go lunches

If you find yourself in a convenience store or petrol station at lunchtime here is a suggestion. Personalise the lunch to you! Wrapped food has a label. Look at the per 100g column to help you compare 2-3 lunch options. If you’ve no health issues focus on maximising protein. If you’ve high cholesterol focus on least saturated fat. If you’ve high blood pressure focus on least amount of salt.

Healthy lunch recipes

If you decide to give prepping your lunches a go and want some inspiration, I have written another blog which contains some healthy lunch recipes.

Written by: The Natural Alternative Health & Wellbeing Ltd

The Natural Alternative Health & Wellbeing Ltd was founded in 2006 by Anjanette Fraser whose previous career was in Corporate Finance at PricewaterhouseCoopers, London. With a previous career in finance and studying a MSc in Nutritional Medicine, Anjanette translates the latest scientific research into an easier to understand format to improve employee health, and making healthcare more accessible by bringing Nutrition health professionals into the workplace.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.