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Here's What Dietitians Really Eat for Lunch

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    RD-Approved Eating

    Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, but any nutritionist will tell you that every meal and snack is important. Lunch, in particular, is key to helping you power through the afternoon. Ideally, you want a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, and vegetables to fill you up without slowing you down. A little healthy fat also gives the meal some staying power. That said, there's a lot more to a healthy lunch than a boring salad, so take it from these RDs who are sharing plenty of tasty options.

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    Think About Balance

    Culinary nutritionist Abbie Gellman creates delicious, homemade meals that just happen to be healthy. "For lunch, I typically like to have a good mix of protein, carbohydrate, and fat from whole foods," says Gellman. One of her favorites? "A tomato-based turkey chili full of delicious, nutritious ingredients, such as black beans, kidney beans, red peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Add in some quinoa for extra protein and carbohydrate and you've got a fantastic lunch that will keep you going all afternoon without feeling sluggish."

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    Be Flexible

    New York City dietitian Courtney Darsa understands the need for flexibility when it comes to healthy eating. Because of her constantly changing schedule, she says it can be difficult to prep and plan ahead. But she's found a few go-tos that work. "My typical lunch would be a sandwich with turkey, cheddar cheese, avocado, and veggies on whole-wheat bread," says Darsa. On days she's home for lunch, she cooks her favorite: avocado toast with two eggs. "It really does live up to its hype," she says. "It's the perfect meal with carbs, protein, and fat and keeps my energy level stable for hours on end!"

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    Get Creative With Your Salad

    For registered dietitian Linzy Unger, afternoon energy and staying power are key factors when it comes to lunch. She uses salad as a blank canvas for whatever veggies and protein fit her mood. "I try to include a balance of starches, protein, and fiber in my lunch to energize me for the afternoon and keep me full until my late afternoon snack," says Unger. "One of my favorite lunches is a turkey burger made with rolled oats instead of breadcrumbs over a salad with whatever vegetables I have in my fridge. Not only do the rolled oats add fiber, but they save you calories too!"

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    No Meat? No Problem!

    Minerva Huang, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, saves time by using pre-prepped ingredients and leftovers from the night before. "I generally make extra for dinner so I can have leftovers for lunch the next day, and a weeknight meal is usually something that can be prepared in under an hour," says Huang. Pescatarian and vegetarian cooking are also common in her kitchen. "A typical lunch will include a starch, a pescatarian-friendly protein, a serving of vegetables, and something sweet." For example, she says, that could be something like "shrimp barley risotto with a side of broccoli rabe and an orange, a sandwich with Tofurky slices and a couple mini peanut butter cups, or rice and beans with a salad and a fruit leather. Water is always the beverage of choice, or sometimes hot tea or home-brewed unsweetened iced tea."

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    Prep and Prioritize

    Nutrition guru Tanya Freirich prioritizes veggies and protein at lunch. Prepping ahead and repurposing leftovers keeps things interesting and easy. "I love cooking enough food to create several meals, so lunch is almost always leftovers from last night," Freirich says. "Generally the meal is 75 percent veggies: raw cucumbers and tomatoes or simple sautéed green beans, and 25 percent protein. My favorites are chicken, lentils, and tofu. Sometimes I'll even add in brown rice or quinoa."

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    Get Colorful

    Danielle Omar, an integrative dietitian at Food Confidence, loves to create colorful, nourishing midday meals. "Right now my typical lunch is spiralized zucchini mixed with sautéed veggies and fresh tomatoes," says Omar. "I might throw in some tofu or tempeh for added protein or mix everything with a quick spinach pesto. It's delicious and super satisfying!"

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    Don't Be Afraid to DIY

    Rebekah Giampaolo, a registered dietitian from Chicago, adds personal touches to make meals from the company cafeteria healthier. At her hospital's recent "Regional BBQ" day, she combined a few items to make a satisfying meal. "I love collard greens, and our hospital uses lots of spices and herbs to add flavor to them, rather than excessive fat and salt, and they're really delicious," says Giampaolo. "I paired it with a sweet potato, and to bulk the meal up and add more protein, I topped the potato with a little bit of butter and grilled chicken strips, tomatoes, scallions, and jicama." She enjoyed fresh mango on the side to round things out and satisfy her sweet tooth.

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    Try Open-Faced Sandwiches

    Skipping the top piece of bread on your sandwich is a great way to make room for other stuff. Abigail Joy Dougherty, R.D., at The Soul of Health, says, "One of my go-to healthy lunches at home is an open-faced tuna sandwich made with avocado and Greek yogurt instead of mayo, with a side of veggies and some kind of crunchy chips or crackers." Ditching the extra piece of bread and adding greens instead saves unnecessary calories, boosts the nutrition, and leaves a little wiggle room for something fun like crackers or even a piece of dark chocolate after lunch, she adds.


Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN

Jessica Cording is a registered dietitian and wellness writer with a passion for helping others experience a happier, calmer life through drama-free healthy eating.  More →

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