As a fourth grader, the days of Mom making lunch for me came to an end. I had to pack a lunch every night before bed (I still do, but usually I wait till the last-minute–welcome to ProcrastiNation). I also had to follow rules–you know, there has to be protein (cheese sticks and yogurt, for instance), fruit (vegetables weren’t gonna happen with nine-year old me), and a carbohydrate.
How well does this work for filling you up? Really well if you use quality, nutritious foods.
Let’s start with protein: it is known that protein increases satiety (here’s a study). This is important, because there is nothing more distracting than trying to get through the last classes of the day than being hungry. What counts as protein? I tend to like chicken or tri-tip from dinner leftovers. Tuna and hard-boiled eggs are also go-tos. If I have some soup (usually a vegetarian option), I like to have some yogurt (the most minimally processed, whole milk variety available).
Next, fruits and vegetables! As most of us know, produce should be most of what is on your plate (or in your brown bag, as the case may be). They’re full of fiber, water, and all the micronutrients you need. While fiber and water are commonly known “fillers” (and I truly mean that in the best sense of the term), did you know that density of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in your diet contributes to satiety? The more produce you eat and the less processed food), the better you feel–experiencing less intense hunger and withdrawal symptoms (from the addictive processed foods).
Finally, carbohydrates are an important component–eat them as bread, pasta, or grains. Carbohydrates function as a nice base for a lunch and in conjunction with protein, they will break down more slowly. This is important for protecting blood sugar from the spikes and crashes people experience after eating over-processed and/or sugary foods. When you can, choose whole grains (fresh ones–whole grains have unstable fats that make them a poor choice for long storage), which have more of those micronutrients and fiber to boot.
So, what is my current favorite lunch? A Trader Joe’s type salad with currants, Israeli couscous, chicken, and a really tasty sweet basil dressing. You can find a good recipe for this great salad here. Right now, our pear trees are loaded down with ripe fruit, so at home, I like making toast from French bread with a little bit of brie cheese and some sliced pears on it. Peared with a garden salad (see what I did there?), this makes a really filling lunch, as well.
Follow this basic outline to build a lunch that keeps you full and focused through that after-lunch lecture.