Though the saying goes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, what you choose for lunch can be equally as important when it comes to maintaining your energy levels and focus.
If you feel like your midday meals are leaving you ready for a nap or hungry a few hours later, there are a few easy ways to change this. To help with that midafternoon slump, your lunch should include a healthy fat, like avocado, olives, nuts, or seeds, and lean protein. Both can play a big role in helping to maintain energy levels throughout the remainder of your day.
And to help stave off hunger until your next meal, add in a starch like potatoes, squash, quinoa, brown rice, or whole-grain bread.
I was recently given the opportunity to rate a few Healthline employee’s lunches, based on three different categories: nutrition value, how processed (or not!) their meal was, and how much energy their choices provided them. Each category was given a rating of one to 10, one being the lowest score and 10 being the highest. The higher the rating, the better.
Check out how they did, below.
Salad with poached egg and vinaigrette dressing, plus a turmeric latte
- Nutrition: 9
- Whole Ingredients: 10
- Energy: 9
I’m all about this colorful plate. Salad greens are filled with fiber and can help enhance digestion thanks to their natural enzymes. Eggs are a great source of energy and contain a whopping 7 grams of high-quality protein and 5 grams of healthy fat.
Meanwhile, tomatoes are high in antioxidants, especially lycopene, and are a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K. Finally, the turmeric latte hits the spot as a delicious, anti-inflammatory elixir.
My suggestion to make this lunch even more nutritious is to add a healthy fat, such as sliced avocado or pumpkin seeds, to keep you satisfied and satiated throughout the afternoon.
As for the turmeric latte, opt for an unsweetened plant-based milk option — coconut, almond, or oat — and skip any added sweeteners.
Turkey BLT on white bread
- Nutrition: 4
- Whole Ingredients: 4
- Energy: 6
This sandwich could use a nutritious boost. While I love that there are some greens, tomato, and avocado poking through, bacon tends to be highly processed. This means it’s packed with salt and additives like nitrates, which can become carcinogenic upon cooking.
What’s more, white bread is not the most nutritious option, as it goes through a process where it’s stripped of many of its nutrients.
Next time, choose whole-grain bread, and instead of the bacon add turkey or chicken breast — and opt for organic meat if you can.
Beef burger with bacon and cheese
- Nutrition: 2
- Whole Ingredients: 2
- Energy: 5
It’s certainly okay to have a burger from time to time. In the spirit of this particular article, however, this meal unfortunately doesn’t receive high ratings. The red meat in the burger and bacon is high in saturated fat, and the cheese, much like the bacon, is highly processed.
For a healthier version of this meal, choose a leaner meat such as turkey or chicken, or go with a veggie burger. Swap out the processed white bun for a whole-grain bun, and, if you can, add a side salad to the meal. This way you won’t spend the afternoon exhausted in a food coma.
Vegetable stir-fry with brown rice and shrimp
- Nutrition: 8
- Whole Ingredients: 10
- Energy: 9
This meal is packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. To start, the shrimp is a great source of protein and easy to prepare, while the broccoli and red peppers provide high amounts of nutrients and fiber.
If you find that this combination makes you feel bloated or lethargic, try reducing the brown rice and swapping in a healthy fat like avocado, nuts, seeds, or olives.
Poke bowl with brown rice, edamame, corn, avocado, pineapple, and seaweed
- Nutrition: 7
- Whole Ingredients: 8
- Energy: 8
While I’m loving all the color in this meal, there’s a lot going on. Mixing too many different food groups can be hard on our digestive system. The healthy fats in the avocado and the protein from the edamame are great sources of energy, but be careful with seaweed salad — it can be loaded with dyes, chemicals, and sugar.
To make this dish even better, add in more sauteed greens instead of pineapple.
- Nutrition: 6
- Whole Ingredients: 6
- Energy: 6
Although this meal has a high energy score, an hour after eating you may feel bloated and quite fatigued, a result of the white pasta and dairy-based sauce. If it’s possible, choose a whole-grain pasta and stick with a nondairy tomato-based sauce instead.
We also need to get some color in there! For example, start with some sort of green salad, followed by a whole-grain pasta with marinara or arrabiata sauce, and add a side of veggies like sautéed spinach, roasted zucchini, or mushrooms.
Additional research, writing, and editing contributed by Chelsey Fein.
Nathalie is a registered dietitian and functional medicine nutritionist with a BA in psychology from Cornell University and a MS in clinical nutrition from New York University. She’s the founder of Nutrition by Nathalie LLC, a private nutrition practice in New York City focusing on health and wellness using an integrative approach, and All Good Eats, a social media health and wellness brand. When she isn’t working with her clients or on media projects, you can find her traveling with her husband and their mini-Aussie, Brady.