If you are counting carbs to lose weight or control diabetes, you can prepare healthy lunches with protein that are easy too. What better way to add health to your day than to have a great lunch, full of nutrition, that makes you feel amazing for the second half of the day?
Protein for weight loss
Many typical lunch options are very high in carbs, such as paninis, subs, and all kinds of sandwiches. Burgers, pizza, and sushi also contain large amounts of carbs that may get you to your wellness goals.
We like to balance macronutrients to keep our weight in check. We are both overweight and have been working on it for several years. I have lost about 80 pounds to date. I have been in a really high-stress job where I was treated with harassment about my learning disability and I continuously gained weight over the years. Bullying is no joke. Don’t do it, just don’t.
But a few years ago I got a hernia and when I had surgery the surgeon said lose weight or die. So I started getting serious. And balancing my carbs with protein and fat has helped me work toward the goals he gave me. And eating healthy lunches with protein instead of carb based meals was a big part of that.
Protein can be an expensive meal component, carbs are cheap. But there are several kinds of protein that can make affordable healthy lunches with protein options:
Ground beef is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to add loads of high-quality protein to your meal. For lunch, choose high protein meals that tend to the casual and aim for ease of presentation. Not all ground-beef-based lunches are suitable for brown-bagging, but many will do well in a thermos or reheated in a microwave.
- Hamburgers may be the go-to classic for using ground beef, and for good reason — they’re tasty, filling, and easy to make and serve. Break out the grill on a summer afternoon for lunchtime smoke-kissed patties. Or cook them indoors in a skillet or grill pan. You can also broil them in an oven broiler. Whether you use plain ground beef seasoned with no more than salt and pepper or get fancier, with additional seasonings or even a stuffing, is up to you. You don’t even have to have a bun, wrap them in lettuce or do a patty melt and eat it with a fork.
- Like hamburgers, sloppy Joes are quick and easy as well as hearty and filling. Unlike hamburgers, sloppy Joes are easily reheatable for lunches at work or at school. You can also keep the sloppy Joe filling warm in a thermos until lunchtime. Then pile it on a bun and eat.
- Chili can be made with both ground beef and beans or with ground beef alone, as you prefer. The black beans add protein and fiber, but let your taste buds make the final decision. Chili reheats well and travels beautifully in an insulated thermos.
- Spread some of that chili over boiled macaroni noodles and you have the classic dish known as chili mac. Add some shredded cheddar cheese for extra flavor if you like. Chili mac also travels and reheats well. Kids like it, too.
- Cook up a batch of ground beef, season it with taco seasoning, and then spread it over tortilla chips for a casual but hearty meal of nachos. Add whatever toppings you like — shredded cheese, sour cream, beans, salsa, olives, or whatever else appeals. Feel free to experiment with this easy lunch. Nachos are best served fresh, but if you’re transporting them to work or school, store the meat in one container, the tortilla chips in another, and the toppings separately as well. That way the chips stay crisp.
- Freshly cooked meatloaf might be a bit of a production for lunchtime. But leftover meatloaf is another story. A meatloaf sandwich is a lunchbox standard. One reason for this is that, unlike many other ground beef-based dishes, meatloaf tastes fine when served cold. You can also choose to reheat it, of course.
- These Cranberry Walnut Salad Pinwheels are a game changer for sure. You’re going to love them. Packed with protein and flavor!
Tuna is a healthy, low-fat, protein-rich fish that makes quick healthy lunches with protein whether you open a convenient can or cook fresh steaks. A lunch made with canned tuna offers far more versatility than just mixing it with mayonnaise and putting it in a sandwich for those midday meals. Fresh cuts of tuna are simple and fast to cook, but no matter which version of tuna you choose, make sure you get at least two servings of fish per week, as recommended by the American Heart Association.
- Tuna cakes made with canned tuna are simple to prepare. Drain and flake your tuna and mix it with breadcrumbs and seasonings. For a low-carb version, mix with a beaten protein-packed egg and minced onions and cook exactly as you would for crab cakes. Searing really fresh tuna steaks only take about a minute for each side in a very hot pan. Cook a little longer if you prefer tuna that is less raw in the middle. Coat with salt, pepper, and herbs before cooking. Serve with low-fat coleslaw made with shredded broccoli or a green salad.
- Traditional tuna salad for sandwiches calls for nothing more than mayonnaise and dijon mustard, but adding and substituting ingredients jazzes up sandwiches and makes them even healthier. Skip the mayonnaise and use just mustard or mix tuna with pesto or tapenade. Moisten tuna with vinaigrette and combine with roasted red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, or kalamata olives.
- Roll tuna salad in wraps or even in a romaine lettuce wrap or stuff it inside whole-grain pita pockets.
- A traditional tuna noodle casserole gets a healthy update if you mix whole-grain noodles with canned tuna, plain yogurt, peas, and chopped fresh herbs.
- In a unique take on spaghetti, prepare tuna pomodoro by making a sauce with canned tuna and canned, diced tomatoes to serve over spaghetti noodles. Use garlic and traditional Italian seasonings for the dish, which takes less than half an hour to prepare.
- Mix flakes of canned tuna with cold-cooked pasta, peas, and low-fat salad dressing for a quick and easy pasta salad.
Vegetables with protein in them
There are tons of vegetables that are packed with protein too. You can check some of them out here:
- Edamame: These young soybeans are rich in protein, providing about 18 grams of protein per cooked cup (155 grams). They are a popular ingredient in Asian cuisine and can be enjoyed as a snack or added to salads and stir-fries.
- Lentils: Lentils are legumes that are high in protein and fiber. Cooked lentils contain around 18 grams of protein per cooked cup (198 grams). They are versatile and can be used in soups, stews, curries, and salads.
- Chickpeas: Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are another legume packed with protein. Cooked chickpeas contain approximately 15 grams of protein per cooked cup (164 grams). They are commonly used in hummus, salads, and stews.
- Quinoa: While technically a seed, quinoa is often considered a grain and is a complete protein source. Cooked quinoa provides about 8 grams of protein per cooked cup (185 grams). It can be used as a base for salads, side dishes, or even as a substitute for rice.
- Spinach: Although not as protein-rich as legumes, spinach is a leafy green vegetable that contains about 5 grams of protein per cooked cup (180 grams). It is also packed with various vitamins and minerals, making it a nutritious addition to salads, smoothies, and cooked dishes.
- Broccoli: Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that contains approximately 4 grams of protein per cooked cup (156 grams). It is also a good source of fiber and several vitamins and minerals. Enjoy it steamed, roasted, or sautéed as a side dish or in stir-fries.
High Protein Lunch Ideas
You can prepare your own omelet for extra protein for your healthy lunches with protein by beating eggs with cream and adding it to olive oil and nonstarchy vegetables in a nonstick skillet. Sprinkle with cheese if desired and include a couple of sausages and a salad of leafy greens. The sausage should be free of filler that could contain carbohydrates. If you buy an omelet already prepared, read the ingredients list or ask how it is prepared, because restaurants often add flour to their omelets, which could significantly increase carb content. If you eat quiche, avoid the crust to keep your carbs low.
Wraps can be a suitable option for a no-carb diet. You can use low carb tortillas or lettuce leaves to prepare them. Try large lettuce leaves spread with cream cheese, mayonnaise, or salad dressing.
Add slices of smoked salmon, roast beef, or bit of rotisserie chicken, along with a few chunks of avocado and other seasonings. If you need to bring your lunch to school or work, wrap it tightly in plastic. You can have more than one of these wraps if still hungry or include a vegetable-based soup.
For quick lunches with protein, assemble different leafy greens in a large container. You can buy bags of premixed and prewashed salads to save time. Add cooked chicken breasts, avocado slices, and a few cherry tomatoes, if desired. You can also sprinkle your salad with walnut halves. Drizzle your salad with salad dressing or a homemade vinaigrette that you can prepare with equal parts extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil and balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar.
If your dinners are usually low in carbs, you can easily use leftovers to prepare quick lunches with protein for the next day. For example, if you have steak with nonstarchy vegetables for dinner, cook a few extra servings for the next day.
Reheat your no-carb lunch in the microwave oven, add a dollop of butter to your fresh veggies, and lunch is ready. Whether you have pork chops, shrimp, fish, or chicken legs for dinner, combine them with any combination of broccoli, onions, eggplant, mushrooms, cauliflower, bell pepper, zucchini, or bean sprouts cooked in olive oil.
Serve slices of seared tuna on a bed of hearty greens with caramelized onions or sauteed leeks for a warm salad. Top with vinaigrette or fruit salsa. Well-drained canned tuna makes a good addition to a green salad. Include raw vegetables, such as grated jicama and carrots, and top with mild cheese and whole-grain croutons for a nutritionally complete meal.
For more ideas for healthy lunches with protein, check these out:
- Steak Salad With Strawberry Lemon Vinaigrette
- Greek Pasta Salad Chicken
- Poblano Chicken Enchiladas without Tortillas
- Low Carb Asian Lettuce Wraps
- Picadillo Chicken Taco Salad
- Spicy Chicken Burrito Bowl Recipe
- Chipotle Oven Chicken Kabobs
- 2 Ingredient Oven Baked Tilapia