How to Plan Healthy Work Lunches for Weight Loss

Packing your own lunch for work is a major advantage in your weight loss journey. You have full control over the ingredients and you can get as creative as you want. But how do you know what to bring?

two women eating lunch in an office

Why Is Lunch So Important? 

For many people, lunch is the midday meal and halfway mark of the day. Breakfast was eaten three to four hours ago and now you feel your energy waning and your focus slipping. These are characteristic signs that your body is hungry and ready to refuel. 

Other signals your body is ready to eat: 

  • Lightheadedness or the onset of a headache 
  • Mood worsens and you feel irritable and short-tempered 
  • Your hands are starting to shake 
  • Your stomach is grumbling 
  • You can’t focus on anything other than food

Arriving at your next meal starving is not recommended for weight loss. You are more likely to overeat while in this state. 

If you are consistently famished by lunchtime, it is a good sign you either need to increase your energy intake at breakfast or break up your morning by adding a low-glycemic snack

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/exercise-before-or-after-breakfast">the effects of exercising before or after breakfast</a>.</p>

What Makes a Lunch Healthy? 

A healthy lunch is a balanced meal that incorporates the different food groups and fiber. At the end of your meal, you should feel satisfied and ready to get on with the second half of your day. 

A balanced meal features all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. All of these provide energy and vital nutrients to keep you healthy. If you sacrifice one area, you risk missing out on a specific nutrient or fiber, making the diet hard to follow long term. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read about </strong> <a href="/blog/macronutrients-vs-micronutrients">macronutrients vs micronutrients</a>.</p>

Make Your Own Work Lunch at Home 

Making healthy meals at home will make a big difference for your calorie intake and your wallet. 

When you prepare your own work lunch, you have complete control over the ingredients and the portion sizes. Even healthy-seeming pre-packaged salads and sandwiches can sneak unnecessary calories into your diet that can work against your weight loss plan. 

Easy-to-Make Work Lunch Ideas to Support Weight Loss: 

  • Mason jar salads are esthetically pleasing and so practical! You should include protein to ensure you stay satisfied. Try this black bean salad with cherry tomato.1
  • A hearty salad rich in fiber and healthy fats will keep you fueled and satisfied. Check out this roasted cauliflower salad with sweet potatoes.2 
  • Fish is a healthy lean protein that is fast to prepare! These fish taco veggie bowls don’t need to be reheated, so your co-workers will never know you brought fish into the office!3
  • Vegan tempeh lettuce cups are rich in healthy fats with a hint of spice.4 They are anything but dull and so easy to make. Trying a variety of dishes will prevent you from getting bored with your work lunches, and might make your co-workers jealous! 
  • Try a healthy meat version of lettuce cups with Asian-inspired meatball lettuce wraps.5
  • The humble sandwich can be incorporated into your weekly menu. Choose lean proteins and be mindful of condiments, which tend to be high in sugar and salt. A turkey avocado sandwich on whole-grain bread is a perfect healthy lunch option.6 

Don’t forget to bring snacks as well. Ideally, your snacks will cover at least two food groups. If you pack fresh fruit, include some peanut butter (for the protein). 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read about </strong> <a href="/blog/high-fiber-low-carb-foods">the best high-fiber, low-carb foods for blood sugar control</a>.</p>

four lettuce wraps with different ingredients inside
Wraps are a convenient way to whip up a work lunch - be sure to choose wraps with plenty of fiber (and watch the sodium)

Meal Planning Tips

The most diligent people who pack lunches for the week create a weekly meal plan.7 Having a plan helps to build a weekly grocery list, and takes the guesswork out of what’s for lunch. Here are some ideas to try, or get inspired by:

  • Choose a specific day and time every week to plan your work meals 
  • Rotate through your favorite recipes - no need to reinvent the wheel every week!
  • Include a day of the week for takeout or something store-bought
  • Keep your cupboards and freezer organized to simplify planning
  • Inventory your fresh and non-perishable foods weekly or biweekly to cut down on spoilage or buying double 

If you need help figuring out what kind of meals to plan for lunch at work, check out this article all about low GI lunches

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/food-tracking">meal tracking tips & food tracking apps</a>.</p>

Tips for Packing Healthy Work Lunches

There are easy steps you can take to make packing a healthy work lunch easier, until it becomes part of your new routine: 

  • Repurpose leftovers into a salad or a whole-grain wrap
  • Clean and portion out fresh fruits and vegetables for a whole week of healthy snacks
  • Invest in microwave-safe reusable containers that are the right size for healthy portions
  • Mix your own unsalted trail mix with different nuts from a bulk store
  • Hard-boiled eggs are a great (and convenient!) source of lean protein for work lunches 
  • Rely on homemade frozen soups and chilis for the days when you absolutely can’t make anything fresh
  • Buying prewashed/precut produce is more expensive but can be a big time-saver 

Finding systematic ways to make healthy work lunches will make it easier to create and stick with your improved eating habits.  

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Find out why </strong> <a href="/blog/why-eggs-weight-loss">eggs are so good for weight loss</a>.</p>

What to Drink with Your Healthy Work Lunch

Beverages should be considered part of your lunch meal. Make deliberate choices about the drinks you pair with your meals, and try to include low-sugar options whenever possible. 

  • Choose water whenever possible, sparkling or plain are both acceptable
  • Infuse plain water with fresh pineapple and mint to naturally enhance the flavor without relying on sweetening agents 
  • Tea, specifically green tea, is rich in antioxidants and healthful vitamins 
  • If you crave fruit juice, pour ¼ cup and top off your glass with water
  • Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to sparkling water for a refreshing drink 
  • If you prefer milk, aim for 1-2% unflavored options (can be cow milk or plant-based) 

Bringing a drink from home is an economical option that can also be more nutritious.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/does-drinking-water-help-you-lose-weight">drinking water for weight loss</a>.</p> 

Freezer-Friendly Work Lunches: 

Most cooked meals will hold for an average of 30 days in the freezer. If you want to reheat something to eat for lunch at work, freeze it in a microwave-friendly container. 

Fruits freeze very well and can be added to your yogurt or oatmeal without being thawed first. By the time lunchtime rolls around, the fruits should have melted and become more palatable. 

How the Healthy Eating Plate Model Can Help You Build Healthy Work Lunches:

The healthy eating plate model is a fantastic visual tool you can reference to assess your meals:9

  • Half the plate is devoted to vegetables: salad, fresh-cut dipping vegetables, or sautéed 
  • A quarter of the plate is reserved for high-quality carbohydrates including whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes 
  • The final quarter is for protein, including animal sources and plant-based proteins 
  • You have the option to include a piece of fresh whole fruit as well 
  • Include a healthy fat like olive oil or fresh avocado 

The healthy eating plate model is also a fantastic way to assess your dinner plate while dining out. It is not uncommon for a restaurant meal to be 50% carbs and 50% protein, with two small pieces of broccoli on the side. This meal setup is very different from what is recommended in the healthy eating plate model and could benefit from modifying the ratios of your food groups.  

plate of food with carbs, protein and vegetables
The Healthy Eating Plate simplifies meal planning for busy work weeks

Timing Your Work Lunch 

Not everyone has the freedom or control over the timing of their lunch time meal. If you have the choice, try to eat your work lunch at a time of day when you can take a quick walk after eating. It will help digestion and is an excellent strategy to manage your blood sugars. 

If you do have some control over your schedule, try blocking thirty minutes to an hour each day on your work calendar for preparing and eating lunch and even a quick after-meal walk. 

Research has shown that even a ten-minute walk after eating will lower your blood glucose levels.10 Your muscles rely on glucose for fuel, and the more you move your body and use your muscles after eating the more sugar they will burn. 

Squeezing movement into your workday can also naturally perk up your energy levels, help you focus again, and just blow off some steam if you are having a stressful day. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/control-blood-sugar-spikes-after-meals">managing post-meal blood sugar spikes</a>.</p>

Use a CGM device to Track Blood Sugar During the Workday

A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is the perfect device to track the effects of foods and physical activity on your blood glucose levels. For example, review the data on days you are not able to go for a walk after lunch compared to the days when you are. 

The more context you can provide to interpret your blood sugars, the more deeply you will understand your body’s response to specific foods and other factors (such as stress or quality of sleep). 

Having direct data on how your body is metabolizing glucose can be very motivating. Weight loss can be a long-term commitment, and using tools such as a CGM device can keep you inspired.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/cgm-data-weight-loss">analyzing CGM data to personalize your weight loss plan</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Mullins, B. (2021, September 27). Black Bean Mason Jar Salad. Eating Bird Food. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.eatingbirdfood.com/fiesta-mason-jar-salad/ 
  2. Hassing, S. (2021, July 5). Roasted Cauliflower Sweet Potato Salad. The Real Food Dietitians. Retrieved June 2022, from https://therealfooddietitians.com/cauliflower-sweet-potato-salad/ 
  3. Toews, B. (2019, August 17). Fish Taco Veggie Bowls. A Little Nutrition - Winnipeg Nutrition Dietitian + Therapy Services. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.alittlenutrition.com/fish-taco-veggie-bowls/ 
  4. Debbie, D. (2022, June 2). Vegan Tempeh Lettuce Cups. Dietitian Debbie Dishes. Retrieved June 2022, from https://dietitiandebbie.com/vegan-tempeh-lettuce-cups/
  5. This, E. N. T. (2021, November 7). 73+ Best Healthy Lunch Recipes for Weight Loss. Eat This Not That. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.eatthis.com/healthy-lunch-ideas/ 
  6. L. (2021, December 3). Turkey Avocado Sandwich with Veggies. Nutrition to Fit. Retrieved June 2022, from https://nutritiontofit.com/turkey-avocado-sandwich/
  7. McManus, D. M. K. S. (2019, October 25). Healthy meals: 3 easy steps to success. Harvard Health. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/healthy-meals-3-easy-steps-to-success-2019060616753
  8. Mph Rd, K. S. (2021, April 8). Healthy Freezer Chili. Hungry Hobby. Retrieved June 2022, from https://hungryhobby.net/healthy-freezer-chili/
  9. Healthy Eating Plate. (2021, October 4). The Nutrition Source. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/ 
  10. Moghetti, P., Balducci, S., Guidetti, L., Mazzuca, P., Rossi, E., & Schena, F. (2020). Walking for subjects with type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and joint AMD/SID/SISMES evidence-based practical guideline. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 30(11), 1882–1898. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.numecd.2020.08.021

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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