Weekday lunch is a tough meal. Much of the time we are away from home — either at the office or running errands around town. This means that we have one of two options: take the time to meal prep and plan ahead or fly by the seat of our pants and grab something on the go. (We all know how the latter usually pans out … ahem, fast food drive thru.)
Even if you’re someone who has brown bagging down pat, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and can be nice to get some inspiration by peeking into someone else’s lunch box.
And who better to tap than personal trainers whose main focus is fueling the body with healthy foods that keep theme energized and fit? We peeked inside the lunch bags of fitness professionals for their go-to midday meals. Check out what they eat for lunch every day and why — and get an easy takeaway you can apply to your own plate.
Roxanne Summerville, ACSM-certified personal trainer, specializing in fitness nutrition and senior fitness
“My lunch is pretty basic: I eat quinoa, black beans, a combo of steamed or roasted vegetables, and salsa or sauce,” says Summerville. She also likes to keep frozen veggies on hand for days when she doesn't have time to cook fresh veggies.
Why it's her go-to
“It's easy to prepare the ingredients ahead of time. Grains and beans can be cooked in bulk on weekends, along with prepping vegetables,” says Summerville. “I don't get bored with different combinations of vegetables, sauces and seasonings. Filling half of my plate with vegetables helps keep calories in check while I still feel satisfied.”
To eat more vegetables, make sure to keep your freezer stocked with frozen veggies. This is an inexpensive way to make sure you always have veggies on hand, and they're just as nutritious as fresh vegetables in the fridge bought weekly. Summerville likes to add them to restaurant leftovers for an easy and nutritious meal. She suggests eating half of your entree at the restaurant, then bring the other half home for lunch the next day and supplement with frozen vegetables to to bulk up your meal. Another takeaway to keep you from feeling bored of eating the same foods is to experiment with different sauces and seasonings. Look for low-sodium seasoning blends and lower fat sauces. This is especially helpful with bowls, simply toss together grain, beans and greens, and add a sauce.
Ronnie Lubischer, CSCS, owner of Lubischer's Burn and Blast Training
"My lunch is always my pre-workout meal, so it’s generally 8 ounces of a lean protein source (sirloin steak or center cut boneless chops are two of my go-tos), 1-2 cups of a heavier starch (my favorites are sweet potatoes and jasmine rice) and 1-2 cups of greens.”
Why it's her go-to
“As a bodybuilder who trains clients from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily, I must have a specific structure to my meals in order to achieve my personal goals,” says Lubischer. "I do my phone calls and e-mails [after lunch], which allows me an hour as my body digests that meal in order to utilize its nutrients for my upcoming lift. I then train for an hour, allowing my workout to be fueled by that meal.”
Organize your meals in a way that makes sense for your own personal schedule and needs. If you exercise in the morning, you may want a larger breakfast afterwards to replenish your energy. If you exercise after work, you may want to have a mid-morning snack (like fruit and Greek yogurt) and then a later lunch to ensure you have enough energy to power you through. Another takeaway is to plan meals that have a balanced plate of protein, vegetables and whole grains. This will not only help promote a higher metabolism, but it will give you the fuel you need for your workouts and keep you feeling satiated!
Kenny Rosenzweig, NASM-CPT, co-founder of new high-intensity low-impact training studio Rowgatta
“I eat a salad or a rice bowl filled with veggies. If I'm feeling hungrier, I add a lean protein like chicken or fish," says Rosenzweig. "If I’m working out in the afternoon or evening, I try to have a snack 1-2 hours prior to exercising in order to carry me through the workout.”
Why it's his go-to
“My lowest energy time of day is early afternoon right after lunch (2 p.m.- 4 p.m.), so I try to eat very clean at lunch to maintain my energy levels during my low time,” says Rosenzweig. “I try to stay away from high-glycemic/high-sugar foods like bagels, pasta and pizza, which leave me feeling lethargic and foggy-headed if I don't use that glucose right away in an afternoon training session.”
As tempting as it may be to reach for simple carbs and sugar when we feel our energy dip mid-afternoon, stay away from refined grains and candy. They may give you an immediate boost — but it will be followed by a blood-sugar crash that will leave you ready for a nap, not prepared to tackle the rest of your afternoon. Instead, choose whole grains and balanced meals and snacks for sustained energy.
Emily Daly, Charlotte-based CrossFit coach, personal trainer and nutrition coach
“My typical lunch is 4-6 ounces of Instant Pot chicken thighs (aka the laziest, easiest way to meal prep EVER) with a serving of rice or potatoes and two veggies,” says Daly.
Why it's her go-to
“This is a balanced meal of protein, carbs and fat — hitting all the macronutrients in a balanced ratio,” says Daly. “It fuels me for my workouts and keeps me going all afternoon coaching classes and meeting with nutrition clients.”
Like Daly, using an Instant Pot and meal prepping can totally transform your lunch (and other meals for that matter). You’re much less likely to be tempted by treats at the office or the fast-food joint next door when you have a tasty meal prepped and ready to go. I also love how Daly focuses on adding two servings of veggies to her meal — when making healthy changes, think about what you can add instead of subtract from your diet. Get creative and experiment with adding different kinds of veggies to your meals each week.
Katie Austin, certified personal trainer and health coach
“My favorite lunch is a Greek salad with butter lettuce, quinoa, feta, tomatoes, avocado, grilled chicken, olives and lentils!" says Austin. "I love adding lentils because they’re packed with fiber to keep us feeling full longer.”
Why it's her go-to
“I love having a big healthy lunch. Nothing too crazy to feel lethargic for the rest of the day, but something hearty enough to keep me full until dinner, and re-fueled post workout,” says Austin. “I usually workout in the late morning, so this is a great post-workout, protein-filled meal as well.”
Keeping meals interesting — especially salads which notoriously get a bad rap for being boring — is essential to making sure you are satisfied. Austin adds in healthy fats, like avocado and cheese for flavor and variety. This keeps her meals interesting so that she can eat them on repeat! Prepping hearty salads at home is also a huge money saver. Salad joints can be so pricey, especially with healthy add-ons like avocado and quinoa, so prep them at home to keep more money in your pocket.
Erin Bahadur, certified personal trainer and author of “Erin’s Inside Job” blog
“I try and make big meals that I can split into lunches for several days. I try to have them all contain a protein, veggie and some type of grain, but that doesn't always happen,” says Bahadur. “My favorites are pulled chicken (make a few breasts and use a hand mixer to shred them super fast!), easy to make veggies from the frozen section, and rice or pasta. Add different sauces for different tastes and just mix together in a big bowl!”
Why it's her go-to
“It definitely helps me feel better and less tired. I certainly enjoy sweets and have dessert of some kind every day, but when I eat a balanced meal like that I just feel like I have better energy throughout the day and am less likely to randomly snack on things,” says Bahadur. “At home I eat some version of the above and on the go I try and find somewhere that can make something similar (Sweetgreen, Whole Foods, etc.). Because I don't eat lunch out all the time, I don't have a problem eating a variety of things from burgers to pizza to Chipotle (which is usually my go-to).”
I'm super lazy when it comes to cooking, so I agree with Bahadur that making a large amount at once really helps to make sure that you eat well most of the time. I'm also a huge fan of frozen veggies to just sauté or pop in the microwave and toss in with whatever you're making. I will roast some things, but most of the time I want it all to come together in less than 30 minutes. Healthy doesn't have to mean time consuming!
Stephanie Mansour, certified personal trainer and weight-loss coach (that's me!)
My typical lunch varies because I am usually on the go, but my meal is always what I recommend for my private clients: high in protein and packed with veggies. I love making a batch of protein one night a week — like a lot of ground turkey meat for tacos and taco salads. Then, for lunch, I’ll heat up the meat and add in pre-chopped veggies (I buy these already cut up at the store otherwise I won’t spend the time to cut them up!) and use salsa as my dressing. I also use shredded kale as my lettuce. I put 3 cups (yes, 3 cups!) of kale in the salad plus at least 1 cup of chopped veggies. I’ll use ¼ cup salsa (very low in calories but flavorful) with 5 ounces of taco meat.
Why it's my go-to
While some people tend to go lighter on lunch, I go the hearty route to help feel full until dinner. Some of my clients will eat a snack in between lunch and dinner, but typically I do not do this as my meals are filling and I’m not hungry for a snack.
Make your lunch work for your lifestyle. If you are someone who has a witching hour before dinner (aka, you will overeat before dinner on snacks or appetizers), then you must eat a snack in between lunch and dinner! Otherwise, feel free to follow my philosophy. (Either way, prepping ingredients in big batches ahead of time is always a time-saving win!) But keep in mind: If something doesn't work for you, for your lifestyle, or for your goals, change it up! You know yourself better than anyone else.
More advice from personal trainers
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