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By Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD

I never skip lunch, even on the busiest days. Because I’m a regular breakfast eater (usually plain Greek yogurt and fruit), I’m not “over-hungry” at lunch. Being ravenous, after all, can lead to poor choices.

At lunchtime, I take into consideration the amount of nutrients, convenience, occasion and taste. I don’t eat foods that don’t taste good to me, no matter what the nutrient content. I also aim to meet a friend for lunch once a week, which is good for the mind and spirit!

In general, my lunches have three things in common:

-They are protein rich

-They have at least one to two servings of fruits and/or vegetables

-They are portion controlled and are around 400 to 500 calories

Here’s a week’s worth of my “real-life” lunches. I’m hoping you get inspired by my choices – and tailor your midday meals to fit your needs.

Monday: Salad with Salmon

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Courtesy of Madelyn Fernstrom.

This was my “meet-a-friend” day lunch of the week. When I’m out, I’ll often choose something that’s a lot of work to prepare at home. I went for a salad chock full of all kinds of vegetables, and I added a piece of salmon to boost the protein and keep me fuller longer. I asked for the dressing on the side so I could do a “dip and scoop” – dip the fork into the dressing, then scoop up some greens. This way, I get the taste of a full-fat dressing, with a modest, satisfying portion. With a lunch like this, I don’t need an afternoon snack, and I’m satisfied until dinner.

Tuesday: Cottage Cheese and an apple

Courtesy of Madelyn Fernstrom.

This is a quick go-to lunch for me. I double the portion listed on the cottage cheese container from half a cup to one cup for a big protein boost. I also like to pair it with one large fruit – like an apple, banana or pear. With this lunch, I’ll have a late afternoon snack, usually a second piece of fruit or a reduced-fat string cheese.

Wednesday: Grilled salmon with steamed spinach

Courtesy of Madelyn Fernstrom.

This was a “working lunch” for me. During these types of meetings, I’ll always choose something I really enjoy and don’t prepare that often at home. I love grilled salmon (but don’t have access to a grill at home) so this meal was a real treat. This dish didn’t come with a potato or rice, so I added a crusty sourdough roll for a portion-controlled starchy carbohydrate, which I ate before I took the picture!

Thursday: Protein shake and fruit

Courtesy of Madelyn Fernstrom.

I’m not one to wolf down lunch quickly because there’s no time. I’d rather use a meal replacement when I’m on the run. That’s why my on-the-go lunch is a low-sugar, high-protein shake or bar, in addition to a whole piece of fresh fruit. I’ll often have either the bar or the shake with the fruit, and if I need a late afternoon snack, I can eat the other item. The shake is quicker and has more protein, but often I like to have the feeling of chewing while I’m eating!

Friday: Subway kids meal

Courtesy of Madelyn Fernstrom.

It might surprise you to know that I’ll indulge in a fast-food kid’s meal, or slice of pizza now and then. Almost all fast-food restaurants have a kid’s version around 500 calories (or less). Today’s choice was from Subway, where a kid’s meal includes a half-sub (I chose turkey and provolone on whole grain bread, along with fresh vegetable toppings), a drink (I chose low-fat milk) and either chips or a cookie (I went with Baked Lays).

When I’m looking for a burger and fries, I might choose a kids meal from McDonalds. While it’s up to the consumer (parents or kids) to decide the meal composition, you can make a healthier version. For example, I typically choose the burger (no cheese), mini-fries, sliced apples and water; Sometimes, I swap the apples for a mini yogurt, or the water for a low-fat milk. But the basic burger and fries remain the same.

Your brain on a diet

March 16, 201802:32

Remember that lunch is only one meal of your day. For me, my breakfasts and dinners are fruit and vegetable heavy, with plenty of color. I do enjoy two servings of dairy daily for the boost of dietary calcium, along with fortified vitamin D. I’m a big fan of alternating animal proteins with plant sources (tofu is a favorite) and include protein at every meal. And I barter my daily servings of fiber-rich starchy carbohydrates. This includes banana, corn on the cob, a small sweet or white potato with skin, or a small, whole grain roll.

And, I always include an indulgent treat of around 100 calories daily, usually after dinner. I’m not looking for a food “treat” at lunch. This works for me – but I know many of you prefer once a week, just the weekends, or another time of day. The bottom line: whatever works for you!

Am I the perfect eater? Not, not by any means! But I do work on balance. Sometimes daily eating is a juggling act. You do your best to stay on track, no matter what your week is like.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. is the NBC News Health Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.

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