What healthy people really eat for lunch

Do you ever fall into a lunch rut? Every week when planning my grocery list, I always pause when it comes to making a plan for the week's lunches. Turkey wraps again? It can be hard to find tasty and easy-to-prepare options that are also healthy.

Pinterest is full of colorful ideas, but they always seem so involved. I had the chance to speak with health professionals and nutritionists about their favorite easy and healthy lunch ideas. Let's take the mystery out of healthy lunches.

Big salads

Yes, you guessed it. Healthy people eat salad for lunch, but here's their secret. They don't munch on boring iceberg lettuce day in and day out. They add plenty of proteins and fresh veggies to keep it interesting.

"I eat a salad for lunch almost every day, year round, and I'm never bored because there's so much room for improvisation," Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and blogger Carrie Dennett told me. "The nutrient-rich base is always some sort of greens like kale, spinach, romaine, arugula, or a mix, but then it gets really interesting. A portion of protein is important for staying satisfied and strong, so I might have leftover fish or chicken, some canned tuna or salmon for the omega-3 fatty acids, or maybe a hard boiled egg and some chickpeas." Keep it fresh and rotate all of these ideas.

Salads never have to be boring, so start making a grocery list of fun toppings. "For a Mediterranean flair, I'll add a little cheese, some Kalamata olives, or a few marinated artichoke hearts," said Dennett. "A sprinkling of nuts or seeds adds crunch and healthy fats. If I'm craving something creamy, hummus gives me that plus protein and fiber, while avocado provides more healthy fat."

Greek yogurt with fruit

Greek yogurt is packed with protein, so it will help keep you full all afternoon long. Throw in plenty of toppings to make a meal out of it.

"Adding herbs and citrus with a dash of salt to Greek yogurt changes up mundane packaged yogurt," Nutrition Coach and Personal Trainer Zeek Lloyd told me. "It's a healthy portion of protein to accompany any lunch. Protein will promote lean muscle mass and helps [satisfy] hunger."

Try topping your Greek yogurt with fresh berries and whole grain granola for a delicious lunch. "This works for me, because it's a good balance of protein, healthy fat, and complex carbs, and there's plenty of fiber to keep me satisfied," Registered Dietitian and Health Coach Jessica Cording told me. "The fruits are also packed with important vitamins and minerals to keep my brain and body powered up to get through the day."

Grilled chicken and broccoli

If you've been focused on weight loss lately, chicken and broccoli could become your next favorite lunch. It's easy to prepare ahead of time and keeps you full all day. "It's one of the healthiest meals, because it's very high in protein and low in carbohydrates," Founder of fitness app and website Daily Spot Scott Levy told me. "You can completely fill yourself up on chicken and broccoli in under 400 calories!" Add a little olive oil, vinegar, and herbs for a restaurant-quality meal.

Chicken or steak bowl

If you are used to buying your lunch out everyday, don't worry. You can still make it healthy. If you find yourself at a Mexican restaurant, skip the giant white flour tortilla, and choose a healthy bowl instead. You can also make these at home for the week.

"There are a handful of substitutes here that make a usually high-calorie meal incredibly healthy. Instead of rice, try cauliflower rice," recommended Levy. "Cauliflower rice is very low in carbs and tastes similar to traditional rice." Load up on fajita veggies and skip the sour cream. Or prepare your bowls over the weekend for easy grab-and-go lunches all week.

Salade Nicoise

Another protein-packed salad is Salade Nicoise. It's full of flavor and keeps you energized. Plus it only takes 15 minutes to prepare. "It is a timeless dish that has a lot to offer beyond its taste," Katharina Kaiser, nutrition specialist at Freeletics, told me. "Why not make this restaurant classic on your own?"

To make your own, combine canned tuna, hard boiled eggs, sliced onions, green olives, tomato, and romaine lettuce. For the dressing, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and Italian herbs. Try making a batch of dressing on Sunday and keep it in a mason jar in the refrigerator all week long.

Hummus-marinated chicken

Hummus is a great addition to your lunch because it's creamy and satisfying while keeping you full. However, one cannot live on hummus alone, so try marinating your protein in it.

"My days get pretty busy, so I like to make lunch my biggest meal of the day, since that's when I need the energy the most. My go-to is a big salad with leftover cooked veggies and some kind of protein tossed in. Lately I am all about this hummus-marinated chicken," Cording told me. "I make a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar or thin out some hummus with water. If I have some nice cheese or ripe avocado handy, that goes in too."

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Jackie Newgent is also a hummus fan and developed a recipe for an almond lover's hummus. "Traditional hummus and this version are both good for you," she told me. "However, this almond lover's hummus will have more protein, calcium, and vitamin E thanks to almonds!" When making traditional hummus, add almond milk and roasted almonds for a nutty, nutritious blend. Nutritionist Tehzeeb Lalani opts to mix her hummus with fresh vegetables. "Hummus with cut up carrots, cucumbers, celery, and beetroot sticks and some whole-wheat toast make a complete lunch."

Lettuce wraps

If you have been feeling bored with your usual lunch sandwich, try swapping out your bread for lettuce cups. Whipping up filling for your lettuce wraps over the weekend is quick and helps you stick with your healthy eating plan.

Co-owner of Designed to Fit Nutrition Tina Haupert developed a recipe for honey lettuce wraps just in time for the warm weather. Haupert is an athlete and busy mama, so she knows easy, healthy food. "These lettuce wraps are perfect for summer! And, bonus, the chicken is so simple to make," Haupert told me. "It's cooked in a crockpot, and the marinade only requires three ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen. It's so easy to whip up a batch at the beginning of the week to use in lettuce wraps easily packed in Tupperware for quick meals on the go."

Mason jar salad

If you've scrolled Pinterest in the last year, then you are familiar with mason jar salads. They look adorable, but their benefits go beyond that. By pouring your dressing into the jar first, your salad greens stay fresh and crisp until lunch time.

"I take a large jar and put a light pour of my favorite Walden Farms salad dressings into the bottom. Then I add a ton of vegetables like lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, and peppers," explained Lloyd. "After that I drop in a palm sized portion of chicken or other lean meat to top it off. The jar salad is great to take to work and leave in the fridge upright. Then when you're ready to eat it, shake the jar and eat it!" Your coworkers will be so impressed with your gorgeous lunch too.

Pad thai

One of the reasons why so many of us end up buying our lunches at not-so-healthy restaurants is because we're bored. You can't have the same salad everyday, so mix it up with fun dishes too. Haupert recommended trying pad thai for lunch.

"The ingredients are simple, so it takes just a few minutes to prepare the rice mixture," said Haupert. "I make the sauce ahead of time, so all I need to do is add it when I'm ready to eat!"

Avocado toast

Avocado toast is one of my favorite breakfasts, but it can easily be adapted for lunch by adding a few more nutrients and some protein. "Like so many people, I am on board with the avocado toast trend, and not just because it's trending on instagram. It's because it fills me with energy, keeps me feeling light, and keeps money in my pocket," CEO of Corevity Patrick Connelly told me. "That's right, I save money by eating a healthier, tastier lunch at the office."

So many of us worry that eating healthier will mean higher grocery store bills, but it doesn't have to be that way. "When compared to more expensive meals I get from a nearby take-out spots, I never feel tired or weighed down each afternoon," said Connelly. "In fact, I notice that energy from the avocado toast carries into my post work exercise activities."

To make it a complete meal, try topping your avocado toast with turkey bacon, sliced hard boiled egg, or veggie burger.

Kale salad with chicken

Many of us feel hungry after our lunch salad, because we don't add enough protein to it. Adding a filling protein is crucial to a healthy lunch, and chicken is always delicious on top of a big salad.

"I always keep a rotisserie chicken on hand to use the delicious protein-rich lean meat on top of a fresh salad like the Kale Salad with Fruity Vinaigrette from my cookbook. You must give kale a try," Holly Clegg, a Cordon Bleu Cooking School trained cookbook author, told me. "Did you know that one cup of kale provides a whopping five grams of fiber, 15 percent of your daily calcium recommended intake, 180 percent of your vitamin A, and 200 percent of recommended vitamin C?" Definitely worth a try!

Apple nut butter sandwich

As a busy working mom, I'm often eating lunch on the run. My plain turkey sandwich gets old, so I'm going to have to try this apple nut butter version. "One of my favorite lunches is apple nut butter granola sandwiches. Nut butters can be healthy for you, because they are high in healthy fats and have a decent amount of protein," said Taylor Makakoa, who is a personal trainer and fitness professional. "Of course make sure you choose the healthiest and most natural butters with limited or no added sugars, which add up fast."

Once you've spread on the nut butter, try a sprinkle of cinnamon or increase the nutrients with flaxseed. "To make this lunch even healthier, sprinkle in some golden flaxseed. Adding the golden flaxseed will add fiber to your meal," Makakoa told me. "Adding fiber to your diet can help with digestion, as well as maintaining your energy. I like it at lunch time because it helps to prevent that typical two or three o'clock crash."

Strawberry nut butter wrap

If you grew up on peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches on Wonder bread, you are not alone. We all did, and that childhood classic is still delicious. It just won't keep us full or give our bodies any nutrients. However, this grown up PBJ could be just what you've been craving.

"This either sounds amazing, and you are wondering why you have not thought of it yourself, or you kind of cringe, but with a curious look on your face," joked Makakoa. "Choose whole wheat wraps, obviously, and then spread your favorite nut butter across it. Sometimes I like almond butter and sometimes cashew butter. I always like cookie butter, so I try to work my way around that aisle without looking back." Toss in some sliced strawberries, and relive your youth!

Stuffed whole wheat pitas

Whole wheat pitas are a convenient way to spice up your usual wrap or sandwich. It's easy to stuff them with your favorite ingredients and go. 

"Healthy lunches should consist of all food groups in proportioned amounts. You don't want your lunch to be very heavy and leave you drowsy for the rest of the afternoon," Lalani told me. "Whole-wheat pita-pockets stuffed with hummus, cherry tomatoes, rocket leaves (arugula), olives, and other vegetables of your choice are a great option."

Makakoa likes to pack a cucumber and feta cheese pita. "Feta cheese is lower in calories than most other cheeses and is high in protein," she told me. "The combination of the fat and protein from the cheese with the carbohydrates from the pita and the nutrients from the cucumber provides a healthy, easy-to-make, and easy-to-pack lunch."

Oatmeal parfaits

Oatmeal is loaded with healthy fiber and shouldn't be reserved only for mornings. If your office has a microwave, you can create quick and delicious oatmeal parfaits every afternoon.

"Oatmeal parfaits have been popular for years now, but they are popular for good reason," said Makakoa. "Just like the cottage cheese parfaits, these are healthy, well-rounded, easy, and cheap! Add in fruit for flavor, and mix in chia seeds, flax seeds, and cacao nibs for your health!"

Veggie omelet

Veggie omelets are a little trickier to prepare at work, but if you are home for the day, try whipping one up for lunch. "I'm fortunate to be able to work and eat lunch at home a few times a week, so I have some flexibility. My go-to lunch at home is a vegetable omelet with salad greens on the side," Owner of Marisa Moore Nutrition Marisa Moore told Eat This, Not That

"The vegetables change depending on what I have on hand, but I often include mushrooms, spinach, and onions. The protein from the eggs and the fiber from the vegetables satisfy hunger and help me get through the rest of the day. Plus, there's very little clean up."  

Keep it simple

When choosing what to eat for lunch, the most important aspect is it keep it simple. This will help you stay consistent with packing a healthy lunch. "When I am working at my office away from home, I usually pack a lunch. It's typically leftovers from the night before or one of three go-to quick meals," Moore told Eat This, Not That. "They're all easy to make and take on the go. Packed with protein and fiber, they keep me feeling satisfied throughout the rest of the day with little urge to snack. If I eat out for lunch, I usually opt for the soup and salad. In any case, I rarely leave the house without a lunch plan. That's a recipe for disaster."

Spend a few minutes planning your lunches every weekend to stick with a healthy and delicious meal plan.