We could all use more ideas for lunch. I personally used to be stuck in a “bread” rut and ended up centering my lunches around whole-wheat hamburger buns or toast every day.
Salads with all the major nutrients – healthy fats, protein, and carbs – are a more well-rounded option. You can get a good portion of your daily vegetable servings in your lunch and have a meal that satiates you, provides long-lasting energy, and fits in with your clean eating lifestyle. Plus, bringing salads to work instead of grabbing a fast food meal will help you lose weight, provided you use low-calorie dressings and watch portions.
Restaurant salads can be mountains of rich ingredients (and calories) like sugar-coated nuts and cheese. So it’s best to bring your own salad or order the dressing on the side and hold the cheese, sugared nuts, croutons, bacon bits, and processed meats.
Some of the fixings I’ve had in salads have been so good I haven’t even needed dressing. But since dressing can add a lot of flavor and moisture, learn the low-calorie, healthy options.
Even salads can be unhealthy, especially when restaurants add one-quarter to one-half cup of dressing made from saturated or damaged trans fat oils. Ask for dressing on the side and use only 1 to 2 tablespoons of the creamier, high-fat dressings. Also try these healthy options (also watching portions):
- High-quality olive oil, flaxseed oil, or sesame oil mixed with some herbs
- Vinaigrettes generally use 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar mixed with herbs and Dijon mustard or another emulsifier (use less oil). Try pear, raspberry, balsamic, or white wine vinaigrettes.
- Low-fat Italian dressing
- Non-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with dill or another herb and Dijon mustard
- Lemon juice
Avoid fat-free dressings as they can be high in sodium and sugar. Low-fat dressings can also contain processed ingredients such as thickeners and starches, adding empty calories.
If you avoided all fat you’d be missing the benefits of lowered cholesterol and heart disease risk, better moods, and less fatigue, to name a few. The American Heart Association recommends that 25-30 percent of your diet come from fat, with 7 percent or less of your total daily calories coming from saturated fat and the rest from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats . So include any of these in moderation:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel that is broiled, grilled, or steamed
- Oils (see “Dressing”)
This is my favorite addition to salads. I love sneaking in protein wherever I can during the day to fuel my muscle-building endeavors. If salads don’t typically keep you satiated for long you’re probably not adding enough protein. And protein doesn’t have to mean just meat, either:
- Unsalted and rinsed beans and legumes, such as edamame, chick peas, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, and lima beans
- Nuts and seeds (preferably unsalted) add crunch, texture, and protein to your salad. Try chopped walnuts, pecans, or peanuts, slivered almonds, or pine nuts, and roasted sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, or flax seeds.
- Chopped boiled egg
- Grilled, baked, or steamed fish or canned, water-packed tuna
- Grilled or baked chicken or turkey breast
- Grass-fed beef
- Non-fat cottage cheese
Since you need 5 to 6 servings per day of fibrous and leafy carbs, salads are a great way to knock this out while adding fiber, nutrients, lasting energy, and satiety to your lunches. Here are some super healthy options:
- Baby spinach, romaine, watercress, red leaf, mesclun, Swiss chard, and kale
- Fresh fruit, such as apples, pears, berries, melons, or grapes
- Fresh vegetables that are nutrient powerhouses include tomatoes, broccoli, and bell peppers. But any vegetable is fair game for a salad, such as carrots, mushrooms, radishes, green peas, and snap peas.
Here are few places you can find healthy salad recipes: