A-tisket, a-tasket, a green and yellow basket; don’t these opening lyrics from the famous children’s nursery rhyme tempt you into enjoying a picnic lunch by the lake with your family? They sure do me. Whether you are looking for healthy lunch ideas for weekend fun, work, or every day, we’ve got you covered.
In tune with American tradition, for us, lunch is usually lighter than dinner, even though both meals consist of the same three components, lean vegetables, starch, and protein. Our tasty lunch recipes focus on quick and easy healthy lunch ideas like curried chicken salad, old-fashioned vegetable beef soup, or open-faced tuna sandwiches.
Some dietitians believe you are better off weight wise by eating your main meal at lunch as your body has more time to burn off what you ate. This means you would eat a lighter meal for dinner.
So which is the better choice, light meal at lunch or dinner? This depends on your daily schedule and your personal eating habits. Whichever you choose, just make sure both meals fit into your overall dietary plan and don’t have a heavy lunch and a heavy dinner in the same day.
Our yummy Lunch Category in Your Daily Food Choices blog contains three sub-categories:
- Soups & Chilies (plus stews)
- Salads (plus salad dressings)
- Sandwiches & Pizza (plus burgers, wraps, and lettuce wraps)
How to Make Soups More Delicious
When you think of the best soup you have ever eaten, which one comes to mind? Is it one your precious mother made? One you had at a trendy restaurant while on vacation? Or one you make yourself?
Whatever soup came to mind, I bet you wish you had a big steaming bowl of it right now to devour. Just like any other type of cooking, making memorable soups often includes knowing a few simple culinary secrets and tricks. Here are a few options to try:
Use homemade stocks
Don’t panic, you can still use purchased stocks or broths as the base for your soups. But when you have the time, making homemade chicken stock, beef stock, or vegetable stock is guaranteed to taste better than any product you buy at the store.
Make a big batch to use for weeks to come. Divide it into one cup, one pint, or one quart storage containers and freeze for later use.
Hint: keep large zip lock bags in the freezer for collecting items to use in making your stocks. For example vegetable odds and ends that are wilting, green onion tops, or bones from a roasted chicken.
Add acid to perk up a dull soup
The key to making delicious homemade soups is to taste them and especially when they are almost done. First thing you taste for is salt. If not salty enough, simply add more salt. Once the salt is right, does the soup taste flat or dull? If so, you can add a small amount of acid to give it that needed kick.
Good acids to use are:
- Fresh lemon juice: Start by squeezing in a teaspoon or two. Add more if needed. You can also you lime juice but I prefer lemon.
- Tomatoes: Add a can of chopped tomatoes or a cup or two of fresh tomatoes. Another option is a can of tomato paste, tomato sauce, or enchilada sauce.
- V8: Adding a cup or two of V8 is an easy way to add punch to soups. Or you can add tomato juice.
- Vinegar: Start by adding a half teaspoon of your favorite vinegar like red, white, or apple cider. Add a little more as desired.
- Pickled product: My favorite is jalapenos, either chopped or sliced. Add a tablespoon or more depending on taste. Pickled onions or sauerkraut are other options.
Use canned soups as a base
When in a rush, start with a can or box of soup as the base and add ingredients to make the soup more filling or serve more people or multiple meals. Start by sautéing veggies like onions, peppers, garlic, mushrooms, or carrots. Towards the end, add a cup or two of chopped spinach, kale, or Swiss chard.
Heat the base soup and add the cooked veggies. Throw in a can of black, pinto, or kidney beans for protein. Also add spices like black pepper, oregano, paprika, or any other family favorite. Taste to see if the soup needs more salt. Serve and enjoy as though you spent hours in the kitchen making this tasty creation.
How to fix a soup that is too salty
Every once in a while, the homemade soup you are making will taste salty. This can result from adding too much salt at the beginning or using products that contained more added salt than you expected. Now you need to correct the issue.
Start by adding a few more cups of water or unsalted broth. If that doesn’t fix the problem, add a finely chopped potato or two. Let the soup cook until potato is nearly done and has had a chance to absorb the extra salt. You can also use rice or pasta instead of potatoes.
How to make a soup creamier
Do you like your soup broth-based or creamy? Both are full of flavor and nutrition. Here are a few ways to make your soup creamier:
- Add cream: You can add heavy cream, half and half, milk, or other products like coconut milk, soy milk, or almond milk to make a creamier soup. You can add cups or tablespoons depending upon desired final product. If you use low-fat or non-fat milk, the soup will be much less creamy.
- Add yogurt: Adding plain yogurt or Greek yogurt works similar to cream, with a lighter more tangy result.
- Puree part of the soup: Remove a cup or two of the soup and blend in a food processor or blender. Add back to the soup for a more full-bodied soup.
- Add stale bread: Tear a few pieces of stale bread into small pieces. Let these soak for a few minutes in a cup or two of the hot soup. Once soaked, purée and add to your soup.
- Thicken with flour or cornstarch: Remove a half cup or less of the broth into a small bowl. Whisk in a three or four tablespoons of flour or cornstarch. Add whisked product to your soup and heat for several minutes.
Best Salad Greens
Eating green salads is an easy way to increase nutrition and add more vegetables to your daily eating plan. The darker the leafy green, the better the nutrient content.
Be sure to include plenty of colorful toppings such as peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, red cabbage, mushrooms, zucchini, radishes, cauliflower, and any other vegetable you have on hand. The more the merrier.
When purchasing greens for your salads, choose those darker in color and choose a variety. Don’t just stick with one kind of green. Most importantly, choose greens that you and your family eat and serve salads often.
Common greens to choose for your salads:
- Arugula: Noted for its peppery flavor, arugula helps spice up your salads. It is a good source of vitamins K and A. Arugula has some amounts of folate, calcium, manganese and potassium. Arugula helps lower blood pressure and lower risk of lung and colon cancer.
- Butter, Bibb and Boston lettuce: Slightly sweet in flavor these lettuces have a loose folded head that is bright green. These lettuces are a very good source of vitamins A and K with some amounts of vitamin C, folate, iron, and potassium. These lettuces help protect against prostrate and uterus cancer and help protect eyesight.
- Chicory: Curly leaves tinged with green and yellow, chicory is slightly bitter in taste and adds texture to salads. It is rich in vitamins K, A and C. Chicory has small amounts of folate, vitamin E, calcium, manganese, copper and potassium. Chicory relieves digestive problems, reduces arthritis pain, and protects against kidney stones.
- Escarole: A member of the chicory family, this large and crisp pale colored leafy green is mildly bitter in flavor. It is popular in Italian cuisine. Escarole is rich in vitamins K and A. it has small amounts of iron, potassium and calcium. Escarole decreases risk of cancer, stoke, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.
- Iceberg lettuce: While the most popular of all the salad greens, light green iceberg lettuce is lower in nutrients than other types of greens. However, it is rich in water. Iceberg lettuce is a good source of vitamin K and has some amounts of vitamin A, folate, manganese, dietary fiber, and potassium. Iceberg lettuce helps prevent heart disease and protect against viral infections.
- Kale: King dark green kale, a member of the cabbage family, is one of the healthiest plant foods in existence. One cup exceeds your daily requirement for vitamins A, C, and K. Kale is also a good source of manganese, copper, calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, and magnesium. Eating kale helps fight cancer, reduces risk of heart disease, lowers risk of cataracts, and helps you lose weight.
- Red or green leaf lettuce: Bright and colorful leaf lettuces, both green and red, are mild in taste and add interest to your salads. Leaf lettuces are rich in vitamins K and A. They have small amounts of manganese, iron, and vitamin C. Leaf lettuces aid vision, healthy skin, and immune system.
- Romaine: Dark green with long leaves and a crisp texture, romaine is a popular salad green. Romaine is rich in vitamins A and K but is mineral poor. Romaine helps lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
- Spinach: Bright dark green spinach contains more folic acid than most greens, helping to convert food into energy and aid red blood cell production. Two cups of spinach and you will exceed your daily requirement for vitamin K. Spinach is also a good source vitamin A, manganese, vitamin C, iron, and copper.
- Swiss chard: Leafy dark green Swiss chard with red and purple stalks and veins is often used in Mediterranean cooking. Eating one cup will exceed your daily requirement for vitamin K. It is good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium and manganese. Swiss chard helps stabilize blood sugar levels and speeds up digestion.
- Watercress: An aquatic plant found near springs and streams, watercress has small, round, green leaves. Eating one cup will exceed your daily requirement for vitamin K. It is good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium and manganese. Watercress helps strengthen bones, inhibits cancer, and helps treat Alzheimer’s.
How to Cut Calories from Your Sandwich
Ah, the easy to prepare humble sandwich. This convenient meal appears so innocent but watch out as sandwiches, especially burgers, are often deceptively loaded with calories. Piled high with the wrong meat, slathered with high-calorie condiments, and topped with double cheese can easily transform your sandwich into a calorie bomb accounting for one half of your daily calorie allotment.
This does not mean that the beloved sandwich is off-limits. The possibilities of making a healthy sandwich are endless. Just make a few healthy swaps and enjoy a nutritious sandwich to your heart’s content.
How to make a healthy sandwich
First – Begin with whole wheat bread or bun:
The bread or bun is your starch or carbohydrate-rich energy part of the sandwich, providing a good source of dietary fiber. For variety, make your sandwich with a whole wheat tortilla, wrap, or pita. Or lighten up the sandwich by making it an open-face version.
Needing to save even more calories?
Skip the bread and use large, leafy vegetable leaves to make a vegetable wrap. These tasty morsels only add between 20 – 13 calories to your sandwich. Excellent choices for leaves are lettuce, collard, cabbage, and endive.
Second – Choose a lean protein:
Making a protein packed filling for you sandwich can help you feel fuller and more satisfied after the meal. Choose lean options like chicken breast, turkey breast, lean roast beef, or tuna. If making a burger, opt for 93% or higher ground beef or lean ground turkey.
Watch out for processed lunch meats which are usually high in sodium and nitrates. Use leftover rotisserie chicken for a quick and tasty sandwich filling. Or use Applegate Organics Turkey Breast which has just 50 calories a serving and no fillers, artificial ingredients, by-products, or sweeteners.
Don’t forget vegetarian options like sliced boiled egg or black bean patty for your burger. Lower calorie cheese options are mozzarella, provolone or Swiss.
Third – Stuff your sandwich with veggies:
In addition to the standard piece of lettuce and slice of tomato, pile on as many veggies as possible for added fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Excellent fresh choices are spinach, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and cucumber. Be daring and try adding shredded red cabbage or carrots. And don’t forget sauerkraut!
Add fresh herbs like basil, parsley, or sage to up the flavor. Have some leftover stir-fry veggies in the fridge? Pile them on your sandwich. And don’t forget fruit slices. If bananas were good enough for Elvis, they work for me.
Fourth – Flavor with tasty spreads:
Condiments give your sandwich the final touch to personalize your sandwich. Make healthy choices when selecting condiments as many are high in sugar and sodium. Try hummus and guacamole for added flavor. Looking to add extra spiciness? Reach for salsa or pica-de-gallo. Who said these were only for tacos?
How We Plan Our Daily Lunch Meal:
Lunch consists of three components plus a beverage. These three components are starch, protein, and lean vegetables. Think of your plate divided into three sections. One fourth is starch, one fourth is protein and one half is lean vegetables.
- The starch comes from starchy vegetables like brown rice, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, corn, peas, beans (kidney, pinto, black, cannellini, butter, northern, navy, etc.), and lentils. The starch can also be a slice of whole grain bread.
- The protein is low-fat protein like skinless chicken, fish, lean beef, lean pork, or turkey. Protein is mostly prepared by baking, broiling, grilling, cooking in a crock-pot, or stir frying in small amount of olive oil or broth. Frying in oil is the least preferred method of cooking protein.
- The lean vegetables that fill half of the plate are lean vegetables with lots of variety and color. Examples are broccoli, spinach, carrots, green beans, cauliflower, beets, squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, greens, and many more. Variety and tasty preparation is the key to keeping the palate engaged.
- For beverages, we drink water, tea, or green smoothies.
Quick Healthy Lunch ideas:
- Nothing beats a classic BLT for lunch. Try substituting pancetta or Canadian bacon for regular bacon. Use a variety of greens in place of iceberg lettuce. And don’t forget to toast that whole grain bread for a crispy texture.
- While homemade is often more nutritious, a comforting bowl of tomato soup is good anytime of the year. If using canned or boxed, spice it up a notch by adding sliced lemon and chopped fresh basil.
- Lunch is a perfect time for an easy to make nutritious green smoothie. Combine a handful of kale or spinach, a couple of fruits like bananas or berries, a protein like Greek yogurt or protein powder, tablespoon of chia seeds, dash of cinnamon, splash of vanilla, and liquid (water or any milk product) then blend until smooth and creamy. The variations are endless.
- Make canned tuna a lunch time staple. Make it into a healthy tuna salad or a tasty tuna sandwich. Be creative with additives like onion, celery, carrots, zucchini, apples, grapes, raisins, nuts, black olives to name a few. Serve on crackers or a heart healthy avocado half for a change-up lunch.
- Homemade soups and stews are great options for filling lunches. And the best part of making soups and stews is that you can make enough for several meals.
- Curried chicken salad with raisins enjoyed either as a salad with a side of soup, or on whole wheat bread as a sandwich.
- A chef salad loaded with veggies, ham or chicken or turkey, cheese, and hard-boiled egg is appealing and satisfying.
- Enjoy an old-fashioned, kid pleasing natural peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread. Add fresh veggies or fresh fruit for more nutrients. Don’t forget to use sugar-free jelly or preserves to lower the calories.
- Fill a whole wheat tortilla with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, black olives, and left over grilled veggies. Season with you favorite spice like Italian seasoning or dried dill. For added protein, top with feta or goat cheese and you have one tasty wrap.
- Make a tasty Greek pizza with shrimp, grape tomatoes, kalamata olives, peppers, red onion, and feta cheese. For the crust, choose a thin variety or use flatbread. Or skip the crust and make a Portobello pizza.
5 Tips for Making Salads and Salad Dressings
- Lunch is a great time to add beans, peas, and lentils into your salads. These high fiber foods take longer to digest meaning that you will feel fuller longer.
- For salads, choose low-fat or fat-free salad dressings and watch how much you use. Serving the dressing in a small container on the side is a helpful tactic. Dip your salad in the dressing to control how much you use.
- When adding fresh lemon or lime juice to a salad or salad dressing recipe, squeeze the lemon or lime cut side up. This will keep the seeds from falling into your food.
- Have any leftover chicken or beef from last night’s dinner? Add it to today’s salad for lunch. Leftover veggies also make great salad additives.
- Add huge flavor to salads by incorporating low-calorie olives which are high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Pick up a large variety from the olive bar at the supermarket and toss a few on your salad. Or keep several jars of olives in the fridge for easy access.
11 Tips for Making Homemade Soups
- If you are a beginning home cook, making homemade soup is a great place to start. Most soups are forgiving and don’t take long to make. When the ingredients are tender, the soup is ready to eat.
- Keep a few boxes of store-bought stock (chicken, vegetable, beef, and fish) in your pantry. Or make your own stock and store it in the freezer. Many soup recipes call for stock instead of water because it adds extra flavor. Homemade stock makes an even bigger difference.
- Add brown rice, beans, lentils or split peas to make soups more substantial. Pre-cooked or canned versions are the quickest-cooking options. If using dried, plan for plenty of cooking time to allow for the dried items to get tender.
- Add fish, poultry, or meat to soups for extra flavor and protein. To make a quick soup, use leftover pieces of cooked fish, poultry, or meat. Simply chop it up and heat it with the soup’s other ingredients.
- When making soup, make a big batch of soup. Most soup recipes can easily be scaled up. Freeze in small portions for future meals when you don’t have time to cook or grab a container for a healthy lunch at work. Frozen soup keeps for about three months.
- Forgot to overnight soak the beans for your bean soup? Don’t worry. You can quick soak the beans by pouring boiling water over them and letting them stand for 1 hour. Rinse with cold water and go ahead and prepare your soup recipe.
- Taking soup to work for lunch? Don’t forget to add toppings such as a dollop of Greek yogurt, chopped fresh basil, or a slice of lemon when packing up the soup.
- When making soups and stews, combine both fresh and frozen vegetables for a more budget friendly option. Using frozen also adds convenience as they are already chopped, ready and waiting to add to the recipe.
- Add poultry seasoning to vegetable soups for added flavor.
- When using thyme in a soup recipe, toss in whole sprigs. The leaves will come off while cooking. Simply pull out the springs before serving.
- Choose lean protein sources for soups. Excellent choices are skinless chicken or turkey, fish, shellfish, pork loin, and lean cuts of beef like top sirloin, eye of round, and sirloin-tip steak.
6 Tips for Preparing Sandwiches
- Choose whole-grain breads over white bread for added nutrients when making sandwiches. If you are gluten sensitive, be sure to choose gluten-free bread.
- To cut calories, make open face sandwiches or no-face sandwiches like lettuce wraps. Get creative!
- When making tuna, salmon, chicken, or egg salad sandwiches, besides celery and onion, add shredded carrot or zucchini, and add some fruit like a finely chopped apple or sliced grapes.
- When buying whole grain bread, make sure the first ingredient is whole wheat, not enriched wheat flour.
- When packing sandwiches for a take with you lunch, to prevent soggy sandwiches, pack each ingredient in separate zip bags and assemble the sandwich just before eating.
- For convenience, keep plenty of single serving sized patties of frozen ground turkey, lean ground beef or black beans on hand for quickly making mouth-watering sandwiches or burgers.
Wrapping up on Healthy Lunch Ideas
We’ve chatted about how to make your satisfying soups more delicious. We’ve looked at which greens to choose for your healthy salads. Then we examined how to cut calories from your nutritious sandwich. We’ve showed you how we plan lunch and gave you a few suggestions for healthy lunch ideas. We also gave you tips for making salads, soups, and sandwiches.
There is so much more we could discuss, but now the choice is yours. You need to decide how to plan your day and if lunch is your light meal or your main meal for the day. Let us know if you have any questions. And, don’t forget to pack a tasty lunch in your green and yellow basket and play a game of a-tisket a-tasket!
Need more information for healthy lunch ideas and how to make soups, salads, and sandwiches? Below are a few articles for you to check out.
Sources and Enlightening Reading
50 Tips to Help You Make the Best Soup You’ve Ever Had by the kitchn
11 Reasons Soup Should be Your New Best Friend by Mary McCoy from She Knows
Soup: Why do we eat it when we’re ill? By Anna-Louise Taylor for BBC News
The Benefits of Healthy Soup by Susie Burrell from Taste
The 5 Worst Soups for Weight Loss (and 5 to Try Instead) by Alanna Nunez from Shape
International Year of Pulses by Oldways Mediterranean Foods Alliance
Are you Salad-Bar Savvy? By Mayo Clinic
The Best Salad Greens for Your Health by Alice Martin from Everyday Health
A Visual Guides to Salad Greens by Esther Sung from Epicurious
What Are the Benefits of Eating Salads? By Sandi Busch from Healthy Eating
Common Mistakes That Can Ruin the Health Benefits of Your Salad by Dr. Mercola from Mercola
Health Benefits of Eating a Bowl of Salad Daily by Vrushali Athavle from Goqii
20 Health Benefits Of Eating Salad by Sherry Riter from The Redhead Riter
Weight Loss Secret: Eating Sandwiches to Lose Weight by Fit Watch
Healthy Sandwich Do’s and Don’ts by Wyatt Myers from Everyday Health
How to Eat a Healthier – and Tastier – Sandwich by Charlotte Harding from Daily Mail
Healthy Tips for Making Sandwiches at Home by Lauren Haslett from Eat This!
Why Does Your Sandwich Come With a Pickle? By Dylan Lehotsky from Mental Floss
We Appreciate You!
Thanks for stopping by and letting us share a little about our healthy lunch philosophy.
We are here for you as a guide and as a friend. Let us know how we can help you embrace a healthy lifestyle.
Here’s to lower calorie, great tasting recipes, and living well! And remember, what you eat really matters!
Linda and Steve
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