Before I discovered clean eating, I used to think feeling like a train hit me right around 2 pm was an inevitable part of each day. By 3 pm I’d be slumping in my chair, eyes drooping, and spirits sagging. I’d count the minutes until dinner, irritably race home, and eat as much as possible. I might even preface dinner with a *few* handfuls of tortilla chips. Then I’d feel sluggish again after a huge dinner and sit on the couch the rest of the night. Sound familiar?
Since changing the way I eat several years ago, I have not had this happen even once. I have energy all day long, feel healthier, and easily maintain my weight.
You may know you need to make a change to your eating habits but feel thwarted - you aren’t sure how to do it or don’t have time to prepare food ahead. When I find people in the lunchroom heating up frozen dinners, they usually say lack of time is the reason for not bringing food from home. If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of having to prepare clean eating lunches or squeeze in breakfast before work, you may be surprised by how easy eating clean really is.
Lunch is a manageable place to start when you’ve decided to eat healthier. I started out with clean eating lunches and slowly added in snacks, then breakfasts, and finally dinners. In the beginning I still ate foods like garden burgers and soups, but now I avoid anything with high sodium or a long ingredient list. But even cutting out packaged, junky foods gradually made a huge difference in my health and chronic stomach distress.
Prepping Clean Eating Lunches
As you may know (and maybe fear!), the key to eating more wholesome foods is a little advance preparation. But I promise you it is not difficult. Here’s your plan:
- On the weekend, buy a few key ingredients (suggestions below).
- Once every week or two, cook wholesome foods in batches. Prepare homemade casseroles, salads, or soups or prepare individual foods to combine, such as:
- Lean proteins: Cooked chicken breasts, turkey meatballs and patties, salmon or tuna steaks, pork tenderloin, grass-fed bison or beef
- Complex carbs/starch: Vegetables, brown rice, whole-grain pasta and buns, quinoa, sweet potatoes
- After cooking, divide and freeze these foods in individual-sized portions so that on weekdays you can have them for quick, nutritious lunches (and dinners!).
- Also on the weekend, spend a little time preparing foods you’ll eat during the week that you don’t want to freeze. For example, boil eggs or cut vegetables for salads.
- Each morning, grab an individual-sized portion from the freezer and take it to work with you (such as a turkey patty and bun). At lunch, eat it with veggies or as a salad and bring to work or warm for dinner. If you have a fridge at work, keep things such as mustard or balsamic vinaigrette in stock there.
You can throw these ingredients together in endless ways to create yummy salads, sandwiches, wraps, and more (see recipe below). With clean eating lunches, you rely on seasonings and natural flavors instead of fat, sugar, and salt.
You should plan on bringing a lunch bag or small cooler with you to work or school – you don’t want to end up hungry away from home with nothing to eat but junk. Besides lunch, my bag includes snacks such as roasted almonds, fruit, and low-fat string cheese.
If you’re trying to lose weight, have smaller portions. You’ll find the weight comes off more easily when you’re mostly consuming fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and complex carbs instead of calorie-dense prepackaged and fast food.
Your Starter Grocery List
Here is a list of specific foods to get you started with clean eating lunches. As I mentioned in my first clean eating post, you should get your hands on Tosca Reno’s book, The Eat Clean Diet, for more ideas.
On your weekend grocery trip, in addition to the ingredients you choose to make from the weekend prep list above, pick up the following as you like:
Whole-grain pita, waffles, or bread; marinated artichokes; avocado; non-fat Greek yogurt; frozen edamame beans (or another legume of your choice); steel-cut oatmeal (or unsweetened instant); a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables; frozen blueberries; low-sodium hummus; n0-salt added garbonzo, kidney, or black beans; dark-leafy greens; sweet potatoes; free-range eggs; grass-fed beef; lean ground turkey; free-range chicken breasts; white fish; canned light tuna in water or salmon
I love avocado sandwiches with a hard boiled egg, tuna sandwiches with fruit, pasta/rice/chicken/veggie salads, and turkey burgers or meatballs with fruit, to name a few. (Check out what a day of clean eating looks like for me.) You’ll notice that all these meals include both complex carbs and protein so that your energy level remains high until your next meal or snack (fats are a small part of most of these meals as well). Remember, you can choose to eat smaller, more frequent “mini-meals” or add small snacks between three main meals.
Here’s a salad I love to make for lunch. When you can pull out cooked pasta and chicken from the freezer, this takes about 10 minutes to make. Do it before bed and you’re all set with a delicious, healthy lunch!
- 2 chicken breasts, chopped
- 8 oz whole-grain rotini or penne pasta, cooked and drained
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cucumber, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 4 oz artichoke hearts (reserve marinade for dressing)
Toss all the ingredients and add dressing as desired.
I just add a little artichoke marinade but you can try the following:
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 7-oz container Greek yogurt, reduced or nonfat
- 2 Tbsp reserved marinade
- In a large bowl, combine chicken, pasta, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, and artichokes. Mix well.
- In a small bowl, combine dressing ingredients and stir well. Pour over salad.
Enjoy your new-found energy and better health with this small change to your eating lifestyle! For more clean-eating and strength-training tips, subscribe to my newsletter by entering your email address in the green box to the right.