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 and 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 lunch or squeeze in breakfast before work, you may be surprised at how easy eating healthy and clean really is.
Lunch is a manageable place to start when you’ve decided to eat healthier. Even after several years of healthier eating, I don’t eat natural foods 100% of the time. I do still enjoy small amounts of some processed foods (premade salad dressings, garden burgers, low-sodium canned soups, etc.). I started out with just lunch, then I added in snacks, then breakfast, then dinners. Even though I don’t eat clean 100%, there’s been a huge difference in my health and the way I feel. I consider this approach also part of the 80/20 rule – eat clean 80 percent of the time and the other 20 percent you can be more lenient.
How to Get Started
As you may know (and maybe fear!), the key to eating unprocessed foods is a little advance preparation. But I promise you it is not difficult. Here’s your plan:
- Once every couple of weeks, cook big batches of things like whole-wheat pasta, brown rice or quinoa, chicken breasts, turkey burgers, salmon steaks, and sweet potatoes. You’ll be freezing these foods in individual-sized portions so that on weekdays (or evenings) you can pull them out for quick, nutritious lunches (and dinners!).
- On the weekend, go to the grocery store and buy a few key ingredients (suggestions below under Grocery Lists).
- Also on the weekend, spend a little time preparing foods you’ll eat during the week. For example: boil eggs and cut up cherry tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, and red bell pepper for salads. Obviously, if you don’t like these veggies then you can buy different ones.
In the morning (or evening) you can throw these ingredients together in endless ways to create yummy salads, sandwiches, wraps, and more (see recipe below). With clean eating, 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 lunch bag includes snacks such as roasted almonds, fruit, and string cheese.
If you’re trying to lose weight, try 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 pre-packaged and fast food.
Your Starter Grocery List
Here is a list of specific items you can start out with – it’s just a starter list to give you ideas. 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.
Pick three or more items from this list and you’ll be set for your lunch (and breakfast) week. 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; dark-leafy greens; sweet potatoes; free-range eggs; grass-fed beef; lean ground turkey; chicken breasts; white fish; canned light tuna in water or salmon
I love to eat avocado sandwiches with a hardboiled egg, tuna sandwiches with fruit, pasta/rice/chicken/veggie salads, and turkey burgers and meatballs with fruit, to name a few. You’ll notice that all these meals include both carbs and protein so that your energy level remains high until your next meal or snack. 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!
From the Summer 2009 issue of Oxygen Magazine
- 2 chicken breasts
- 8 oz whole wheat past, cooked and cooled
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cucumber, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 4 oz artichoke hearts (reserve marinade for dressing)
I just added a little artichoke marinade but you can try the following.
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 7-oz container Greek yogurt, reduced fat (2%)
- 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!