Protein-Packed Lunches
Food,  Meals & Planning,  Recipes

Protein-Packed Lunches

Easy add-ons for a boost in protein and healthy fats

Lunch: the meal that is often treated as an afterthought. In our busy lives, lunch is a meal that we “grab”, “pick up”, eat at our desks, or consume while doing something else entirely. Increasingly, lunch is simply a means to an end – a way to prevent hangriness – so we can keep going through the rest of our day until dinner.

This relegation of lunch to the sidelines of life just makes me sad. My ideal would be to sit down at a table, maybe with other people (what?!), and enjoy each bite of a simple, fresh, and delicious meal. There have been times in my life where I actually did do this. Namely, in college, when I ate at the dining hall with my friends every day (pre-real life). More recently, my husband and I were able to meet for lunch on a regular basis because our offices are within walking distance of one another. It was amazing! We would often eat outside at a nearby park or outdoor seating area, and we were frequently joined by my or his colleagues. I even got a short walk in, since our offices were walking distance away. Even though some days were rushed – maybe we only had 30 minutes – I so enjoyed this miniature social outing (with food), and looked forward to it every day. Sadly, we don’t get to do this anymore, as my husband’s office is now farther from mine, and I often work through lunch (sigh) in order to get my work done and be home for the kids.

All this is to say that – no matter what you are eating for lunch – if you have the opportunity to step away from other activities and just eat, either by yourself or even better with other people, do it. Taking a “real lunch” like this makes me feel refreshed, and I find I am more motivated and productive for the rest of my day. 

Another way to make sure that your lunch will set you up for success – energize, nourish, and sustain – is to include a good source of protein and fat. My refrigerator and pantry always include a few “go-to” protein/fat bombs that I can throw in my Tupperware salad. Greens + veggies + protein/fat bomb + dressing = lunchy nirvana. 

  1. When there are no leftovers and I’m in too much of a hurry to even open a can, I go for full-fat cottage cheese. One serving, which is ½ cup, packs only 120 calories, but >10 grams of protein and ~5 grams of fat. With nutrition stats like that, I usually go for two servings.
  2. If I’ve been on top of my food game and hard-boiled eggs ahead of time, I’ll peel, chop and add 2 – 3 of these to my lunch. A large egg is about 75 calories, and has 5 grams each of protein and fat.
  3. Fish in a can: Canned albacore tuna (or any tuna for that matter) contains a heck of a lot of protein – 26 grams – and only 120 calories in each 5 oz can. This means that every single calorie in the fish comes from protein – there is literally nothing else – it is straight protein. Wow. There’s no fat in this protein option, so be sure to add your favorite oil-based dressing or some avocado + lime + salt. Here are some good ones: Thrive’s wild albacore and Costco’s Kirkland or Wild Planet brands.
  4. More fish in a can: Sardines or anchovies are soooo delicious to me. I know that they are too fishy for some, but if you haven’t tried them, please – for me – give these briny, full-of-healthy-fat, little fishies a try. Usually packed in olive oil, these fish offer both protein and fat in abundance. Sardines usually come in 4-5 ounce cans, which anchovies can be in 2- or 4-5 ounce cans, Either way, for a full 4.375-ounce can, you’re looking at about 300 calories, 20 grams of fat and 20 grams of protein. Not too shabby! My faves: https://www.costco.com/Season-Skinless-Boneless-Sardines-in-Olive-Oil%2C-4.375-oz%2C-6-count.product.100368230.html and https://thrivemarket.com/p/wild-planet-white-anchovies-in-extra-virgin-olive-oil
  5. One more fish in a can: Salmon, on the fishiness scale, is somewhere in between tuna and anchovies/sardines. My daughter, for example, has a “fishiness threshold” that peaks at salmon – she’s not ready for sardines just yet. Salmon also falls in the middle of tuna and sardines/anchovies on fat content, meaning that it has more fat than tuna but less than sardines/anchovies (mostly due to the fact that it’s not packed in oil). Like tuna, salmon is jam-packed with protein. A 5-ounce can has 35 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat. I recommend Costco’s Kirkland brand and Thrive Market’s house brand

I eat salads almost every day for lunch – they are pretty portable, fresh, and there are a million variations (no boredom) – so I visualize these protein and fat additions as something you put on top of a salad. Whether or not you are eating a salad, adding protein can be just as simple – put these on a sandwich or on the side straight up or mix with mayo and relish for a salad sandwich. 

What is your delicious way to add protein and or fat to lunch? Do you keep lunch “sacred” in any way, and if so, how? If you have answers to either of these questions, please share your thoughts – your input is super valuable to other readers and me!