11 Nutrient-Dense Lunch Ideas from RDs| Okay + good

11 Nutrient-Dense Lunch Ideas from RDs|  Okay + good

BBreakfast gets all the attention as the most important meal of the day. And while I don’t want to take away from our morning meal that “breaks the fast” (eating early in the day is definitely important!), the midday meal is also essential to help sustain us until dinner.

But, for many people, lunch can be a curveball. Whether you work from home and find yourself snacking all day without eating a full meal, or simply don’t take the time to cook or prepare lunch, that midday snack deserves more attention than we give it. . After all, many of us who feel sluggish in the afternoon can gain some energy simply by eating a balanced lunch.

Experts in this article

  • Amy Penny, RD1registered dietitian
  • Kara Harbstreit, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and founder of Street Smart Nutrition
  • Chelsea LeBlanc, RDN1registered dietitian
  • Eden Davis, RDN, is a registered dietitian and co-owner of Pearl Wellness
  • Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian nutritionist and prenatal and postnatal health expert

Skipping lunches has been associated with decreased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, seafood, and plant protein, which may negatively impact health over time. In addition, people often consume more calories after dinner when skipping breakfast and/or lunch as the body plays “catch up.”

While our culture generally categorizes dinner as the largest meal of the day, some research has shown that consuming a high-energy lunch may lead to positive changes in weight loss and insulin levels during fasting.

Time seems to be the name of the game when it comes to work lunches, so say goodbye to hours and hours of meal prep on Sundays because these nutrient-dense lunch ideas (all registered and dietitian-approved) can be ready in less than a minute. 15 minutes.

Nutrient-dense lunch ideas that RDs swear by

Cereal salad

It’s easy to customize this option based on your preferences or what’s in your pantry. Cook your favorite grain (like quinoa, brown rice, or farro), then add protein and veggies. To save time, use microwaveable grain options, such as change seeds, and a bag of frozen vegetables. Registered dietitian Eden Davis, RDN, recommends a quick meal with brown rice, salmon, edamame, and teriyaki sauce. “In five minutes, I can cut the salmon into quarter-sized pieces, toss it with my favorite teriyaki sauce, sprinkle with sesame seeds, then pop it in the air fryer for 5 minutes before topping it with frozen edamame to make a nutrient-dense, high-calorie dish. A big batch of energy.”

Grilled chicken salad

If you don’t have the time or patience to cook chicken, opt for juicy roasted chicken that you can put on almost everything. Mix with mayonnaise or Greek yogurt and some seasoning and spread on sandwich bread or wrap.

Rice and tuna bowlcom. chamchi deopbap)

This Korean-inspired dish uses a base of reheated white rice with canned or boxed tuna on top. A variety of vegetables, such as carrots, kimchi, pickled onions, or radishes, are added on top. “This lunch satisfies my craving for delicious veggies, and a little Kewpie mayonnaise and gochujang creates a delicious sauce with minimal effort,” says registered dietitian Kara Harbstreet. “In the time it takes to cook rice in the microwave and drain a can of tuna, you can have a satisfying lunch on the table.” Deobab It means “over rice” so any protein can be substituted for tuna, including salmon, leftover rotisserie meat, baked chicken, eggs, tofu, or blanched edamame.

Stuffed with avocado or sweet potato

Take half an avocado (or cooked sweet potato), fill it with canned tuna or salmon, and season to your liking. You can also fill them with baked beans, roasted chicken, or lentils, and cover them with cheese, herbs, nuts, or seeds. Serve alongside salad or with your favorite crunchy vegetables or crackers.


Sandwiches are probably the staple of lunch, and they can be a great midday meal. But I challenge you to switch up your typical deli sandwich. Go for some veggies with eggs and cheese, use spicy cheese with peppers in a cheesy grilled chicken sandwich, or smash some chickpeas over an avocado spread on your sandwich for a fiber upgrade. You can also replace the bread with rolls, naan bread, or English muffins, or try a new bread, such as sourdough, focaccia, or potato bread.

Fajita 5 minutes

Nutritionist Chelsea LeBlanc, RDN, is a fan of quick fajitas for lunch. “Get some corn tortilla chips, frozen fajita vegetables, a can of rinsed black beans, and low-sodium taco seasoning,” she says. “Sauté fajita veggies in a little olive oil. Add black beans and a sprinkle of taco seasoning to the pan until hot. Add this high-fiber mixture to corn tortillas and top with your favorite toppings like salsa, guac, and cheese. This filling, budget-friendly lunch is ready in minutes .

Cottage cheese bowl

Although cottage cheese may be having its moment right now, it certainly offers an easy, accessible, protein-rich lunch option that can satisfy sweet or salty taste buds. Besides protein, cheese also provides calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B12 for building bones.

“My favorite delicious option is the Greek cheese bowl,” says Amy Penny, RD. “On top of the cheese bowl, I’ll add a mix of whatever veggies I have on hand, including tomatoes, peppers, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, and seasonings like Greek, salt, and pepper, to make a super quick meal. A nutrient-packed lunch for the working person.”

Lauren Manaker, RD, is also a fan of this quick and flexible cheese bowl. “I’ll take a half cup of cheese and add any items from the fridge or pantry — pumpkin seeds, raisins, roasted chickpeas — anything goes, really,” she says. “This dish also helps avoid food waste, as it welcomes the use of items that would otherwise be thrown away if they are close to their expiration date.”

FYI, Greek yogurt is a great alternative to cottage cheese and also adds a boost of probiotics.

Burger quesadillas

Replace your fast food burger or delivery burger with a turkey burger with sweet potatoes. Mashed sweet potatoes add more antioxidants and fiber, as well as vitamins A and C. Microwave the sweet potatoes for 5-7 minutes, then scoop out the meat to mix with ground turkey or chicken, and cook for about 5 minutes. Every side.

Chili pepper

This fall favorite chili can be customized any way you like. Combine some canned beans, onions, peppers, broth, and crushed tomatoes in a skillet or Instant Pot and cook until the flavors blend. Choose add-ins, such as beef, chicken, pumpkin, or sweet potato. Throw some crackers on top for a satisfying crunch.

Light lunch

Take the “girl dinner” Tiktok trend and apply it to brunch. The key is to make them filling and cover all the bases with macronutrients, like protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Mix and match with some of your favorite protein options, like deli meats, roasted chickpeas, or hard-boiled eggs. Pair it with some crackers, whole-grain bread, fruits or vegetables, and add some delicious fats, such as olives, olive oil, cheese, Greek yogurt, nuts or seeds.

Pasta salad

Pasta salad steals the show as a “picnic food,” but it can also be a great lunch option. With a variety of pasta options available (from protein-rich to vegetarian to gluten-free), pair your favorite cooked pasta with whatever toppings you have on hand—chicken, beans, tofu, or seafood are all great options. This chickpea pasta salad is a great inspiration. To save time, you can also use a quick-cooking, microwaveable pasta option, such as Barilla Ready Pasta.

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