That midday meal can make or break healthy habits — here's how to make sure lunch works for your weight-loss goals.
- Sip on this: Before eating lunch, have a glass of water; it will help settle those feelings of insatiable hunger while also taking up some room in your stomach, helping you eat less. Sip water or unsweetened tea throughout the meal as well, since they're calorie-free.
- Calories matter: Depending on your recommended daily calorie intake, lunch should fall between 300 and 600 calories. Use a website such as Calorie King to help you add up your food, and use Calorie Count for homemade recipes. For some lunch inspiration, here is a month of 400-calorie lunch ideas, like Greek yogurt chicken salad and a sweet potato black bean veggie burger.
- Pack it: Since it's difficult to know how many calories are in lunches made at cafes, the best way to keep accurate track of the amount in your lunch is to pack it at home. You can even label each item with its calorie count to serve as a visual reminder of how many calories you're consuming.
- These two are a must: No, not peanut butter and jelly — fiber and protein! The fiber takes longer to digest, so hunger pangs won't cause you to reach for more calories soon after lunch ends, and the protein will sustain your energy. Aim for at least 10 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein, like a bowl of this sesame ginger quinoa edamame salad enjoyed with a small serving of yogurt or cheese and blueberries.
- Get away: Sitting at your desk, mindlessly chomping on your lunch while staring at the computer screen (even if it's only Facebook and not work-related) means you're not fully aware of every bite going in your mouth. This doesn't allow your brain to accurately register how much food you're actually eating, so by the time your plate or bowl is empty, you'll be itching for more before your belly has a chance to signal to your brain that you've had enough. Even if it's only for 10 minutes, take a break to just sit and eat. Enjoy lunch with a friend, since eating with others helps you eat slower and remain accountable for what you consume — it's harder to down an enormous cookie when someone is watching you.
- Don't be a member of the clean-plate club: When we're faced with a certain amount of food on our plate, it's difficult not to eat everything, especially if you're used to it from childhood. Get in the habit of eating slowly, enjoying each bite, and stopping once you feel the slightest sensation of fullness. Pack it up and remember that you can always finish the rest for an afternoon snack when you get hungry a couple of hours later.
- Enjoy a sweet ending: End your noontime meal with a small treat to feel like you indulged. These no-bake brownies are just 59 calories per fudge-y square.