Q: I get hungry between meals and end up snacking on whatever is at my desk—or worse, hitting up the vending machine. What can I eat for lunch that will keep me satisfied all afternoon?
A: Feeling hungry between meals often means that you’re eating calorically dense rather than nutritionally dense foods. While calorically dense foods will fill you up quickly, they won’t help stave off hunger, and they often leave you feeling sluggish. Nutritionally dense foods, on the other hand, will satisfy your appetite and keep you energized throughout the day. Nutritionally dense foods can be divided into four categories: fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and whole grain carbohydrates. For a satisfying and energizing lunch, make a plate that is half fruits and vegetables, a quarter protein, and a quarter whole grains. Add one serving of low-fat dairy and you’re good to go. If your lunch is packed with this nutrient-dense mix, you’ll power through the afternoon—and won’t be tempted to reach for an unhealthy snack.
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which helps fill you up and keep you feeling fuller longer. Include fruits in your lunch by putting fresh or dried fruit in a salad or having fresh fruit as a sweet ending to your meal. Vegetables can be enjoyed in many different ways: steamed as a side, as a bowl of vegetable soup, or in a salad. To get the most benefits from your fruits and vegetables, look for dishes that aren’t fried or prepared in oil or with creamy sauces. And while salads are a fantastic way to get lots of veggies on your plate, resist covering them with high-calorie salad dressings such as ranch, blue cheese, or Thousand Island. Instead, use oil and vinegar as a dressing.
Lean proteins help give you lasting energy. Ideal choices are vegetarian proteins and fish. Examples of vegetarian proteins are nuts, beans, and soy. Top a salad with nuts or spread nut butter over whole grain bread. Beans can be added to a salad, blended into a soup, or eaten as a spread in a sandwich (like hummus). Soy is available as tofu or edamame beans, both of which can go in soups and salads or be made into an entrée. A great fish is salmon, which is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Low-fat dairy is a sterling source of calcium and Vitamin D. Opt for dairy foods that either are fat-free or have no more than 1 percent fat. Examples are low-fat or fat-free yogurt and skim milk. Serve yogurt in your favorite flavor, mixed with fresh fruit, or in a smoothie. Drink skim or 1 percent milk by itself or use it in a smoothie with fruit.
Whole grain carbohydrates provide fiber to satisfy your appetite and B vitamins for energy. Choose brown rice, whole grain pasta, or whole grain bread for your lunch. Whole grain carbohydrates should have at least 3 grams of fiber, and the first ingredient on the nutrition label should be “whole grain.”
Christina Wang, MS, RDN, LDN, CNSC, is a registered dietitian with 15 years of experience in clinical nutrition, food service management, and wellness promotion. Her true passion is promoting wellness. Wang has presented wellness seminars and lunch-and-learn sessions in Sodexo’s corporate, health care, and education divisions. In addition, she has implemented monthly dietitian booths that promote wellness options in cafeterias and dining halls. Wang currently works as a Regional Wellness Director for Sodexo Corporate Services, Mid-Atlantic.