Editor’s note: Lisa drayer is a nutritionist and CNN contributor on health and nutrition.
(CNN) – If you’ve tried to eat healthier, you’ve probably heard about the benefits of eating breakfast. But you may be wondering if a lunch break is important too, even with a busy schedule.
“Setting aside time for a filling and balanced lunch can help organize our day in terms of eating and keep us more aware of our hunger signals”, says the nutritionist Tamara Duker Freuman. “This way we can eat when we are hungry and we will be less likely to snack throughout the working day.”
Even if it’s only 30 minutes, a lunch break “will help avoid the afternoon slump and maintain energy for the rest of the day,” says the nutritionist. Lisa young, author of “Finally Full, Finally Slim.”
Skipping lunch can lead to more than hunger pangs, low blood sugar, and irritability. It is also almost a guarantee that most of the calories are consumed in the afternoon. According to Freuman, this can wreak havoc on your waistline and your health. It can also contribute to sleeping problems.
“I often find that patients who struggle with excessive, uncontrollable late-night meals feel much more comfortable when they come to dinner feeling sufficiently satisfied and not particularly hungry, because they have had a good breakfast and a very complete and balanced lunch,” he says. Freuman.
How to make time to eat
Making time for lunch doesn’t have to mean preparing a big meal. The key is to think of lunch like any other date of the day and plan it from the moment you wake up.
Planning your lunches will help ensure that you don’t have junk food cravings when your blood sugar starts to drop.
First, select an approximate time when you will have a lunch break. Next, decide what to eat. If you work from home, it’s a good idea to prepare food the night before, so you can grab it from the fridge when it’s time to eat.
Although the lunch break may not work for everyone, it is a good idea to avoid eating in the late afternoon, especially if you are trying to control your weight. In a study in which 420 people with obesity participated, those who ate lunch before 3 p.m. lost more weight than those who ate lunch later over a five-month period, despite eating the same number of calories and comparable amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
Do not forget to take advantage of lunchtime to disconnect and refresh your mind. Taking a break from the screen can slow down the rate at which you eat and allow you to pay more attention to food textures and flavors, allowing you to savor every bite.
And it’s not just about work: According to a study Young cites in his book, people who played solitaire on the computer during meals ate faster, ate nearly twice as much, and felt less satisfied than people who were not distracted while eating.
Simple and delicious lunches
An easy way to think about lunch is to combine veggies, healthy protein, and high-fiber carbohydrates. If you want to add fat, go for healthy fats like olive oil, avocado and nuts, Young says.
For a simple lunch strategy, you can use your plate as a visual guide.
Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Spoon the second half on protein, such as grilled fish or chicken, and slow-digesting, high-fiber carbohydrates, such as beans or quinoa. (Note: beans and chickpeas can also count as protein.)
“It’s a formula that most people use for dinner, though perhaps not in these same relative proportions,” says Freuman.
“One of my favorite lunches is making a Mexican-style bowl with crunchy red cabbage, diced tomatoes, pickled onions, black beans, cheese, avocado, cilantro, hot sauce, and some leftover corn off the cob or a handful of crushed tortilla chips. This meal makes it easy for five or even six hours to go until dinner, ”says Freuman.
A salad with grilled chicken is fine, but try adding a full tablespoon of chickpeas or a thick, hearty lentil soup as a side, Freuman said. A turkey or tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat bread is another good option for lunch, but add a few chunks of spinach and top with greens like cucumbers, baby carrots, or bell pepper strips with hummus.
Another of Freuman’s favorite dishes is a chicken fillet (which can be cooked ahead of time) mixed with cucumber, tomato and bell pepper, accompanied by crisp toast topped with hummus and bagel seasoning.
«They are substantial lunches that help me get through the second half of the workday without being distracted by hunger, and they assure me that I don’t come home famished after a day’s work in the basement, ready to eat everything in the cupboard, ”says Freuman.
One of Young’s favorite lunches is a vegetarian hummus wrap – a whole grain wrap with hummus, assorted vegetables, chickpeas, and avocado. And if you want to eat something but are not very hungry, Young recommends a high-protein Greek yogurt with berries and flaxseeds.
Lastly, leftovers from last night’s dinner can be eaten at lunch. At my house, that might be a small piece of roasted chicken or grilled salmon with greens and a wheat salad.
Five delicious lunch ideas
Here are some other creative lunch ideas:
Pizzas in pita bread with spinach and egg: “This recipe is a staple for me at any time of day, but it makes an especially satisfying and energizing lunch,” said nutritionist Ellie Krieger, host of Food Network and Public Television and author of an award-winning cookbook.
Turn pizza into a quick, balanced meal by using whole wheat pita as a crust and topping it with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, plus a protein-packed egg and just the right amount of melted cheese, Krieger explained.
Lemon Herb Orzotto with Garlic Chickpeas: This “orzotto” is a kind of risotto, but made with orzo along with chickpeas to increase protein, according to Jackie Newgent, culinary nutritionist and author of an award-winning cookbook.
“It makes for a complete and delicious lunch – hot or cold – thanks to its supply of vegetables and a generous amount of fresh herbs,” Newgent said.
White Bean Bowl with Tomato and Avocado: This light lunch bowl is packed with spinach leaves. They are rich in lutein, an antioxidant that keeps eyes clear and bright. It also has juicy tomatoes and creamy avocado. White beans and quinoa provide protein to satisfy your appetite.
Grilled hummus quesadilla: filling a whole wheat tortilla with hummus instead of cheese enhances fiber and reduces saturated fat, according to Newgent. “Covering it with a fresh, easy-to-prepare Mediterranean-style sauce makes it a colorful and filling meal.”
Avocado Mango Wrap with Black Beans: This delicious and nutritious lunch option combines garlic black beans, sweet mango and creamy avocado for a filling and fiber-rich lunch.