Creative Lunch Ideas: Transforming Boring Leftovers into Energizing Meals

Creative Lunch Ideas: Transforming Boring Leftovers into Energizing Meals

Published on Wednesday, August 16, 2023 by Kelly Velting

Boost Your Energy and Stay Satisfied: Creating Nourishing Lunches with Leftovers and Nutrient-Rich Components

Fall is approaching, and many of us have added more appointments and meetings to our calendars. You may get busier now that the relaxing summer season is ending but don’t forget to feed your energy with a powerful lunch.  

Every meal can either weigh you down or boost you up. 

High carbohydrate lunches with very little fiber and phytonutrients from vegetables and fruits will not help you through that 3:00 pm meeting. Snooze! Consuming protein, fiber, and high-nutrient phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables is the best way to stay energized right up to the end of the day. It's also important to stay hydrated.

Drinking nothing but caffeine all day can cause you to overeat on high-calorie, high-carbohydrate snacks later in the afternoon. This can eventually lead to unintended weight gain and afternoon fatigue. Adults should get about half their weight (in ounces) in water. For example, if you weigh 180 lbs., aim for at least 90 oz of water daily. Water, vitamins, and minerals do not provide energy, but they are necessary to help you use the energy from the foods you consume. The best source for hydration is regular H2O (water!), especially if you’re sitting at your desk or working in the house all day. Hydration drinks and sodas are full of additives and sometimes sugars that increase your daily calorie total but don’t provide nutrients for growth and maintenance.  

You can put together an easy meal with healthy components and a great outcome in a couple of ways. Below I outline some options. Choose the one that makes the most sense to you and that you’ll remember.  

Focus on The 5 Food Groups.

I like to consider all 5 food groups when planning my lunch for a busy workday (or school day): Protein, Dairy (or milk alternative), Fruit, Vegetables, and Grains. You'll be doing well if every meal contains at least 3 of the 5 food groups. Better yet, include all 5! 

Start by thinking of what entrée you want to make or what food you have leftover from dinner. If I have half of a pork steak left over, I might start with that, then bake a potato and some broccoli to go on the side, and follow that with a handful of blueberries. Now you have lunch with protein, 2 vegetables, and 1 fruit. Leftover grilled chicken can be made into chicken salad, chicken noodle soup, or served cold on top of a green salad

Do you like beans? Open a can of black beans, rinse them with water, drain, and season with 1 tsp of your favorite taco mix. Pour over 1 cup of cooked brown rice. Top with 1 tbsp of real butter (or dairy-free butter). Put all that in a microwavable dish and warm it up for lunch. Take along travel-size guacamole (we like the ones from Aldi) and freshly cut sweet bell peppers. Now you have a lunch full of protein, vegetables, and grains. If you’re set on having meat, you can slice up one of your leftover cooked brats or crumbles of sausage over your black beans. All of it will microwave well for a nice lunch.

Focus on Protein, Fiber, and Healthy Fats.

My article, 5 Tools for Your Allergy Tool Belt, mentions considering protein, fiber, and healthy fat for a satisfying snack. The same goes for your lunch. To feel satisfied and energized after your afternoon lunch, include all three. 

Adults should get 21-38g of fiber per day. If I make a sandwich for lunch, I will add some dark green lettuce and tomato or cucumber with the turkey, so I get some vegetables. Vegetables are an easy way to get fiber in your diet, and they are naturally low in calories and sodium. 

If I have turkey and cheese on my sandwich with white bread, I may only get 1 gram of fiber (or none) and mostly saturated fats (solid fats from animal proteins). Change out the white bread for 100% whole wheat bread, and now I am getting at least 3g of fiber just in my sandwich. Then I’ll scoop up some hummus in a container with chopped celery, carrots, and bell peppers. Now I have added at least another 10g of fiber. I’m halfway to my goal for the day. Increasing your fiber in a meal increases your chance of staying full longer and feeling more satisfied after eating. 

Healthy fat options for your lunch can be any of the following: roasted salmon, baked tilapia, a simple tuna salad, avocado added to a sandwich, snacking on some kalamata olives, walnuts on a salad, potato salad with boiled egg, or making your own salad dressing with olive oil.

Protein comes from meat, fish, eggs, game (like venison), beans (like black beans or pinto beans), and some in our vegetables and whole grains. You may have noticed that many healthy fat options are also protein sources. The more natural colorful foods you can add to your protein, the more likely you are to add great sources of fiber.  

Making a great lunch can be as easy as combining food groups based on the leftovers in your fridge or starting with your favorite protein and adding some healthy fat and fiber. Choose the best method for you to create an energizing and satisfying lunch this fall.  

  1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, January 5). How much fiber is found in common foods?. Mayo Clinic. 

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