8 Best High-Protein Lunch Ideas for Weight Loss
If you’re trying to lose weight, eating enough protein is critical. Lunchtime is an easy window to fill up on healthy protein.
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If you’re looking to lose weight, eating balanced meals focused on protein is important. According to the Cleveland Clinic, we can only absorb about 25 to 35 grams of protein at one time, so spreading your protein needs throughout the day is better than packing it all in during a single meal. “The recommended percentage of daily calories from proteins is typically 10% to 35% protein,” Cleveland Clinic guidelines note. “This means, if you eat about 2,000 calories per day, you’d want to aim for 50 to 175 grams of protein in your daily diet.”
Protein tends to be more compact than fruits and vegetables, and it doesn’t take up as much room on your plate or in your belly. This is why Amy Roskelley, founder of the health and fitness blog Health Beet, suggests dividing your plate as a starting point. Without having to pull out scales and measuring cups, you can visually divide your plate so it looks like: half meal veggies (broccoli, cucumbers, carrots), one-quarter meal protein (chicken, steak, fish), one-quarter meal carbs (fruit, grains, starchy veg). (Roskelley even designed a portion-controlled plate to make meal portioning super simple.)
To make sure you’re packing every meal with the protein you need, check out our picks for high-protein lunches for weight loss.
Low-calorie, high-protein sandwich
Sandwiches are one of the easiest, most satisfying lunches that include all the food groups. Done right, they can be a great choice, but done wrong, they can be carb-heavy and nap-inducing.
Ashley Poladian is a trainer and a diet coach who loves finding high-protein and low-calorie foods to help her clients achieve fat loss without giving up foods they love.
For one sandwich serving, Poladian recommends:
- a slice of Outer Aisle Sandwich Thins
- a slice of low-fat cheese
- two slices of turkey or chicken
- two tablespoons of a spinach artichoke dip, such as Target’s Good & Gather brand, which adds proteins and a flavorful kick without a lot of calories.
“I love this lunch item because there is very little leg work for something that is not pre-made,” Poladian says. “At only 206 calories per serving and 20 grams of protein, this sandwich will help you stay full and satisfied without the midday crash we usually see from eating carb-heavy lunches!”
Tuna lettuce wraps
Lisa Lotts is the owner and publisher of Garlic and Zest, a food and cooking website where she is the recipe developer behind every dish on the site. Her favorite high-protein lunch for weight loss is a tuna and white bean lettuce wrap. “We love them stuffed into vibrant pink-hued radicchio leaves, but regular lettuce leaves work as well,” she says. This dish contains an estimated 30 grams of proteins.
Beans are an often overlooked, plant-based source of protein. You can buy canned beans, but buying dry beans in bulk is both cost-effective and more environmentally friendly. “Soaking your beans overnight in water is simple and begins the sprouting process, which can reduce anti-nutrient levels up to 66% in some studies,” says Olesya Wilson, a Function Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and founder of the Limitless Body Architect. “After they are cooked, they keep well in the refrigerator and leftovers can make a great cold salad the next day.”
For a quick lunch that can also serve as a side dish at dinner, Wilson suggests mixing cooked, cold beans with avocado, cucumber and quinoa in olive oil, salt, pepper and apple cider vinegar with your choice of parsley or cilantro.
You can also add beans to almost any soup—even store-bought soups—for an added protein boost.
Joanna Wen, nutritionist and founder of Spices & Greens, praises the pairing of quinoa with a classic lean protein (think chicken or fish). “Not only is the combination of lean protein and complex carbohydrates filling and tasty,” Wen says, “but it’s also good for your overall health.”
Chicken is a lean source of protein, while quinoa is a good source of plant protein. Together they help to keep you fuller for longer periods of time, reducing overeating at night. Quinoa is also packed with heart-healthy antioxidants and minerals. “Additionally, this power combo has plenty of fiber which can help control blood sugar levels while aiding in digestion,” Wen says.
For another impressive high-protein meal, check out TV chef Alton Brown’s salmon-quinoa bowl.
Greek yogurt parfait
Greek yogurt parfaits are easy to make on-demand or make ahead for an on-the-go lunch, plus they’re a delicious way to get your protein intake for the day. Registered dietitian Lola Elliott suggests the following blend:
- Alternate layers of Greek yogurt (two to three tablespoons) with one-fourth cup of low-fat granola.
- Add 1/4 cup blueberries or other fruits
- Add a tablespoon of honey or agave nectar
“This meal provides 17 grams of protein per serving plus the added benefit of antioxidants from the fruit,” Elliott says.
Tuna Salad Sandwich
This satisfying lunch option packs 25 grams of protein per serving, and it’s also high in healthy fats. Elliott’s recipe is:
- one can of tuna
- half an avocado mashed into the tuna
- diced red onion,
- a tablespoon of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt for creaminess,
- some lemon juice for flavor
“Serve this sandwich on whole-grain bread with lettuce and tomato slices,” Elliott says. “The benefits include improved appetite control due to its high-protein content, and providing essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12 and selenium, which are vital to good health.”
“Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, with 18 grams per serving,” Elliott says, “They are also full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that help keep you feeling full until dinner time.”
To make a simple lentil soup, combine:
- cooked lentils
- sautéed vegetables such as onions, celery, and carrots,
- low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth and simmer.
Serve it with some whole-grain bread or crackers for extra fiber.
Let’s face it. Sometimes we’re busy and sitting down to eat lunch—let alone preparing it—might not feel realistic. But skipping lunch altogether isn’t ideal for blood sugar or the nutrition you need.
An alternative to skipping lunch is to use a meal replacement shake such as HLTH CODE, created by Ben Bikman, PhD, a cell biologist and metabolism scientist. These shakes come in chocolate macadamia or creamy vanilla and delivers an impressive 27 grams of protein per shake. For an added nutritional boost, you can add bananas, berries, greens or nut butter for an additional hike in protein.
- Amy Roskelley, founder of the health and fitness blog Health Beet
- Ashley Poladian, trainer and a diet coach
- Lisa Lotts, owner and publisher of Garlic and Zest, a food and cooking website
- Olesya Wilson, a Function Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and founder of the Limitless Body Architect
- Joanna Wen, nutritionist and founder of Spices & Greens
- Lola Elliott, registered dietitian and nutritionist