Meal-prepping your week of lunches in advance can help you stay on course with healthy eating habits and save you time and money in the process. Making your meals in advance means you're in full control of what you eat and how much you eat—no need for expensive, high-calorie take-out meals when your lunch is already made! And while meal-prepping does take some commitment, the time you spend up front prepping is less than what you'd collectively spend prepping meals before or after busy workdays.
Related: A Beginner's Guide to Meal Prep
The high-protein lunches in this meal-prep plan are easy options for anyone looking for healthy lunch ideas and are particularly helpful if you're trying to lose weight. Because protein increases satiety, a high-protein lunch can help prevent that afternoon "energy crash" that leaves you feeling wiped and craving high-calorie foods. A salad or grain bowl topped with protein (think chicken or an egg) will help keep you full all afternoon. A lunch win! Plus, in combination with exercise, eating a balanced diet with protein-rich foods can help build and maintain muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn over the course of the day.
How much protein you need depends on a variety of factors, such as age, gender and activity level. For example, a moderately active 30-year-old woman needs about 50 grams of protein per day. If you break it down over the course of the day, you should aim to consume about one-third of your daily protein needs at lunch and the other two-thirds at breakfast and dinner.
1 serving = 3 oz. chicken, fish or beef; 1/2 cup tofu; 1/2 cup edamame; 1 egg; 2 Tbsp. hummus; 1/2 cup cooked beans or lentils
1 serving = 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, quinoa or whole-wheat pasta; 1 cup edamame; 1/2 cup cooked beans or lentils; 1 cup winter squash
1 serving = 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables; 2 cups leafy greens; 1 large bell pepper or tomato; 2 medium carrots or celery stalks
1 serving = 1/4 of an avocado; 1 Tbsp. pumpkin or sunflower seeds; 1 oz. nuts (24 almonds, 48 pistachios; 14 walnut halves); 1 tsp. olive oil
We've outlined the steps to help you prep and pack three different lunches in less than 30 minutes. These high-protein lunches will keep you satisfied through the afternoon to help you reach your health and weight-loss goals.
Ready in: 20 minutes | Protein per serving: 28 grams
Quick, 10-minute Spicy Cabbage Slaw serves as the low-carb veggie-packed base in this recipe, and can be topped with any protein you like. We're adding shrimp and edamame, but feel free to swap in leftover grilled chicken, salmon or tofu. The edamame doubles as a healthy carbohydrate source, while the avocado serves as the healthy fat.
Place 12 ounces of frozen cooked shrimp in a colander and set it under cold running water for about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are thawed. Defrost 2 cups frozen edamame in the microwave for 5 minutes (or follow package instructions).
Make the Spicy Cabbage Slaw. Add the thawed edamame; toss and set aside.
Slice an avocado and toss with fresh lime juice to minimize browning. You can also wait to slice and add the avocado until you're ready to eat.
Divide the slaw mixture among 4 lunch containers. Top each with a quarter of the shrimp (about 3 ounces) and ¼ of the sliced avocado. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Ready in: 30 minutes | Protein per serving: 34 grams
In addition to lean chicken, quinoa doubles as a healthy source of plant-based protein as well as a high-fiber carbohydrate. The olives and olive oil in the sauce serve as the healthy fat, while the red peppers in the sauce plus cucumbers fill out the meal with veggies.
Begin by cooking 2/3 cup of dry quinoa in 1 1/3 cups of water. This will yield about 2 cups of cooked quinoa, or 1/2 cup for each lunch serving.
Follow the recipe to cook the chicken (Steps 1 and 2). While the chicken cooks, prepare the red pepper sauce (Step 3).
On a clean cutting board, chop olives and red onion, and combine with the cooked quinoa and oil (Step 4). Dice the cucumber and chop the parsley. Set aside.
Divide the quinoa mixture among 4 lunch containers. Top each with ¼ cup cucumber, about 3 oz. cooked chicken, ¼ cup sauce and 1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese; sprinkle with parsley. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.
Ready in: 35 minutes | Protein per serving: 19 grams
Chili-spiced tofu combines with high-fiber brown rice, colorful vegetables, a healthy homemade dressing and crunchy pumpkin seeds (our healthy fat sources) for a high-protein vegan bowl brimming with flavor. Note that the original recipe makes two servings—you'll want to double the ingredients to make enough for four lunches.
Begin by cooking 2/3 cup of dry brown rice in 1 1/3 cups of water. This will yield about 2 cups of cooked rice, or 1/2 cup for each lunch serving. You can easily swap in microwavable rice pouches to cut down on prep time.
Slice red bell peppers and red onion. Chop romaine and halve cherry tomatoes.
Follow the recipe to roast the tofu and vegetables (Steps 1 and 2). While these cook, prepare the dressing (Step 3). Portion the dressing into 4 small containers and refrigerate.
Divide the rice mixture among 4 lunch containers. Top each with a quarter of the tofu and roasted vegetables, lettuce, tomato and pumpkin seeds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat. Dress just before serving.