If you're interested in losing weight, meal prepping is a great strategy because it simplifies one of the keys to successful weight loss—portion control. Sticking with healthy eating habits is so much easier when meals are portioned out ahead of time, and having meals prepped in advance can help to minimize mindless eating or grazing when hunger strikes. Plus, it can save you time and money during the week.
Read more: How Meal-Prep Can Help You Lose Weight
Here we share our best tips for how to meal-prep your lunch to help you reach your weight-loss goals and take the guesswork out of what to eat, with three healthy recipe ideas—our Greek Meatball Mezze Bowls, Chimichurri Noodle Bowls and Vegan Kale Caesar Salad with Tofu Croutons—all of which come in at 400 calories or less and are high in protein. Follow the step-by-step instructions for how to make a week's worth of these healthy lunches, which will help you feel full and satisfied all afternoon, making weight loss a reality.
Looking for more than just lunch? See all of our healthy weight-loss meal plans with recommendations on what to eat for breakfast through to dinner.
Just because you're planning meals with weight loss in mind doesn't mean you need to ditch your favorite foods. In fact, feeling deprived can deflate your motivation to stick with healthy eating habits. Keep eating the foods you love with small tweaks, like adding in zucchini noodles with your pasta to bulk up the dish for fewer calories (like we do in our Chimichurri Noodle Bowls) or build a burrito bowl using half brown rice and half cauliflower rice.
With a total daily calorie goal in mind for weight loss, you can estimate how many calories to eat at each meal. A general guideline is to eat about a third of your calories at lunch. While calorie needs vary based on weight-loss goals and activity levels, keeping lunches to around 400 calories is suggested for those following a 1,500-calorie diet.
Among their many perks, like being naturally low in calories, vegetables add volume to meals—which is key when following a reduced-calorie diet. Try to incorporate at least one to two servings of vegetables at lunch to build a meal that feels substantial and satisfying. One serving equals ½ cup cooked vegetables or greens, 1 cup raw vegetables or 2 cups raw leafy greens.
Related: The Best Lunch Foods for Weight Loss
Feeling satisfied is the name of the game when you're cutting back on calories. Adding in one to two servings of lean protein (like chicken breast, shrimp or hard-boiled eggs) and a serving of healthy fat (like avocado or nuts and seeds) can increase satiety and help to prevent feelings of hunger throughout the afternoon.
While meal-prepping doesn't need to be complicated or require hours in the kitchen, it does take a bit of planning and dedicated time to prep, cook and pack. Take advantage of healthy store-bought shortcuts—like prewashed and chopped bagged greens, chopped vegetables from the salad bar, microwavable quinoa pouches and yogurt-based bottled dressings—to save yourself some time.
Set yourself up for a week of healthy eating for weight loss with one of these three easy meal-prep lunch plans. Each of these recipes clocks in around 400 calories or less and includes plenty of protein, fiber and healthy fats to keep hunger at bay all afternoon.
392 calories | 32 grams protein
With a variety of flavors and textures (and a whopping 32 grams of protein), these Mediterranean-inspired meal-prep bowls really satisfy. Look for premade tzatziki near the specialty cheeses and dips at your grocery store, or try making your own with this easy tzatziki recipe.
Follow Step 1 of this recipe to mix, form, cook and cool the meatballs.
Cook a batch of Basic Quinoa (or microwave an 8-ounce pouch of instant quinoa to cut down on prep time). Allow the quinoa to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to a medium bowl and toss it with lemon juice, olive oil, chopped parsley, chopped mint, salt and pepper.
Rinse a pint of cherry tomatoes and slice a medium cucumber into rounds.
Divide store-bought tzatziki into 4 small single-serve containers with lids and refrigerate (1 tablespoon each).
Divide quinoa among 4 single-serving containers. Add ½ cup tomatoes and ½ cup sliced cucumbers to each container, followed by 3 meatballs. Seal and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Just before eating, transfer the meatballs to a microwave-safe container and heat them until steaming. Return them to the original container and serve with tzatziki.
377 calories | 25 grams protein
We're mixing whole-wheat spaghetti with zucchini noodles to add volume and save calories in these simple, flavor-packed lunch bowls. Leftover chicken or tofu can be easily swapped in for the shrimp.
Cook 4 ounces of whole-grain spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold running water, then drain again. Transfer the cooked spaghetti to a large bowl and add 8 cups spiralized zucchini noodles (from 3 medium zucchini, or look for a package in the produce department to save even more time). Using tongs or two large forks, gently toss the cooked pasta and zucchini noodles together until well-combined; set aside.
In a food processor or blender, puree parsley, garlic cloves, lemon juice, dried oregano, crushed red pepper (optional), salt and pepper. With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil. Divide chimichurri into 4 small single-serve containers with lids and refrigerate (2 tablespoons each).
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. You can also wait to defrost the shrimp until you're ready to eat. Feel free to swap in whatever protein you'd like, such as chopped leftover chicken or tofu.
Divide the noodles among 4 single-serving lunch containers. Top each with 3 ounces of shrimp (or chicken) and 1 tablespoon of crumbled feta cheese. Seal and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Toss with chimichurri just before serving.
400 calories | 20 grams protein
With an impressive 20 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber, this creative spin on the classic will have you wondering why you didn't try tofu croutons sooner.
Follow Steps 1 and 2 of this recipe to make the tofu croutons; set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, toss chopped lacinato kale with nutritional yeast; set aside.
Divide store-bought vegan Caesar dressing into 4 small single-serve containers with lids (2 tablespoons each); refrigerate.
Divide kale among 4 single-serving lunch containers. Top each with ½ cup tofu croutons and 1 tablespoon toasted pumpkin seeds. Seal and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Toss each salad with dressing and top with ¼ avocado, sliced, just before serving.
Looking for more than just lunch? See all of our healthy weight-loss meal plans with recommendations on what to eat for breakfast through to dinner and check out the Cooking Light Diet to get customized meal plans sent to your inbox.