Love the convenience of a salad, but sick of the monotony? Change things up with these midday meals you can make in minutes!
The Whole-Body Wellness Challenge is rooted in the understanding that health isn’t just about fitness. This month, we’re sharing fun and easy ways to bring everything you love about SilverSneakers classes and your time at the gym to other areas of your life. You’ll find workouts, tips, and activities to help you build strength, eat healthier, sleep sounder, and be more present in your life, so you can feel good—body, mind, and spirit.
There may be some people who truly love the ritual of preparing a healthy midday meal. But for most, convenience rules at lunchtime. It’s one reason why more than one-third of American adults consume fast food on any given day, with lunch being the most common time to do so, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What’s the rest of the American population doing for lunch? We’re willing to bet a good portion of them are eating salad. And that’s great! Loading a bed of greens with nutrient-packed vegetables, some protein, nuts, and seeds is a super convenient way to enjoy a quick and healthy lunch. It just gets a little mundane day after day (after day).
If you’re ready to try something new around noon, consider the incredibly simple healthy lunch ideas below. They’re so simple, we can’t even call them recipes. And by making use of leftovers, such as cooked vegetables or grains, you may find they’re even easier to throw together than your go-to salad.
Healthy Lunch Idea #1: Build Your Own Pasta Bowl
Dietitian and food blogger Kelsey Pezzuti, R.D., has developed a simple formula for the perfect lunchtime pasta bowl: Fill up a cereal or soup bowl with a combo of your favorite veggies, protein, and pasta. Don’t worry about measuring each ingredient—simply aim for these proportions:
- ½ veggies
- ¼ cooked pasta
- ¼ cooked protein
- A little bit of fat (say, a sprinkle of cheese or a drizzle of Italian dressing) for flavor
“They’re endlessly customizable, not to mention so simple,” she says. Plus, the combination of protein, fiber (from the veggies and pasta), and fat will keep you feeling full for hours. To make things even easier, use leftover protein and veggies that are already cooked.
Pezzuti’s all-time favorite combination is a chicken pasta bowl. She starts with diced tomatoes and red peppers (fresh or canned), then tosses in cooked pasta (orzo or couscous work great here), shredded chicken (or black beans, if you prefer), and a little bit of cheese.
Healthy Lunch Idea #2: Simple Veggie Frittata
Eggs aren’t just for breakfast. “A quick and tasty lunch I make all the time is seasoned zucchini and eggs,” says Lisa Andrews, M.Ed., R.D., owner of Sound Bites Nutrition. It’s essentially an express frittata, meaning you can make it much faster than a traditional frittata, but it tastes just as good.
Here’s what to do: Heat ½ cup of whatever cooked vegetables you have available in a small, nonstick skillet with a little olive oil. (Don’t have any cooked veggies on hand? Start by cooking 1 cup of raw vegetables in a small nonstick skillet with olive oil and a bit of garlic, until they’re soft.)
Next, whisk two eggs in a small bowl, season them with a pinch of salt, and pour the egg over the sautéed veggies. Turn the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are set, about 5 minutes. Top with oregano or another herb and a little bit of shredded Parmesan or mozzarella cheese.
Healthy Lunch Idea #3: Powered-Up Potato
Potatoes get a bad rap in the nutrition world, likely because they’re often served in the form of French fries or potato chips. But fresh potatoes are a different story.
One medium baked russet potato (173 grams) with skin provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals that older adults need more of, including the following percentages of the recommended daily value of:
- Vitamin C: 16 percent
- Vitamin B6: 36 percent
- Potassium: 20 percent
- Magnesium: 12 percent
That’s more potassium than you get in a banana and more vitamin C than you find in an apple or a ½-cup serving of blueberries.
One downside is that there’s not a lot of protein in potatoes (about 4.5 grams in one medium potato), so dietitian Kelsey Lorencz, R.D., owner of Graciously Nourished, recommends loading a baked potato with a ½-cup serving of beans, lentils, or chickpeas—nutritional powerhouses known as “pulses”—plus veggies. “This is a great way to add extra fiber and protein to make a balanced meal,” she says.
You can bake a batch ahead of time by pricking medium-sized potatoes (white or sweet potatoes) with a fork in a few places, wrapping them in foil, and roasting them on a sheet pan for 50 to 60 minutes at 425 degrees.
For your toppings, heat ½-cup of leftover or frozen veggies in a little olive oil, and add ½-cup cooked lentils, beans, or chickpeas, plus your favorite spices. Reheat the potato, if necessary, and top it with the veggie-bean mixture. Enjoy!
Healthy Lunch Idea #4: Whole-Wheat Pita Pizza
If you want to whip up a tasty lunch in about 5 to 10 minutes, Lorencz recommends using whole-wheat pitas or naans to make mini veggie pizzas. It doesn’t get much easier.
What to do: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (or turn your toaster oven on high). Meanwhile, place a whole-wheat pita on a sheet pan and top it with jarred tomato sauce, thinly sliced vegetables of your choice, and a bit of mozzarella cheese. Cook it for 5 minutes, until it’s hot and melted, and you’re ready to go.
“If you’d like it extra crispy, toast the bread beforehand,” Lorencz says. And if you want to make it a little more gourmet, try swapping out the tomato sauce for pesto, topping it with fresh herbs, or using a flavor-packed combination of toppings like sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and feta.
For an added health bonus, spray a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil on your mini pizza. The fat will help your body absorb some of the spinach’s nutrients, such as beta carotene.
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