Riddle me this.
In the nutrition and diet genre, why does a divisive title with heretical claims sell more book copies than a simple time-tested plan that recommends practicing the basics really, really well? We live in a day and age where quality content plays second fiddle to catchphrases. What really makes diet books fly off the shelves is the offering of a nutritional gospel. Salvation, offered in a two-hundred page manifesto, telling you to never eat bread again. Authors and publishers alike create an environment of scarcity; minting a pretty penny telling people to eat a certain way and train another.
Folks, turn your skeptic alert on when an author, product, or company claims that by following their tenants and creeds EXCLUSIVELY, you shall be freed of your love handles and awarded your sculpted booty.
Q: Why do I bring this up before sharing with you what I ate last week?
A: To state my bias and check my influence.
You clicked on the article. Likely because of the title. You guessed it, this is a gym’s website and I am a fitness professional. However, don’t go believing that if you replicate my weekly lunches (or any meals showcased by others on the internet) you’ll be better off for it. You have your goals, and I have mine. You wouldn’t take the same dosage or prescription of medication as your physician just because he’s your physician. He might have an ulcer… you probably don’t. Listen to what the good doctor has to say, find out what your specific needs are, and implement what works for you.
Incase you didn’t know it, I am no doctor. I have however, been around the sun a few times and have worked to carve out consistency in my own dietary choices. I hope you are educated and enlightened by them and without further ado…
Day 1: Tuna Salad on Buttered Toast with Mixed Greens and Mustard Vinaigrette
Context: I love Tuna. I think my adoration comes from not being burned out on it as a kid. Case and point, I can no longer eat fish sticks. I’ve written about my homemade tuna salad recipe before and whipped some up first thing this week. I’ve also been trying to get in more greens lately. I genuinely like vegetables, but I noticed my variety getting a little stale so I’ve recently thrown some salads in the mix. On that note, I’m not a purist and cannot eat salads without some dressing.
Trouble is, most off-the-shelf dressings are calorically high relative to volume and filled with less than ideal vegetable oils and fillers. Not good for the palate, and not good for the cash conscious (fillers = more money spent on stuff that doesn’t enhance flavors or caloric density).
Here’s my fix: One tablespoon of your favorite dijon mustard, two tablespoons of olive oil, and one to two teaspoons of white vinegar. Whisk it up, store in the refrigerator, and use when needed.
Day 2: Leftover Barbacoa with Avocado Cream Sauce, Side Salad, and Chips & Salsa
Context: This one was delicious. You see the words barbacoa and think of me as some chef, but rest assured, I am not. A crockpot, a 5lb chuck roast, this recipe, and you too can feel like a culinary champion. The avocado cream sauce is easy too. Simply one avocado, a big dollop of plain greek yogurt, and a squirt of lime. Here’s the real tip: Leftovers! You’re going to see a theme on that note in the days to come. This lunch was infinitely easier because I could just grab contents from the fridge and reheat.
Side salad had the same vinaigrette from day one along with some chips and salsa to round out the meal from a Mexican cuisine standpoint, but also from a macronutrient perspective. Without chips I would have been fairly carb light, and considering breakfast was just eggs and coffee, I’m guessing my workout that afternoon wouldn’t have gone over so well without a handful of carbohydrates.
Tip: I put the chips on my plate. Always put them on your plate. Trust me, you just crack the bag you’ll be looking at crumbs before you know it. Portion out something appropriate to your needs and enjoy!
Day 3: Leftover Barbacoa on Corn Tortillas with Peppers, Onions, and Cheese. Side of Beef Pho with Broccoli
Context: There it is again, leftovers! Scraping the bottom of the tupperware for two small tortillas worth of meat to which I added some peppers, onions, and cheese.
The pho was something unique to my situation, but it was also a leftover, this time from the freezer. It’s a process, so while I don’t do it weekly, I do enjoy making pho in my electric pressure cooker every few months. There’s always plenty of broth left over for me to put on the stovetop and boil veggies or thin cuts of meat in making a quick lunch. Knowing that boiling broth probably isn’t a workplace reality for many of you, think of it as inspiration for quick dinners at the end of a long day.
Picture this: You get home after a tough day, pull out a quart sized block of frozen pho broth and set the pot to medium low. In the mean time, you thinly slice your beef top or bottom round and cut your broccoli or veggie of choice (opening a bag of frozen broccoli works just as good too). Voilà! In twenty minutes or less, you’ll be sitting in front of a piping hot bowl of vietnamese goodness!
Day 4: Leftover Pork Roast with Sautéed Brussels Sprouts and Tangy Mayo Dip
Context: I went a little Le Cordon Bleu with this one. We had a super easy bone-in pork roast for dinner the night before. I threw some carrots and onions in the bottom of a crockpot with a little water, patted the roast dry and rubbed it liberally with kosher salt and garlic powder. After being on low for eight hours that sucker was melt-in-your-mouth good.
Leftovers the next day was piece of cake from a protein perspective, but I was lacking in my fats and especially lacking some vegetables. We had picked up some brussels sprouts a few days before at the supermarket, so I sautéed those in a pan and while they were finishing made a dip ad-lib (totally optional).
No shame, but this is where my foodie side shines through. If you want to repeat my dip, simply take a big dollop of avocado mayo, pour in a tablespoon of lemon juice along with a teaspoon of paprika, garlic powder, and hot sauce each. Add a few cracks of black pepper and you got yourself a tangy aioli!
Day 5: Chicken Pesto Brussels Sprouts with Side Salad and Leftover Vinaigrette
Context: Starting to see some patterns? In this lunch, the side salad is featured again as well as the brussels sprouts. For the chicken, I chopped up the leftovers from a whole bird we made the night before. If that sounds daunting, I’ve outlined the process in another post, it’s much simpler than you’d think!
I frequently add flavor enhancers to my meals so I can routinely eat the same protein and veggies without the same, repetitive taste. While you could use anything from flavored hummus to marinara, or salsa to the tangy mayo mentioned above, this meal leaned on pesto from the jar. A big spoonful was incorporated to the chopped chicken and sprouts and the end of the veggie sautéing process.
Day 6: Leftover Korean Beef with Green Beans over Rice with Side Salad and Leftover Vinaigrette
Context: This was way less complicated than it looked. Dinner the night before was Michelle Tam’s Crockpot Korean Beef recipe but I used a chuck roast cut into a few pieces instead of short ribs and it turned out great. If you haven’t noticed, the Gish family slow cooks the snot out of our food. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cooking. But I have to admit that after a long day of work the last thing I want to do is go all Julia Child on a duck. Being able to “set it and forget it”, is a godsend that I recommend you implement yourself.
I also had the rice on hand from dinner the night before and canned green beans from the store. Drained the beans from their water and reheated the beef and beans together, putting them over the rice once warm. Paired with a side salad, this one was a fun pre-training meal.
Day 7: Meatloaf with Ketchup, Side Green Beans, and Side Salad
Context: Oh do I love meatloaf! Both culinarily and musically, meatloaf is legendary in my books. My wife however, can’t stand the stuff. Fine by me, less to share. Now this meal took place on the weekend, so I baked myself a meritorious midday meat meal one Sunday afternoon, enjoying myself thoroughly. I also enjoyed that last sentence thoroughly. You should read it again.
Once again you see the side salad with mustard vinaigrette and the canned beans are a featured side like they were in day six. This meal truly was “paradise by the dashboard light” (Meatloaf reference).
What does all of this mean? What can you glean from my week of lunches?
Here’s a few take home’s I think you ought to consider.
- Meals were catered to my situation.
- I make 95% of our meals at home. I like cooking. I have protein leftover from the night before. I have vegetables lying around. These realities are mine and might not be yours. Don’t be paralyzed by my example. Instead, identify ways you can make small steps towards better (not perfect) in your own reality.
- Protein was a big feature. Intentionally.
- Without going into specific protein needs for each person and their training and/or life, you should know that all my salads were sides, not main dishes, for a good reason. Without a fist sized piece of protein on your plate, how are you going to fuel your body and ensure fullness until the next meal? That 10:00am and/or 3:00pm dragging feeling you have a work, you don’t need more coffee. Instead, you could stand to benefit from a more robust breakfast, along with shifting your lunch’s protein choice to a whole chicken breast instead of two slices of deli meat.
- Also on that note, if my protein quantities looked bigger than the average fist size, I am a 235lb male who trains 3-5x weekly and works on his feet. Daddy hungry.
- Lots of leftovers.
- I don’t care if you order meals to your door through an online service, buy hot bar items from your grocer, or make everything from scratch at home. Order or make enough to have leftovers. Regardless of your tax bracket, you ought to feel a little shame if you eat chipotle seven days a week. Eating out for lunch off a fixed restaurant menu allows you no flexibility to alter your quantity or macronutrient ratios based off need. Not to mention your portion size is locked in, offering you no caloric variety if you have weight loss or weight gain goals.
- Reading above, you noticed I referenced some of my training days. If you’re a 165lb female who is trying to loose ten pounds, a whole chipotle burrito might be the perfect lunch before an evening of heavy deadlifts and long interval conditioning session. However, those 1,000+ calories probably aren’t going to serve you or your weight loss goals very well on a non-training day, or a training day with a different focus.
- There was utility.
- Now I’m no utilitarian, but if the main course from dinner the night before can be re-tooled into another dish, you have to take advantage of that. “Yesterday’s meatloaf is today’s sloppy joe’s” am I right?!?
- Likewise, buy veggies you know you enjoy so you can eat them over the span of a few meals.
- Furthermore, I showcased a good deal of variety and it doesn’t have to be that way. For ultimate efficacy, week-in and week-out I’d buy the same core macronutrients. Let’s say we select rice, chicken, and asparagus, and we cook up two to three day’s worth on Sundays and Wednesdays, having lunches made for the week. Now that we have a useful system, we can quite easily switch up any element when our palate gets board.
- No Dogma.
- Now I might have used multiple syllable words like macronutrient and phrases like caloric density, but I never once said the name of a popular diet or eating trend. If humanity has showcased one thing in its relationship with food it is this: people have been, and will continue to thrive and survive off a variety of diets and food choices. Don’t be pigeonholed by the latest fashion of eating. Create a plan that works for you and your needs, tastes good to you, and is repeatable.
With the above approach, and the aforementioned takeaways, it is really stinking hard not to come across wishy-washy to our clients and athletes at MSP Fitness. “Hey coach, is ___________ unhealthy?”, is a question we get weekly. Faced with such an appropriate inquiry, yet such an open ended one, I usually let them down with shrugged shoulders stating, “Mmmm, well… It depends.” After writing this blog I probably won’t answer that question any different, however I hope I’ve given a small glimpse into my thought process when it comes to selecting food to eat for lunch.
Thank you for reading! You’ve certainly bolstered my confidence enough to potentially tackle a similar breakfast post. Until then, remember “Eat to LIVE, don’t live to eat.”
Here at MSP Fitness, we’re pretty anti-dogmatic when it comes to food choices. There are no 30 day quick fixes, and we don’t hand out pre-fabricated templates. You’re not going to find us proselytizing the next diet craze, or mandating that you buy supplements. Simply put, the way that works best nutritionally speaking is the way that works best for the individual: your lifestyle, your factors, your cultural observations, your reality. If this resonates with you and you live in the greater Minneapolis area of the Twin Cities Minnesota, we’d love for you to come check out our training facility here in St. Louis Park, MN.