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Don’t underestimate the power of a good lunch. Eating the best foods with the right nutrients can give you a major brain boost (and a serious leg up) when it comes to decision making, mastering tough conversations and powering through those long, meeting-filled days.
What, exactly, should you eat when you’re feeling sluggish, moody or like you’re in a funk? These five packable lunches can deliver a critical mood boost, amp up your energy and enhance your focus so you don’t experience any kind of afternoon slump. Here’s how to prep each lunch at home and serve whether you’re in the office or on the go.
Lunch 1: For when you need to be on point for afternoon meetings
- 1 serving Golden Cauliflower Soup
- 1 ounce (about 12) seedy crackers (TRY: Mary’s Gone Crackers Original)
- ½ cup fresh blueberries
- 16 oz green tea
- At home, prepare the Golden Cauliflower Soup and store servings in individual containers. Pack one of the soup servings, the crackers, blueberries, and green tea bag for lunch.
- To eat, reheat the soup on a stovetop, if available, or microwave. Enjoy soup with the crackers and blueberries. Brew the green tea bag and serve warm or iced.
- Turmeric: Curcumin is the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, and it’s been connected to increased brain activity, helping you to recall facts quicker and maintain attention.
- Seeds: Seeds like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, poppy seeds and more are loaded with B vitamins, folate, vitamin E, and minerals that combine to improve the concentration ability of brain cells.
- Blueberries: As one of the highest antioxidant foods you can eat, blueberries come with a host of benefits, including neutralizing free radicals and inflammation that can interfere with the optimal functioning of your brain and body. They’ve also been connected to improved memory and delayed mental aging.
Meal Nutrition: 520 cal; 35 g total fat (17 g sat fat), 0 mg chol; 43 g carb (10 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 710 mg sodium, 11 g protein
Lunch 2: For when you’re facing an important conversation
- 1 serving Apple Chicken Salad
- 2 cups spinach
- 1 8-oz carton whole-milk kefir (TRY: Lifeway or Maple Hill Creamery)
- 8 oz water
- At home, prepare the Apple Chicken Salad by mixing everything together (including the chicken, apples, walnuts, celery and dressing), but not the spinach. Divide the chicken salad among four containers and pack 2 cups of fresh spinach in a separate container. Pack one of the chicken salad servings, the 2 cups spinach, and the kefir for lunch.
- To eat, place the spinach in a bowl and top with the chicken salad. Enjoy with the kefir as a drink.
- Spinach: Leafy greens like spinach have been connected to improved brain power and concentration due to being high in nutrients lutein, folate, beta carotene and vitamin K.
- Walnuts: With a significantly high concentration of DHA, walnuts are a great food choice for improving cognitive performance, including everything from making faster connections to recalling past occurrences and conversations.
- Kefir: This fermented dairy drink (similar to a thick yogurt) helps naturally boost levels of a hormone called serotonin, low levels of which have been connected to aggressiveness and impulsiveness. Kefir has also been connected to lowered levels of anxiety.
Meal Nutrition: 713 cal; 43 g total fat (9 g sat fat), 97 mg chol; 41 g carb (6 g fiber, 30 g sugar), 512 mg sodium, 42 g protein
Lunch 3: For when you’re feeling moody
- 1 serving pre-made Salmon Salad
- 3 romaine lettuce leaves
- 1 orange
- ¼ cup roasted pumpkin seeds
- 16 oz water
- At home, prepare the Salmon Salad with canned salmon, chopped carrots, celery, fennel, avocado, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper; divide into two servings. Pack one of the servings. Separately, wrap lettuce leaves in a damp paper towel inside a baggie; pack.
- To eat, divide the salmon salad among the lettuce leaves; enjoy with the orange and pumpkin seeds.
- Salmon: As one of the top sources of important omega-3 fats, salmon has been linked to lowered negative emotions and a more positive outlook, which is defined as how much you experience happy moods and feel joy. Salmon also contains vitamin B12, which helps produce brain chemicals that affect mood in a positive way.
- Orange: Just like other types of citrus, oranges are a rich source of folate, a B vitamin that can be an instant mood booster by quenching stress, anxiety and tension.
- Pumpkin seeds: These crunchy seeds are a great source of zinc and magnesium, two important minerals that have been touted as Mother Nature’s antidepressant. People with depression have been found to have lower than average levels of these two minerals, so emphasize eating more of them to ward off negative thoughts.
Meal Nutrition: 496 cal; 29 g total fat (4 g sat fat), 34 mg chol; 30 g carb (11 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 480 mg sodium, 29 g protein
Lunch 4: For when you need to make a tough decision
- 1 1-oz grass-fed beef stick (TRY: Chomps Grass Fed & Finished Beef Stick)
- 1 1-oz cheese stick (TRY: Organic Valley Stringles)
- 1 apple
- 1 1.6-oz pack dry roasted edamame (TRY: Seapoint Farms Single Serve Packs)
- 2 1-ounce squares dark chocolate, 65% cacao or higher (TRY: Theo Chocolate)
- 16 oz water
- At home, pack the beef stick, cheese stick, apple, dry roasted edamame, and dark chocolate for lunch.
- To eat, cut the beef stick, cheese stick, and apple into pieces; assemble the pieces on a plate with the roasted edamame and dark chocolate, similar to a snack board.
- Grass-fed beef: Research shows that positive thoughts and broad decision making skills decline when a person is hungry. Great choices to ward off small, inward thinking are those foods high in amino acids, especially tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. Grass-fed beef sticks are a rich source of amino acids and easy to pack for lunch.
- Edamame: These raw, unprocessed soybeans can either be enjoyed fresh steamed or dried and roasted. Either way, they are a rich source of dipeptides that have been connected to improvements in memory and overall cognitive function.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate that contains 65% of greater cacao is high in flavonoids that help improve thinking and decision making by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Meal Nutrition: 752 cal; 43 g total fat (20 g sat fat), 46 mg chol; 56 g carb (16 g fiber, 32 g sugar), 921 mg sodium, 40 g protein
Lunch 5: For when you have a long afternoon ahead
- 1 serving Blueberry-Banana Oatmeal Sundae
- 1 large orange or grapefruit
- 16 ounces mushroom coffee (TRY: Four Sigmatic or Laird Superfood)
- 2 1-ounce squares dark chocolate, 65% cacao or higher (TRY: Alter Eco)
- 8 oz water
- At home, prepare the Oatmeal Sundaes the evening before and refrigerate in single servings. Pack one serving of the oatmeal sundae, the citrus fruit, the dry mushroom coffee blend and the dark chocolate for lunch.
- To eat, enjoy the citrus along with the oatmeal sundae. Prepare the mushroom coffee according to package directions and sip while eating the dark chocolate.
- Oats: Oats are a great choice for when you need energy that will help you power through a tough day. They’re low in fat, but high in fiber and protein, which means they’ll digest easily and slowly, providing energy-filled glucose to your brain and body over time.
- Banana: This easy-to-pack fruit contains both soluble fiber and resistant starch that, when combined, can help moderate your blood sugar after meals. A stable blood sugar means you won’t experience an afternoon energy lull, but instead you’ll be able to power through.
- Functional mushrooms: Long used by athletes and scholars for health benefits, functional mushrooms like chaga, cordyceps and lion’s mane have been connected to improved focus and better immunity. Consumed as a hot drink, mushroom coffee may help you think more clearly without the jitters that often come with high-caffeine drinks.
Meal Nutrition: 652 cal; 31 g total fat (17 g sat fat), 15 mg chol; 81 g carb (15 g fiber, 43 g sugar), 276 mg sodium, 15 g protein
For more recipes and lunches that’ll offer mood-boosting, focus-enhancing and energy-increasing benefits, try these: