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What Makes a Healthy Plant-Based Lunch + Ideas

Choosing your plant-based foods wisely will help to keep up your energy levels, boost your health, and help you fight off diseases.
Jyothi Shenoy, MD, MBA

Written by Jyothi Shenoy, MD, MBA. Updated on December 19, 2022.

A healthy lunch is the one that provides you the energy boost that you need after half a day of tiring work. It should replenish your energy levels so that you can continue with your tasks for the rest of the day efficiently.

Vegetables and whole grains form an important part of lunch. Including a variety of vegetables and grains in your lunch is extremely important as these foods offer natural sources of nutrients and antioxidants.

Choosing your plant-based foods wisely will help to keep up your energy levels, boost your health, and help you fight off diseases.

Here are some plant-based lunch ideas that you can include in this important meal of the day.

Plant-Based Lunch Foods to Include in Your Lunch

The lunch hour comes with its own needs of specific nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fibers.

Making sure your lunch platter is filled with plant-based nutritious foods is important to ensure your body is not deprived of what it needs to be able to function optimally.


Vegetables offer an easy way to add variety to your lunch menu.

You can include vegetables like potato, tomato, green vegetables, lettuce, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli in your lunch in the form of side dishes, curries, salads, and sandwiches.

Vegetables contain several essential nutrients including proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

Additionally, they also contain dietary fibers that can help you feel full for several hours until it is time for dinner or your evening snacks.

Vegetables are also beneficial for weight management, thanks to their low-calorie content. Including a variety of vegetables in your lunch would help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables

Vegetables are packed with several nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibers. Hence, eating vegetables in any form – fresh or frozen – can ideally be considered better than eating no vegetables at all.

One study published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis has found that there is no significant difference in the nutritional content of fresh and frozen vegetables.

Yet, fresh vegetables and frozen vegetables do come with their own pros and cons that you must be aware of so that you are able to make the right choice.

When to Choose Frozen Vegetables?

Freezing offers a safe way to increase the shelf life of vegetables. Vegetables that are chosen for freezing are usually processed when their ripeness is at its peak, which is also the time when they are the most nutrient-dense.

The initial steps of freezing vegetables involve steaming or blanching them in hot water to kill bacteria and inhibit the activities of the food-degrading enzymes.

These processes can cause a few water-soluble nutrients, especially B vitamins and vitamin C, to reach out and break down. This might reduce the nutritional content of vegetables to some extent.

However, the subsequent process involved in freezing tends to lock those vegetables in a relatively higher nutrient-rich state.

If you want to choose frozen produce, it’s best to choose plain frozen versions without any added salt.

Some favorite options of frozen vegetables include broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, corn, and squash.

These vegetables can be added to cook dishes like stir-fries, pasta, casseroles, and soup.

When to Choose Fresh

It is hard to argue against the nutritional content and natural flavors of fresh, ripe vegetables, especially when in season.

Fresh produce is usually grown and purchased locally. This can ensure what you use in cooking has its natural taste, texture, and nutritional content intact.

However, it may not be realistic for everyone to consume fresh vegetables all year round.

Also, in the colder months, vegetables that are produced to be transported to the “fresh-vegetables” aisles around the country are typically picked before they have become fully ripe.

This gives those vegetables less time to develop their full spectrum of nutrients, although they may show some outward signs of ripening.

Hence, these vegetables may not have the same nutritional content as they would have had if they were allowed to fully ripen on the plant.

Additionally, during the long haul from the farm to your fork, fresh vegetables get exposed to adverse conditions like light and heat that can degrade some of the nutrients in them, especially delicate vitamins like thiamin and vitamin C.

Hence, it’s best to choose fresh vegetables for your lunch when they are easily available or locally grown.

If you are looking for a vegetable that you can eat raw, the best option would be fresh produce because frozen vegetables tend to get soggy. Salads also need the crispy and crunchy bite that you get only from fresh vegetables and not from frozen.

In short, it is good to choose fresh vegetables when you are sure you are going to use them promptly as they have a shorter shelf life compared to their frozen counterparts.

Frozen vegetables, on the other hand, can be a safe bet for reducing the risk of wastage or spoilage.

Being aware of these facts can be helpful in making a choice between fresh vs. frozen to ensure you get the best nutrients, the best flavors, and the best textures from your menu.


A healthy lunch should include foods that provide complex carbohydrates such as fresh fruits, dried fruits, and whole grains.

You can consider eating a bowl of fruit chunks or a handful of dried fruits, preferably after lunch, to replenish your energy levels so that you can continue working without feeling tired.

This is important considering most people tend to feel tired as their energy level begins to dip once the body has used up the fuel stocked up during breakfast.

Complex carbohydrates are broken down by the body into simple carbohydrates called glucose, which can be used by the body to fuel its functions.

Eating complex carbohydrates for lunch can provide the body with a steady flow of energy in the form of ATP molecules thus preventing the feeling of sleeping or tiredness.

Whole grains

Whole grains should ideally form a larger portion of your lunch platter. Your meal should comprise the main dish made from whole grains such as wheat, rice, oats, barley, millet, and rye.

Whole grains, with their high content of proteins, fibers, and complex carbohydrates, can provide the body with loads of essential nutrients that can support the normal physiological functions of vital organs and thus, improve your overall health and fitness.

Whole Grains or Bread and Pasta

Whole grains can be consumed in several ways. You can use them to make bread or pasta or cook them to make dishes like a rice bowls, oatmeal, or flatbread.

Bread and pasta can be good choices for lunch, provided these dishes are prepared from whole wheat instead of refined all-purpose flour.

All-purpose flour is not good for your health, especially gut health. It is sticky in nature, which means it can stick to the passages of the stomach and intestine and cause inflammation.

Over a period of time, it may cause significant damage to the gut lining putting you at risk of leaky gut syndrome or inflammatory bowel diseases.

The all-purpose flour can also reacts with the liver thus increasing the risk of fatty liver disease. Hence, you need to choose bread and pasta made from whole wheat instead of regular bread and pasta made from all-purpose flour, or even chickpea pasta.

Why Should You Choose Whole Grains Over Refined Flour?

Refined grains undergo several processes during which their germ and bran are removed. These processes give the flour a finer texture and even extend its shelf life.

However, the refining process also removes several nutrients, especially fibers.

The high starch content of refined grains and the lack of fibers in them due to the removal of the bran and germ can trigger a rapid rise in blood sugar levels.

The hyperglycemic effect of refined flour can cause blood sugar fluctuations, which, over time, can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart attacks.

This is why; it is good to choose whole grains instead of refined grains to ensure you are not deprived of their rich nutritional content.

Some refined grains that should be avoided during lunch as well as other meals include white rice, white flour, white bread, and pasta.

What Makes a Healthy Bread?

Healthy bread is one that is made from whole grain flour such as whole wheat, rye, and spelt.

Sourdough, typically made from just 4 ingredients, including flour, salt, water, and a starter culture, can be a good example of healthy bread as it is highly nutritious and easier to digest.

It is the long fermentation process that holds the key to the rich and unique taste, texture, and health credentials of sourdough.

Since it is usually fermented by lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, it can also offer diverse strains of probiotics, which can enrich the gut flora and improve digestive functions.


You can include a variety of legumes in your diet in different ways. You can eat green beans or snow peas in their pods, just fresh off the vine.

They can also be canned, dried, cooked, split, or ground into flour.
Some healthy choices of legumes for your lunch include:

  • Green peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Peanuts
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Pinto beans
  • Navy beans
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils

Legumes can guard against type 2 diabetes, improve lipid and glycemic control, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and control weight.

Nuts and Seeds

Making nuts a regular part of your lunch can be a tasty and delicious way to derive protection against chronic diseases including heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes.

Nuts are simple dry fruits comprising one or two edible kernels inside their hard shells. Some healthy nuts you can include in your lunch are:

The nutritional profile of seeds is also very similar to that of nuts. Seeds offer a wide range of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and several vitamins and minerals.

For example, a small handful of walnuts (28 grams) contains 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids and is one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3s.

Seeds are also a good source of natural antioxidants such as carotenoids and vitamin E.

Some healthy seeds to include in your lunch are:

  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Poppy seeds
  • Psyllium seeds
  • Sunflower seeds

Nuts and seeds can regulate body weight as the fats in them can not be fully absorbed into the body. Thus, they can also reduce total calorie intake and help burn more energy.


Spices can add great flavors to your lunch platter. You can add spices like turmeric, cumin, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and bay leaf while cooking curries or other dishes.

You can also sprinkle spices like cinnamon powder, cumin powder, and black pepper powder on your salads and sandwiches to improve the aroma and flavors.

These spices are loaded with powerful medicinal properties.

For example, studies have shown that turmeric has the potential to inhibit cancerous and precancerous changes in healthy tissues while black pepper can protect against heart attacks and stroke.

How To Combine Foods for Complete Protein

You can combine incomplete, plant-based proteins to meet your body’s demands. Some combinations of plant-based foods to get complete protein include:

  • Nuts and seeds with whole grains such as spreading peanut butter on whole wheat toast
  • Whole grains with beans such as rice with beans; bean-based chili with crackers; or refried beans with tortillas
  • Beans with nuts and seeds such as salads with sunflower seeds or chickpeas
  • Seitan and legumes, such as beans, lentils or chickpeas

5 Easy Plant-Based Lunch Ideas

1. Rice

Rice can be included in your lunch in several ways such as steamed rice and porridge. You can also cook rice with vegetables and add spices to it to make one wholesome lunch menu in itself.

It is advisable to eat brown rice instead of white rice to ensure you do not lose out on the benefits of a high amount of fiber and proteins in it.

2. Curries

Curried can add the much-needed taste and flavors to your lunch menu. You can include vegetables to make healthy and delicious curries that can complement your main dish while also providing loads of nutrients.

3. Sandwiches

Sandwiches prepared with whole grain bread and vegetables of your choice like lettuce, tomato, and cabbage can help you load yourself with proteins, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers that are needed for improving immunity and digestion.

4. Salads

Salads topped with spices can be the best option to reduce your total calorie intake throughout the day while getting all the nutrients your body needs.

You can sprinkle spices on cooked or raw vegetables and relish them for lunch to satisfy your taste buds and feel fuller without adding too many calories to your diet.

5. Dried fruits

You can eat a handful of dried fruits as a dessert after a wholesome meal. It will provide complex carbohydrates that will help you maintain stable blood sugar levels for several hours.


A nutritious plant-based lunch can be a great way to boost your energy levels once again at lunch hour when you are likely to experience a slump.

Adding a variety of plant-based vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits to your lunch can improve your physical and intellectual productivity and allow you to refocus on your activities for the rest of the day ahead.

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