As far back as I can remember, I've always packed my own lunch. In elementary school, it was a peanut butter sandwich, some crackers, and an orange. When I started working in an office, I upgraded to whole grains and more sophisticated sandwiches. On the days I didn't pack a lunch, I was amazed by how poorly I ate and how I often craved coffee or sugary snacks to get me through the afternoon. It took me a while, but I finally got it: My homemade lunches gave me a day full of energy and a positive outlook.
What to Pack for Lunch
A mood-boosting lunch should contain some or all of these "feel-good" ingredients:
Whole-grain breads or pasta: The fiber, complex carbs, vitamins, and minerals in whole grains keep energy, blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol at optimal levels.
Beans: Canned beans—drained and rinsed—add fiber, protein, and B vitamins to a meal, helping you maintain weight, fight stress, and stay energized all day.
Soy, lean meats, and fish: Proteins like tempeh, lean beef, and salmon help build muscles and provide long-lasting energy. Soy and cold–water fish like salmon also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which keep your HDL ("good" cholesterol) up and help maintain healthy brain functions. Fermented soy products like tempeh provide probiotics (bacteria like lactobacilli), which increase the availability, digestibility, and assimilation of nutrients in the body.
Greens: Spinach, kale, romaine, and collards are just some of the choices of leafy greens you need for a dose of calming B vitamins. Combine different types of greens in one recipe to create a more complex flavor.
Colorful fruits and vegetables: A colorful meal ensures you're getting a variety of nutrients. Dark red beets, bright orange, red, and green bell peppers, and the rich blues, reds, and oranges of berries and other fruits and veggies indicate high antioxidant and vitamin content.