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Beginner’s Guide to High-Protein Lunches in 2024

Feel Satisfied, Stabilize Blood Sugar, and Boost Energy with a Protein-Packed Lunch

Key Takeaways:
  • Protein is important for health and longevity, and without actually calculating our needs based on height, weight, and activity level, most of us are undereating protein. 
  • According to the International Protein Board, we need 1.1–1.4 grams per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight to maintain general health, and more if we want to support fitness goals, weight loss, or healthy aging for adults over 50. 
  • To create higher-protein lunches, it helps to meal prep protein sources ahead of time and mix and match to create different delicious and satisfying meals with at least 30 grams of protein.

The nutrition world has cycled through a lot of different diet trends over the years, from low-carb to low-fat, to vegan and vegetarian and keto diets. But one key macronutrient that’s been getting more attention recently for its major role in health and longevity is protein. 

Eating higher-protein meals throughout the day comes with numerous health benefits, including more stable blood sugar and balanced hunger hormones. But if you’re not used to it, figuring out how to eat more protein at breakfast and lunch can feel like a challenge. 

Let’s explore why it’s good to eat a higher protein lunch and how to increase protein intake. Then, I’ll share some fast and easy meal ideas and recipes. 

The Importance of Protein

Protein is a key nutrient for everything from muscle synthesis to immune function and helping cells divide [1]. Protein plays an important role in body structure and function, it regulates cellular and bodily processes, and it can provide energy if carbohydrate or fat levels are low. 

A higher-protein diet can contribute to:

  • Weight loss and fat loss [2, 3, 4, 5]
  • Better metabolic health [2, 4, 6, 7]
  • Muscle gain [8, 9]
  • Healthy aging [10, 11, 12]
  • Gut health [13, 14]

Increasing protein intake might seem like a deceptively simple strategy to improve all these areas of health, but it really is that important—and effective. But before you go hog wild on the protein, I’ll point out one caveat: We need to be able to digest it well to ensure it’s absorbed in the gut. That means it will pay to address any digestive issues going on before dramatically increasing protein consumption.

high protein lunch

How Much Protein Do We Actually Need?

Without knowing it, most of us have been undereating protein our whole lives. The fact is, we need at least 0.8 g–1 g of protein per kilogram (about 2.2 lbs) of body weight to maintain the most basic level of health. For someone who weighs 68 kg (150 lbs), this translates to 54–68 grams of protein. This is the minimum amount required to keep them alive and functioning, but not necessarily thriving. 

The International Protein Board (IPB) and other current research recommends that we eat more than 1 gram of protein per kg (2.2 lbs) of body weight per day for strong bones and muscle mass [15, 16]. This recommendation is much higher than the standard recommendation of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day. This is especially important for kids [17, 18], active adults [18, 19], pregnant or lactating individuals [18], and adults over 50 [20].

In terms of calculating protein for exercise, a 2016 literature review [16] suggests the following:

  • For minimal physical activity, eat 1.0 gram of protein per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of body weight per day.
  • For moderate physical activity, eat 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
  • For intense physical activity, eat 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

The review says that even long-term consumption of 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day appears safe for healthy adults [16]. (This is about 136 g for our 68 kg/150 lb individual.)

However, it says that regularly eating more than 2 grams per kg of body weight per day can cause digestive, kidney, and blood vessel abnormalities, so it’s probably not a good idea [16].

But based on these guidelines, a general protein recommendation per meal (at 3 meals per day) works out to about 30–50 grams per meal, depending on body weight and activity level. Of course, a 6-foot-three male who lifts heavy weights 3 times per week would likely need a lot more protein per meal. So, it’s important to calculate personal protein needs based on height, weight, and activity level. 

But if you’re feeling intimidated about adding more protein to your meals, the 30-gram minimum is a good benchmark. You might also want to add one or two high-protein snacks if your meals are on the lower end of the 30–50-gram range.  

Here’s an online protein calculator to help you figure out your ideal protein intake based on your age, height, weight, and activity level. 

Ways to Increase Protein at Lunch

Let’s talk about some general guidelines for incorporating more protein into lunchtime. If you’re used to eating a sandwich with just a slice or two of deli meat or a light salad for lunch, you’ll need to start approaching your meals a little differently to increase your protein intake.

We can start by getting familiar with foods that have the highest protein values: 

Ingredient Serving size Calories Protein (g) Carbs (g) Fat (g)
Ground beef 3 oz 157 15 0 10
Chicken breast 3 oz 135 27 0 3
Chicken thigh 3 oz 189 15 0 15
Turkey breast 3 oz 125 25 0 2
Salmon 3 oz  118 20 0 4
Tuna (canned in water) 3 oz  99 22 0 1
Egg whites From 1 large egg (1 oz) 17 4 0 0
Hard-boiled egg 1 large (2 oz) 78 6 1 5
Whey protein powder 1 scoop (20 g)scoop sizes vary 70 16 1.25 <1
Cottage cheese (whole milk) ½ cup 110 13 4 5
Greek yogurt (whole milk) ½ cup 194 18 8 10
Mozzarella (whole milk) 1 oz 85 6 1 6
Parmesan 1 oz 111 10 1 7
Feta 1 oz 75 4 1 5
Pistachios (dry roasted) 1 oz (49 kernels) 161 6 8 13
Cashews (dry roasted) 1 oz 163 4 9 13
Almond butter 1 tbsp 98 3 3 9
Pumpkin seeds (dried) 1 oz 158 9 3 14
Chia seeds 1 oz 138 5 12 9
Oats, raw ½ cup 152 5 27 3
Brown rice (cooked) 1 cup 248 6 52 2
Quinoa 1 cup 222 8 39 4
Soybeans/ edamame (frozen, prepared) 1 cup 188 18 14 8
Black beans (cooked) 1 cup 227 15 41 1
Chickpeas (canned, drained) 1 cup 352 18 57 7
Lentils (cooked) 1 cup 230 18 40 1
Pea protein powder 1 scoop (20 g)scoop sizes vary 73 15 1.5 1.1
Peanut butter (creamy) 2 tbsp 191 7 7 16

You’ll notice that these foods are all animal products, grains, nuts, seeds, or legumes. These are going to be the highest protein food sources, with meat, fish, eggs, and dairy containing the most protein per serving in the most bioavailable (easy for your body to break down and absorb) forms. 

We can increase protein intake by building each meal around these foods, for example with one or multiple protein sources alongside a healthy serving of vegetables and fruits for added fiber, hydration, and micronutrients. 

While many plant-based foods are necessary and important for health, they aren’t all good protein sources. Lower-protein, plant-based items include foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, summer and winter squashes, bell peppers, red onions, salad greens (like romaine, kale, spinach, and arugula), bananas, apples, and berries. Healthy fats and oils, such as olive oil, butter, coconut oil, and avocados, also don’t contain any protein, but they’re important for the brain and hormones, not to mention providing enough calories and satisfying taste. 

Meal Prep

One of the best ways to make sure to get a high-protein lunch is to prepare proteins ahead of time and then create different meals with them throughout the week

For example, let’s say you choose chicken breast, eggs, and pumpkin seeds as your lunchtime protein sources for the week. You can bake the chicken breast with olive oil, herbs, and spices to taste. Then, hard boil the eggs and toast the pumpkin seeds lightly in a pan. Store them in separate containers in the fridge (the seeds can stay in your pantry), and they’re ready for your meals.

Here are some fast and easy options for mixing and matching your protein sources in different meals. 

  • Option 1: Make a salad with greens of your choice, 3–4 oz of your baked chicken breast, a sliced hard-boiled egg, a few tablespoons of roasted pumpkin seeds, and any other veggie toppings such as red onion, peppers, carrot shreds, and so on. Make a quick and easy vinaigrette with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, a dash of salt, pepper, and a touch of maple syrup or honey. Shake in a jar and drizzle over your salad. 
  • Option 2: Add 3 oz of baked chicken breast to a can of lentil soup (easy pre-made protein + fiber!), and drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle some pumpkin seeds on top. 
  • Option 3: Make a chicken salad by shredding 3–4 oz of baked chicken breast, finely chopping celery and red onion, and adding a dollop of mayo and mustard to mix. Eat on whole grain bread, crackers, lettuce wraps, a coconut wrap, or an egg-white wrap. 

All of these quick and easy meals will easily land you in the 30+ grams of protein range! It takes a little bit of time to adjust to making meals this way, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time—and you’ll feel more satisfied with your midday meals. 

High-Protein Food Swaps

Another thing to consider when preparing high-protein meals is what ingredients you can swap out for a similar ingredient that contains higher protein content. For example: 

  • Regular yogurt → Greek or Skyr (Icelandic) yogurt
  • Avocado toast → Cottage cheese toast
  • Water or milk for oatmeal → egg whites + protein powder

Even adding protein powder or collagen powder to your recipes can make a huge difference in protein content and make it easier to reach your goals. 

Kitchen and Food Staples to Make Meal Prep a Breeze

Here are a few kitchen items and handy staple foods you may want to invest in to easily make delicious, healthy protein-packed lunches. 

  • Air fryer 
  • Slow cooker 
  • Glass food containers
  • Instant Pot
  • Frozen cauliflower rice, pre-cut veggies, and fruit for smoothies 
  • Pre-made rice/quinoa/grain packets
  • Pre-made turkey/beef burger patties (quick and easy to cook)
  • Canned beans
  • Canned soups (choose those with higher protein, such as lentil soup, or you can add protein to vegetable soup)
  • A well-stocked spice cabinet
  • Organic, single-origin olive oil (sourced from one location instead of many)
  • Coconut oil or ghee for higher-heat cooking
  • Healthier condiments (organic, low-sugar ketchup, mayo with avocado oil instead of canola, etc.)
  • Refillable containers for nuts, seeds, dry grains, etc. 

High Protein Lunch Ideas

We’ve already covered some simple recipes above in the meal prep example, so let’s keep going! 

Protein Bowls

You’ve probably seen examples of these on social media. Fortunately, the idea is pretty simple. Start with your protein source, add veggies and grains, and top with a homemade dressing, sauce, or healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, sesame oil, and so on. Bonus: These are all gluten-free for those who need or prefer that dietary adjustment. 

Here are a few examples: 

  • Chicken or steak burrito bowl with black beans, brown rice, avocado, cilantro, red onion, fresh diced tomato, and fresh chopped romaine
  • Buffalo-seasoned chickpea veggie bowl with brown rice and veggies of choice
  • Turkey meatball bowl with spaghetti squash 
  • Sesame salmon bowl with quinoa, shredded carrot, sautéed greens or broccoli, and green onion
  • Tofu curry bowl with brown rice or quinoa, steamed broccoli or cauliflower, and sunflower seeds

The combinations are endless and easy to prepare in well-sealed containers to take to work or school. Just remember to measure your protein portions accordingly to hit that 30 gram minimum serving.

Soups and Salads

There’s a reason soups and salads are lunchtime staples—just like bowls, they come with infinite delicious combinations and can easily be packed with protein. You won’t find any sad salads here. 

  • Cobb salad with diced chicken breast, hard-boiled egg, bacon crumbles, feta cheese, sliced cherry tomatoes, and romaine 
  • Salmon salad with baked salmon, spinach, chopped red cabbage, shredded carrot, and pumpkin seeds
  • Taco salad with seasoned ground beef, black beans, lettuce, corn, diced tomato, red onion, cilantro, and cotija (an aged cheese from Mexico)
  • Mediterranean salad with chicken, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, fresh herbs, romaine, and a dollop of hummus
  • Chicken and rice soup
  • Lentil vegetable soup (with or without added protein)
  • Chickpea squash soup (with or without added protein)
  • Tofu noodle soup


This might be the easiest option of all. When you’re making healthy dinners at home, simply make extra for lunch for the next day or two. When cooking at home, most of us naturally make high-protein meals for dinner, so simply transferring those meals to lunch takes almost no extra physical or mental effort. It’s a win-win situation! 

  • Steak, vegetables, and potatoes
  • Chili with ground beef or ground turkey, black beans, tomatoes, chopped carrot, chopped green onion, shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt on top
  • Roasted chicken, Brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes
  • Seared salmon or white fish, green beans, and brown rice

You get the idea: protein, veg, starch/grain. Mix and match to your heart’s content. 

Can I Never Have a Sandwich Again?

Of course you can! But if you want to keep protein a focus at lunchtime, it’s going to take a little more than a PB&J or a ham-and-cheese sandwich. How can you fill out those sandwiches to add more protein? 

You could use 3–4 oz of chicken breast or turkey breast instead of thinly sliced deli meat. Or you could make tuna salad with more tuna and less mayo. You could also replace processed breads with high-protein, whole-grain bread or wraps. Finally, you could try adding a side of soup with another protein source, such as lentils or chickpeas. 

As you can see, you can definitely have a sandwich for high-protein lunch—it just takes a little thought and preparation. 

Make Protein a Priority at All Your Meals

Making high-protein lunches with at least 30 grams of protein simply comes down to a little more planning and preparation ahead of time. You can make delicious, satisfying meals that ramp up your protein intake without slaving away in your kitchen for hours. After you’ve started making high-protein lunches a habit, you’ll probably begin to notice the benefits: more stable energy, balanced blood sugar, and muscle gain (along with consistent strength training). 

Want to learn more about how to optimize your digestion to make sure your body is getting all the protein you consume? Check out my book Healthy Gut, Healthy You or browse my YouTube channel.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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