Ryan and I have been shifting our eating habits lately to focus on more sustainable eating while also fueling our running and hiking (and the big appetites that come with them). We both now follow a sort of “vegetarian-before-6” way of eating. It’s by no means a strict rule because both of us despise restrictions. There’s usually at least one day on the weekends where we eat more meat, but that’s balanced out by at least one day per week where we eat completely meatless.
Lunches are a tricky meal in general to plan, so I often go through phases of having a staple meal for my lunch. No thought, which means no decision fatigue or wasted energy over what to eat. As you can probably tell from the lentil recipes I’ve shared recently, lentils have become my go-to options for a satisfying vegetarian meal that will help me recover from my morning runs and fuel my afternoon strength or Pilates workouts.
This lunch is so embarrassing simple, but those are the type of recipes many of us need, aren’t they? When you’re balancing family, training for a race, and a full time job, you don’t want to spend hours each night slaving over the stove to cook dinner and prep lunches. At the same time, however, you don’t want to sacrifice nutrition and fueling your body.
The formula for my current favorite vegetarian lunch is simple:
- 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
- ~1 cup cooked lentils
- ~1 cup green vegetables (whatever’s fresh: spinach, zucchini, broccoli, etc)
- 1 sweet potato/garnet yam
- Anti-inflammatory spices and smoked paprika
This recipe has become my go-to lunch for multiple reasons: ease of preparation, nutrition, satiety, and, most of all, taste. And, this simple meal is dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan! Who said that nutritious, simple eating had to be boring or difficult?
It’s an easy meal that I can prep ahead of time by cooking a large batch of lentils at the start of the week. Since I work from home, I roast the sweet potatoes each day, but you can easily prepare these in advance as well. Even if you make everything from scratch, this meal will only take 45 minutes to cook – with only about 5 minutes of hands-on cooking time since your oven and stove will do most of the work.
What does the nutrition look like? Based on the stats from My Fitness Pal (which I use to track my nutrition a couple days per week throughout marathon training), this vegetarian lunch provides:
- 25 grams of protein (which is what runners should aim to eat per meal)
- 85 grams of carbohydrates, 23 of which are from fiber (meaning this meal will replenish your glycogen stores and provide you with sustainable energy throughout the afternoon)
- 2200 mg of potassium
- ~47% of the daily iron intake for an active woman
- 11 grams of healthy fats
- Magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium
While I am not a nutritionist or registered dietician, I know that potassium offers numerous nutritional benefits for endurance athletes. Potassium is one of the four primary electrolytes, which means you lose it through your sweat during intense exercise. Low potassium levels can cause muscle fatigue, cramping, fluid and electrolyte imbalance, and diminished athletic performance (source).
Thankfully, potassium is easy to get a wide array of foods, especially if you eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Along with bananas (which is why they’re a great pre-run snack), sweet potatoes and avocados are abundant in performance-boosting potassium.
And let’s not forget satiety and taste. Runger is one of the worst parts of training for a marathon or half marathon, because it’s frustrating to be hungry, hungry, hungry all the time no matter how much you eat. Thanks to the slow-burning complex carbs (and plenty of them, since runners need carbohydrates), healthy fats, and sheer volume of this meal, you’ll be full for hours.
And flavor? Smoked paprika plays to the sweet-savory note of the sweet potatoes while adding a kick of spice that will jolt you and your taste buds out of any mid-day slump. If there’s one spice I’m obsessed with right now, it’s smoked paprika. Chicken, lentils, sweet potatoes, fish, roasted vegetables, if it’s savory, it will taste even better with smoked paprika.
You can follow the recipe below to cook the lentils, or you can make a spicier dish by following this curried lentil recipe. The curry flavors taste amazing with the spicy sweet potatoes!
- 1 sweet potato
- 1 teaspoon olive, grapeseed, or melted coconut oil
- 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup zucchini
- Heaping 1/3 cup dry red lentils, rinsed (makes approximately 1 cup)
- 2/3 cup of water, chicken stock, or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
- 1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- 2. Chop the sweet potatoes into small, equal sized pieces, and toss with the olive oil, smoked paprika, garlic, and salt. Line a roasting sheet with parchment paper and bake for 40 minutes, stirring partway through for even cooking.
- 3. With 20 minutes to go on the sweet potatoes, chop the zucchini and add in with the sweet potatoes to cook for the remaining 20 minutes.
- 4. Combine the lentils and water/stock in a pot and bring to boil over high heat on the stove. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 10-12 minutes, until water is absorbed. Stir occasionally as needed. Season with salt to taste.
- 5. Combine the sweet potatoes, zucchini and lentils and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately or store in the fridge until ready to reheat and eat.
- This recipe serves one, but can easily be adjust for 2-6 servings.
Linking up for Foodie Friday!
What’s your current favorite lunch?
Share some of your other current favorites: gear, TV shows, snacks, beers, etc!
What are your weekend plans? We’re going to the ocean! We’ve lived here for a year now, so it’s about time we see some of the Pacific.