How Big Should Your Lunch Be?
It became my biggest meal of the day.
By Kelly Burch for Prevention
April 7, 2017
I’m someone who loves food, whether it involves planning elaborate dinners or making fresh muffins in the morning. Yet lunch, for whatever reason, always feels like an afterthought. I usually heat up and scarf down some leftovers or whip up a salad or sandwich without thinking too much about taste and satisfaction. A meal that comes in the middle of the day when there are a million other things to do just doesn’t get any love.
That seemed like a shame, since there are reportedly lots of health benefits to making lunch the biggest meal of the day, from regulating hormones and blood sugar (hello, energy boost!) to helping with weight loss. Plus, it made sense to me. Why not take in the most calories during the middle of the day (when I’m more likely to burn them off) instead of in the evening, when I’m more apt to be sedentary? (Hit the reset button—and burn fat like crazy with The Body Clock Diet!)
So I decided to try an experiment: make lunch my biggest meal and let dinner take a backseat for a month. Here’s what happened:
I was forced to pause in the middle of the day.
Making and eating a decent-sized meal requires more time and effort than grabbing a sandwich. Because of this, I was forced to actually take advantage of my lunch hour. Taking some time off in the middle of the day when I was not thinking about work or trying to multitask meant that I was actually concentrating on my meal, not just gobbling it down with one hand on the keyboard (eating is just one of these 4 things you shouldn’t do at your desk). It also gave me time to recharge so I could return to work with more energy for the rest of the afternoon.
I ate less.
My lunches used to be leftovers from the night before or a salad with shrimp—whatever was quick and easy. For dinner, on the other hand, I felt the need to cook a big meal: anything from stir-fry to curry to chicken with roasted vegetables and potatoes.
Flipping my meals, however, didn’t change the reality of my schedule, and even cooking something simple took up a significant chunk of my lunch hour. So while I started taking the time to make a protein (like fish) with vegetables, I rarely bothered to make a second side like potatoes. The result was that my new biggest meal of the day (lunch) was smaller than my old one (dinner)—but I didn’t miss the extra food at all.
Looking for healthy lunch ideas? Try out these fun takes on avocado toast:
I avoided the afternoon slump.
We all know the feeling that creeps in right around 3 o’clock in the afternoon: the fatigue, endless yawns, and a burning desire for a nap (here are a few more ways to avoid that afternoon slump). Making it through the rest of the workday is a struggle.
When I started eating bigger lunches, this was one of the first things to disappear. I would be working full-steam ahead in my office and suddenly realize that it was 4 or 4:30 p.m. I was even able to ditch my normal afternoon coffee.
I slept better.
I never realized that my dinners were having an effect on my sleep. I typically have dinner by 6 p.m. and don’t go to bed until about 10 p.m., so I thought I was giving myself plenty of time to digest. But once I started eating lighter dinners, I started sleeping like a dream. Going to bed with just the tiniest edge of hunger meant there were no upset stomachs or feelings of overfullness to keep me awake.
I ate bigger breakfasts.
Because I wasn’t eating much in the evenings, I was waking up hungry at the beginning of the day. This meant that I started eating bigger breakfasts—but that wasn’t a bad thing. Instead of having a quick slice of toast, I was making eggs or a smoothie, meaning that my morning meal was much more balanced than it normally would be (try one of these 10 smoothies with more protein than two eggs). That kept me full longer, which reduced snacking.
I let go of the traditional idea of dinner.
In our culture, dinner is without a doubt seen as the most important meal of the day. It’s the one we share with our families, and the meal we put the most time and effort into preparing. Over the course of the month I had to decide what was really important to me about dinner. I realized that sitting down for a family meal was still something I wanted to do, but I didn’t need to do it over a roast or lasagna; we could just as easily share quality time over soup or sandwiches (these 20 soup and stew recipes will keep you satisfied for hours).
The timing of my experiment happened to be perfect for my family. My husband was gone for work Monday through Friday during the month, so he didn’t need to adjust his eating habits (although he has always tended to eat larger midday meals, anyway). My toddler eats whatever she is served and doesn’t have any emotional attachment to dinner, so the change was no big deal for her. On the weekends we started dining out for lunch instead of dinner, when it was cheaper and the restaurants were less crowded.
I had more time in the evenings.
As a working mom, evenings are typically a chaotic time in my house. I only have a few hours to pick up my daughter from childcare, make dinner, feed her, and get her into bed. With the pressure to make a big dinner gone, I felt less stressed and had more time to play before bedtime.
I started a lasting habit.
I’m someone who doesn’t lose weight easily, so I was determined not to measure the success of this experiment based on pounds lost. As I expected, I didn’t lose weight during the month. Despite that, I was surprised at how dramatic the non-scale changes were. I felt better, lighter, and more energized. Eating a bigger meal in the middle of the day just felt healthier than having a heaping plate of food a few hours before bed. That combined with the benefits to my work productivity and evening routine means that eating a larger lunch and lighter dinner is definitely a habit I will keep.
The article I Made Lunch The Biggest Meal Of The Day For A Month, And Here’s What Happened originally appeared on Prevention.