What's for Lunch?

Six nutritionists share their midday meal strategies.

Published in Dome - July/August 2015

Bringing lunch to work instead of eating out can save money and improve health. But choosing nutritious, tasty and easy-to-make meals day after day can be challenging. 

Six registered dietitians with the Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research provide lunchtime inspiration. Each woman takes a different approach, influenced by her research, clinical work and particular nutrition needs. One is a distance runner who energizes with carbohydrates, while another chooses foods that combat menopause symptoms. All load up on fruits and vegetables, avoid foods made with artificial ingredients, and drink lots of water. They also eat healthy fats, enjoy occasional indulgences and don’t obsess about calories.  

The Low-Carb Eater: Bobbie Henry, 31, began eating a low-carbohydrate diet about five years ago to combat reactive hypoglycemia, a condition that impairs her ability to regulate blood sugar. As a result, her dramatic energy spikes and troughs have disappeared, she says. Henry treats patients in the Adult Epilepsy Diet Center, where research is showing that diets that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates can lower seizure rates. Her indulgences: super-dark chocolate (85 to 90 percent cocoa), pizza.

The Local and Sustainable Advocate: Diane Vizthum, 29, gravitates toward food that is locally grown. Recently, she and her husband purchased one quarter of a cowmore than 100 pounds of meatfrom a Harford County farm. The grass-fed beef is portioned, packaged and in their freezer, and is ready for quick meals made with “a lot of vegetables, healthy fat, whole grains and protein,” says Vizthum. Her indulgences: dark chocolate, cookies, brownies.

The Athlete: Melissa Moser, 25, runs about 70 miles per week and needs a diet that fuels all those footsteps. She tries to get about 60 percent of her calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent from protein and 20 percent from fat. Her research showing the dangers of food additives for people with kidney disease inspires Moser to “eat real food.” Her indulgences: apples with peanut butter, trail mix, dry cereal, ice cream, chocolate.

The Antioxidant and Estrogen Proponent: Hong Brereton, 66, likes to cook, modifying recipes from her native Vietnam to meet her nutrition goals. She adds broccoli sprouts and other members of the cabbage family to prevent cell damage and fight disease, andshe includes flaxseed and other foods with plant chemicals called phytoestrogens to combat the symptoms of menopause. Her indulgences: fruitcake, mango, dates and a banana eaten with a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese.

The Busy Food-Lover: Meghan Ames, 27, captains a bicycling team, rock-climbs, hikes and takes yoga classes. When she can grab a few minutes in the kitchen, she’ll make a big pot of something easy, like soup or a grain-based salad, and bring the leftovers with a green salad for lunch. Ames, a nursing nutrition instructor and state obesity program coordinator, offers simple weight-loss advice: Move more, and eat lots of produce. Her indulgence: mint chocolate chip ice cream.

The Working Mom: Susan Oh, 43, sneaks as much produce as she can into the diets of her three children, ages 8 to 12. She often makes entrees with tomato sauce, which contains the antioxidant lycopene, and adds pureed vegetables, including butternut squash, mushrooms, carrots, bell pepper, onions and garlic. She cooks on the weekends so she can heat up dinners during hectic weeknights; her family brings leftovers for lunch. Her indulgence: chocolate cake.


steak salad and brownie

Mocha Chocolate Chunk Chia Seed Brownies

From the blog All Day I Dream About Food

Makes 16 squares

  • ¾ cup chia seed meal (about ½ cup whole seeds can be ground in a coffee grinder)
  • ¾ cup Swerve sweetener 
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ cup strongly brewed coffee
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate chunks (70% to 90% cacao)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 9 baking pan. Line with parchment paper and leave some hanging over the sides. Grease the parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground-up chia seeds, sweetener, baking soda and salt.

In a large saucepan over low heat, melt butter and unsweetened chocolate, whisking until smooth. Whisk in eggs (mixture may seize), then whisk in coffee. Stir in chia seed mixture until well combined. Stir in chocolate chunks.

Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake 15 to 16 minutes for a fudgier consistency or 18 to 20 minutes for a cakier brownie. Let cool completely in pan, and remove by carefully lifting the overhanging parchment. Cut into 16 squares.

taco salad

Taco Salad

(Diane’s recipe)

Serves 8

This recipe is designed to provide dinner and lots of easy leftovers. The number of servings will depend on what portion size is right for you!

  • 2 pounds ground beef or turkey
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, diced 
  • ½ medium red onion, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 2 packets all-natural taco seasoning mix (the ingredient list should only contain spices)
  • Water—take the amount instructed on the taco seasoning mix and reduce by about half, since the vegetables will give off some water when cooking


  • Mixed greens (deeper the colors, the more nutritious), washed and chopped 
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half if desired 
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • ½ cup cilantro, leaves washed and picked from stems
  • Shredded cheese of your choice
  • Salsa of your choice
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
  • Optional: Whole-corn tortillas, whole-grain tortilla chips, or brown rice (some brands can be microwaved in 90 seconds; great for busy weeknights). 

Heat canola oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat and add the meat. Stir regularly until the meat is browned. Drain fat and add bell pepper, red onion, seasoning packet, and water. Mix well and stir occasionally. Remove from heat once veggies are cooked and you like the consistency. Sometimes I turn the heat up to get some of the moisture out and make the meat mixture a little drier.

While the meat is cooking, combine lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and cilantro in a large salad bowl.

To serve: Top the greens and tomatoes with a scoop of the meat mixture, shredded cheese, and salsa. Squeeze lime juice over the salad. Serve with tortillas, chips, or rice on the side if desired.



(Melissa’s recipe)

Serves 4

  • 1½ cups dry quinoa (can blend white and red quinoa)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, drained
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Cumin

Start with 2 cups of water/broth for every 1 cup dry quinoa and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, chop up whatever veggies are on hand and throw in some extras like beans, diced chicken, walnuts, dried cranberries, etc.

cabbage and chicken salad

Cabbage and Chicken Salad with Dressed Fish Sauce

(Hong’s recipe)

Serves 3

Vietnamese dressed fish sauce:

  • ½ cup sugar or Splenda
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/3 cup vinegar or 2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 3 ounces fish sauce
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon chopped hot pepper, optional

Boil or microwave the sugar and water mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature. Add vinegar, lemon/lime juice and fish sauce and stir well. Add chopped garlic and hot pepper if desired and stir well. Store in a glass bottle with lid. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.  


  • 1 large chicken breast with skin on
  • ½ small cabbage head, washed, placed upside down to get rid of excess water, finely sliced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into long thin strips
  • 20 to 30 fresh mint or basil leaves
  • 9 walnut halves

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup of water, seasoned with a pinch each of salt and pepper, to a boil. Add the chicken and simmer over medium to low heat for 15-20 minutes until the meat is no longer pink (165 degrees). Be careful not to overcook the chicken, or it will be dry. Transfer the chicken breast onto a plate, and cover with plastic wrap. When it is cool, remove and discard the chicken skin. Tear the meat along its grain fiber into thin strips.

To plate the salad, arrange sliced cabbage, spread 1 heaped tablespoon of carrot strips and 1/3 of chicken pieces over the cabbage. Top with 3 walnut halves and 10 mints or basil leaves. Pour ¼ cup of dressed fish sauce onto the salad right before eating. 

Cranberry and Flaxseed Bars

(Modified by Hong from Nina Shandler’s 1997 book, The Estrogen the Natural Way)

Makes 10 to 12 bars

  • ½ cup water or fresh apple or orange juice 
  • 2 cups dried cranberries
  • 1 cup flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, coarsely chopped

Place juice or water and dried cranberries in a saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until softened.  Remove from heat and allow to cool. Grind flaxseed in a food processor until it reaches a flourlike consistency. Add softened cranberries, walnut pieces and chopped candied ginger to the food processor bowl and pulse five or more times until the mixture reaches the consistency of a dough.  Spray a glass container, 9x9 or smaller, lightly with cooking spray. Spread mixture evenly and press down firmly. Refrigerate for 1 hour, then cut into 10 to 12 bars. The bars keep well in the refrigerator up to two weeks.

vegean chili and cornbread

Vegan Chili

(Modified by Meghan from a friend’s recipe) 

Serves 6 to 8

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil
  • 14-ounce can black beans
  • 14-ounce can kidney beans
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons each dried oregano, dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup quinoa, bulgur wheat?or other grain
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in a large pot. Add onions, carrots and garlic; sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add yellow pepper, jalapenos, celery and chili powder; cook another 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, beans (with liquid), corn, salt and spices. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in bulgur wheat or other grain. Cover and simmer at least 30 minutesbut up to a couple of hours to let the flavors really developstirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Just as you’re taking the chili off the heat, stir in the balsamic vinegar.


Gluten-Free Goat Cheese and Thyme Skillet Cornbread

(From Healthy Recipe Ecstasy)

Makes 8 wedges

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 teaspoons fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
  • 1½ cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons honey, plus more for drizzling
  • 8 ounces goat cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients (cornmeal through thyme) in a large bowl. Mix together the almond milk, egg, and honey in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Mix in the goat cheese. Grease a medium cast-iron skillet with butter or coconut oil. Pour the cornbread mixture into the skillet and garnish with a few thyme sprigs and drizzle with honey. Cook for 35 minutes, or until the top of the cornbread is golden. Let the cornbread sit for 10 minutes.

lasagna and salad

Turkey Lasagna with Sneaked-In Veggies

(Susan’s recipe)

Serves 5, plus leftovers

  • 1 pound poultry sausage
  • 1 pound ground turkey breast
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 carrots
  • 1½ onions
  • 1 box sliced mushrooms
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 4 24½-ounce jars of spaghetti sauce
  • Parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 16 ounces part skim ricotta
  • Part-skim mozzarella
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1½ boxes uncooked lasagna noodles 

Brown the sausage and turkey in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; drain fat.  In a food processor, chop all veggies, except mushrooms. Add to meat and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add sauce, 1 cup of water and mushrooms and bring to a boil. Turn off heat.

Mix ricotta cheese with chopped parsley and egg. In a large pan (may need to use more than one pan), add layers of sauce mixture, uncooked noodles, thin cheese layer, thin layer of mozzarella, sauce, noodles, cheese, etc. After the final sauce mixture, add mozzarella cheese and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake covered at 350 degrees for 1½ to 2 hours or until noodles are cooked.