Quinoa Meatballs Recipe: A “Lower-Carb” Packable Lunch

Quinoa Meatballs Recipe: A “Lower-Carb” Packable Lunch

Quinoa Meatballs Recipe

Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

It depends. But in many cases, I would say no. I think it’s important to get enough protein in the morning, but in my opinion, lunch is the most important meal of the day, and should be the largest, containing the most carbohydrates.

That’s why I don’t get all the “light lunch” logic of lunch-sized vs. dinner-sized portions at restaurants. It should be reversed! While all meals should be designed with portion size in mind, if any meal is going to be a whopping entree, it should be lunch, not dinner.

Why?

Your Body Needs Energy in the Afternoons

Energetically, your body needs the most energy it requires all day during the afternoon. Most people do not eat dinner at 5:00. The average person eats their last meal at more like 7:00, 8:00, or maybe even 9:00, depending on the individual’s schedule.

That means that, for most people, the longest lag (“fast”) between two meals could be between lunch and dinner – sometimes as much as seven or eight hours. Even worse, many of my female clients report “forgetting to eat” around lunchtime because of being busy at work.

Finally, most of my clients report their worst “off-book” snacking happening at either around 4:00 or before bed. Those unintentional and unwanted overeating episodes – around 4:00 and around 8:00 – can be handled by eating an appropriate lunch and snacks (more on snacks in another post!). The nighttime snacking is often a result of an excessive caloric deficit that has accumulated throughout the entire day, and willpower cannot overcome that sheer lack of food.

So instead of relying on willpower, let’s use preparation and prevention instead! As I said in my first article about meal prepping, willpower is finite – meaning, it runs out if you use it too much on a regular basis.

We want to save our willpower for the crucial moments where we need to “say no” in order to support our goals – not chip away at our reserves of willpower gradually throughout each day until we are depleted each evening… just in time for that energy slump! 

In order to meet that goal, we need to meet our energy needs in the middle of the day so that we are set up for success for the rest of the afternoon!

The Components of the Perfect Lunch

The “perfect lunch,” if that exists, should meet the following criteria:

  • It needs to include a significant serving (3-4 oz.) of lean protein like chicken, turkey, or fish
  • It needs to include roughly a half cup of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, or a whole grain pasta
  • It needs to include at least one type of hearty vegetable (not including beans)
  • It needs to be pre-cooked and pre-portioned so that you can easily pack it on your way to work and re-heat it for lunch at work
  • It needs to be something that appeals to you, that you would look forward to eating at least three times in one week

Does “life happen”? Do you occasionally go out with co-workers for lunch or get stuck commuting from one client to another during the lunch hour? Yes. We all need to grab wraps, soups, and sandwiches at some point in a realistic working schedule. However, even when you’re stuck in the convenience store, you should still aim for similar proportions: lean protein, whole grain serving, and one vegetable, even if the circumstances aren’t ideal.

This quinoa meatballs recipe is a great “lower-carb” lunch if you are trying to reduce your carbs overall. However, as I said in another post, reducing carbs altogether in the middle of the day can be a recipe for emotional and energetic disaster – we need a certain amount of carbohydrates for optimal functioning, and cutting too much can tank your mood, concentration, and cognitive functioning in the middle of the day when you need it most. So I would not advise going “no-carb” or “low-carb” at breakfast or lunch – just low-er carb (if it’s part of your goals to reduce overall carbohydrate intake).

Quinoa Meatballs with Red Tomato Sauce and Broccoli

Note: this makes 6 servings.

The Shopping List
  • 1 lb. lean ground turkey or chicken
  • 1/2 cup white quinoa
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large head or package broccoli
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • Salt, pepper, and oregano to taste

To start, pre-heat the oven at 400 F, then combine 1/2 cup of dry quinoa with 1 cup of water in a pot on the stovetop, and bring to a boil. Once it has reached a rolling boil, turn the heat down to a very low simmer and cover with a lid. Check occasionally until the quinoa is fluffy and the water has either fully evaporated or absorbed.

Meanwhile, while you’re waiting for the quinoa to finish, crush and peel a few heads of garlic, and toss them into a heavy saucepan to saute. Once the garlic is browned and softened, add the following two ingredients:

  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1 can of crushed or diced tomatoes
  • Refill empty crushed/diced tomato can with water TWICE and pour into sauce

Stir, and allow to boil. Once it is boiling, turn down to a low simmer and cover.

Then, combine in one large glass, metal, or plastic bowl:

  • 1 lb. raw ground turkey or ground chicken
  • Cooked quinoa
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt, pepper, and oregano to taste

Stir this together. Using your hands, roll this mixture into 1-inch (or your size preference) meatballs and place neatly on a baking sheet. Bake on 375-400 for 20-30 minutes at most, and either check temperature if you have a thermometer (should be 165 F) or just slice open a meatball to see if it “looks done.” A “done” meatball is firm and light brown on the inside. In a perfect world, all of these items would be done at the same time. Sometimes they’re a little disjunct in completion. But most of the time it’s pretty close, in my experience.

Roll the meatballs from the baking sheet into the simmering sauce. Stir. Serve into six separate re-heating containers, leaving room for broccoli. Make sure that there are equal numbers of meatballs in each container.

On a cutting board, chop the most offensive stalks from a large head of broccoli and discard, and then chop the remaining broccoli into manageable, bite-sized pieces. Here’s the amazing secret: you don’t have to cook the broccoli! It will steam during the re-heat process! Add the nicely chopped broccoli to the meatball containers in equal portions, snap the lids on, and you’re done!

Remember, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight is a combination of quality and quantity. “Quality” means that you are focusing on vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, and avoiding junk foods and overly-processed foods. “Quantity” is calories. You need to focus on both. Portion control is an important element of healthy weight maintenance, so once you have cooked this “high-quality” dish, be sure to separate it into the correct number of containers so that you don’t overeat!

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