During a busy day at work, sometimes the only lunch you want is one that's easy and quick. Read on for 10 common lunchtime mistakes and our best tips for avoiding them.
1. Problem: Buying café food at lunch
As well as being expensive, café food often has hidden sugar, salt and fat which costs good health. Some foods are obviously unhealthy such as sausage rolls and cake, but what about that chicken and salad roll? Many of the seemingly "healthier" options have added extras like thick spreads of butter, mayonnaise, processed meat and heaps of cheese. These extras can move your sandwich into burger territory, plus portion sizes can far exceed what you should be eating. You need to watch out for café snacks too - bliss balls, gluten-free and raw products are not necessarily healthy options.
Bring lunch and snacks from home! Make an extra portion of dinner or keep sandwich ingredients at work. It's also handy to have a "desk pantry" stocked with lunch and snack items you can use on those days you've run out of time to prepare anything. Tinned fish and chicken, rice cups, wholemeal crackers, tinned corn and beans and dried fruit and nuts are all great choices.
2. Problem: Skipping lunch because you're too busy / have a meeting / running errands...
Our brain needs energy (glucose) to be able to function properly. Without good sources of energy through regular, healthy meals this supply of energy starts to dwindle. This is why skipping meals can leave you feeling tired, grumpy and unable to concentrate. Plus, you're likely to eat more than you normally would at your next meal and seek out snacks like chocolate.
If you're quite busy at work, preparation is key. Make sure you have something on hand that is quick and easy to prepare and eat, like a sandwich or salad made at home. For a lunch that satisfies, make sure it includes some protein (e.g. meat, egg, cheese), wholegrains (e.g. brown rice, grainy bread, couscous), vegies (the more colours the better) and healthy fats (e.g. olive oil, nuts, avocado)
3. Problem: Not being prepared for the 3pm snack attack
Hunger strikes and you have nothing to munch on? You're likely to turn your eye to the vending machine or run out to the nearest café and purchase a sweet sugar-laden treat.
Let's re-visit the "desk pantry" concept. Make sure you have some healthy snack options on hand so that you're not a slave to the vending machine when the 3pm munchies hit. Foods like fresh fruit, unsalted dried fruit and nuts, crackers and peanut butter, muesli and yoghurt if you have fridge access are all great options
4. Problem: Vending machine overhaul
Many vending machines out there don't have great choices, so that snack attack could be causing you to consume a lot of saturated fat, sugar and salt.
You could speak to the vending machine supplier as they may be able to swap some unhealthy options out for some healthier ones, like low-fat cheese and crackers, nuts or sparkling water.
5. Problem: Eating lunch at your desk (for office workers)
When you're not paying attention to your food, it's easy to overeat.
Get away from your desk at lunchtime. Eat in the staff room, a meeting room or even down at the park, just remember to wear a hat and look for a shady spot. Eat slowly, pay attention to your food and you will find it more enjoyable and satisfying. Also, you'll be breaking up your sitting time and have less crumbs on your keyboard. Win-win!
6. Problem: Eating instead of checking your hydration
It's easy to mistake thirst for hunger and reach for food instead of a glass of water, making those calories add up.
Stay on top of hydration by keeping a clear water bottle where you can see it. This will serve as a good reminder to have a drink! You'll also have to get up more often to fill up your bottle and use the bathroom, breaking up your sitting time.
7. Problem: Not keeping food safe
For those who are on the road or on-site, you may not have the luxury of access to a fridge or microwave. This might mean that a home-packed meal could be at best unappetising, or at worst food poisoning waiting to happen.
Invest in an insulated lunch bag with an ice brick or a thermos to keep food at safe temperatures. Stash some temperature stable foods in your bag too, like unsalted dried fruit and nuts, wholegrain crackers, fresh fruit and rice cakes with peanut butter.
8. Problem: Over-eating
If you're buying your food from a café, chances are the portion is too big, particularly if you work in a sedentary job. But even if you're bringing in food from home, you could also be eating too much - those plastic food containers can hold a fair amount of food, and we tend to finish our meals regardless of the size or whether we're full.
Check the size of your lunchbox. Dish up the amount you would normally and then empty it out onto a plate. You may be surprised by how much more (or even less) there is than you thought. Make sure you park a reasonable portion and a couple of healthy snacks if needed
9. Problem: Not planning for the week
When we're in the midst of a busy week, planning and preparing healthy lunches and snacks each day can fall by the wayside. This might mean café lunches and vending machine snacks become more frequent.
Try to get yourself into the habit of planning your meals for the week on the weekend. This way, you can ensure you're eating the good stuff all week. Once you've decided what you will be eating, you can make your shopping list and even prep some of the meals for the week. Freeze any extra portions for meals in the following weeks too. Not only will you be able to keep eating healthily during those busy days, you'll be saving time and money too!
10. Problem: Inadequate workplace facilities
If your workplace doesn't provide adequate food storage and preparation facilities like cupboard or fridge space, chopping boards, knives or a microwave, eating healthy at work can be even more difficult.
This will depend on what you're workplace is lacking. No fridge space? Invest in a cooler bag or small esky with an ice brick to keep food safe. No microwave? Ensure you bring in food that is just as good when eaten cold, like frittata or a sandwich. No chopping boards or knives? Try to do as much preparation at home so all you have to do at work is assemble and eat! Speak to the appropriate person in your workplace to advocate for better facilities - a small investment in some kitchen facilities for staff can make a big difference.
Want more great tips?
Cancer Council WA delivers the Healthier Workplace WA initiative, which provides free services to all workplaces in WA to help them support and encourage their workers to make positive lifestyle changes that benefit everyone.
For more great tips, resources or information, please visit healthierworkplacewa.com.au.
This article was originally published on the Healthier Workplace WA blog.