Eating Healthy at Work:
Strategies, tips, and staples to keep you going!
Work, work, and more work! I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels like work consumes life from time to time. It’s hard to find a balance between enjoying hobbies or spending time with friends and then going home and having to make dinner etc.! It’s a lot of work to take care of yourself let alone anyone else.
When it comes to arguably one of the best hours of the day, lunch, I like to feel really prepared in knowing what my options are, no matter what is going on… it just takes a little bit of planning. I’m sure many of you work in busy offices where, occasionally, you don’t have time to run out and grab lunch if you didn’t bring one with you. There also might be some of you that work in areas where there aren’t many places to choose from if you need to purchase lunch. I’ve experienced this situation from both angles, and both can be very frustrating, especially when you’ve reached the point of hanger.
See, what happens in these situations as I described are a few different things. You might visit the vending machine for a bundle of 120-calorie pack crunchy, snacks. Or, you run to closest place possible and grab something pre-made that might not be the greatest choice. Worst of all, sometimes you might not end up eating at all! Then, at the end of the day when you leave work, you might end up over-eating to compensate for the lack of calories and energy you had to deal with during the day. Ugh!
There are a variety of great reasons to bring your lunch to work, but to also have a back-up plan for when things don’t go as planned. It’s tough when you feel like you’re really on track with your goals for eating and exercising – and for many people, a bad day can really set them back mentally. So lets take a leap ahead and be somewhat prepared for when life inevitably gets in the way, again!
Buying lunch out too often or having to purchase food in a pinch or you need the vending machine too much can lead to a few complications:
Any place you purchase a sandwich, salad, or other meal from will, 99% of the time, have more calories in the form of simple carbohydrates and saturated fat then the meal you make yourself at home. Now, I’m sure you have your favorite lunch spots with something that probably is on the healthier side but take into consideration the portion size, condiments, and any other fats or oils that were used to make it. These are often major sources of hidden calories!
Sodium can be a very challenging thing to limit, especially when eating out. Most foods have naturally occurring sodium in them to begin with but then consider bread, soup, burritos etc. Anything that comes in a package will have extra sodium because it is a preservative. In addition to that, meals made at restaurants will typically have extra salt added… more than you would likely add if making that same meal yourself!
- Your wallet!
Even if you can afford it, would it baffle you to know that bringing your lunch to work can save you upwards of $572 a year by cutting out just 1 purchased lunch each week? Forbes based this off of an average lunch price of $11. Now think about how often you buy lunch, is it more than once per week? Now think about what that savings could be put towards!
When you buy lunch out, try sticking to these tips:
- Eat half of it, depending on what it is! Save the other half for dinner or lunch the next day. Instead of eating the entire thing, have a banana or orange in place of that second half.
- Add extra veggies always! If you aren’t have a salad, try and get extra lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes or any other veggie you can add to a sandwich. This will bulk it up with healthy goodness.
- Ask for half of the meat. Have you have gotten a sandwich that had what appears to be an entire pound of turkey on it? Try asking for less meat to ensure you don’t eat too much.
- Drink water only. Soda and juice etc. will only add unnecessary, empty calories to your meal. Try and stick with water only.
- Remove unnecessary ingredients. Have you ever noticed if there is one piece of cheese versus two pieces of cheese on your sandwich? I’m sure you haven’t so try and stick with just one slice; this will save you roughly 100 calories! Also, always order your dressing on the side with a salad. I’ve yet to ever use an entire container of dressing they have given me… but the amount they will automatically dress your salad in exceeds that tiny little cup.
- Make it yourself! I recently got so frustrated at the cost of turkey sandwich that I went to a nearby grocery store and purchased oven roasted deli turkey, whole wheat bread, Dijon mustard, and lettuce. I was able to keep it at work and proceeded to make myself turkey sandwiches for the entire week with just about $20.
Lets talk about strategies for figuring out what you plan to eat for the rest of the day. If it’s possible, I would highly recommend keeping a variety of snacks available to you so that you don’t find yourself in front of the vending machine too often or waiting too long to eat… thus resulting in eating way too much at the next opportunity you have.
Suggested items to keep at work:
- Plain or cinnamon flavored microwave oatmeal packets.
Try and stick to brands that have fewer than 6g of sugar per serving as a general rule for hot and cold cereals. Wondering why? There are 4 grams of sugar in just 1 teaspoon. That means a packet with 6 grams has 1.5 teaspoons of added sugar in it! Try microwaving your plain oatmeal packet with a half a banana, handful of berries (fresh or frozen), or half a sliced apple. Plain oats are also delicious with a tablespoon of peanut butter on top – this adds helpful protein that will keep you full for longer.
I like to keep 2 or 3 yogurts in the fridge at a time. Yogurt is a perfect 3pm snack for when you’re feeling like you need a little pick-me-up!
I like to put them in my yogurt!
Nuts are that perfect snack for when it’s getting close to lunch and you’re already feeling hunger pains… but it’s still too early to eat! Yes, grab a small handful of walnuts, almonds, peanuts etc. and enjoy. Just don’t have too many – stick to a small amount that can fit in your palm.
I like to keep spinach at work so that I add a handful of it into my lunch each day. This works well either if I bring my lunch or buy something out. For example, I bought soup the other day and added in a handful of it. You can also add it to your sandwiches or other hot meal you might have purchased. If you brought leftovers in a to-go container, add a handful of spinach on top before you microwave it!
- Oranges or Grapefruits
I like to keep a couple my desk for the week to grab when I’m hungry in the morning in between breakfast and lunch. It’s a great snack to have with a few almonds! These also keep well for a while so you won’t have to worry about them going bad too quickly.
- Peanut Butter
Perfect for adding a tablespoon or two to your banana, whole-wheat English muffins, oatmeal or anything else you might enjoy it on!
Don’t forget to drink water throughout the day. Sometimes symptoms of dehydration can make you feel like you are hungry even when you aren’t! Avoid that by drinking water continuously, about 8 cups during the day. Keep a reusable bottle or cup there that you can re-fill.
When you purchase a few items to keep at your office each week, think about how they will fit into your schedule for the week. Keep in mind foods that go bad quickly, space available, travel schedule, lunch meetings etc. The point is to make snacking and lunch more convenient, not to waste money.
Take a look at a recent day at work I had. This pattern might not apply to everyone but consider a few ways that you could improve your own eating patterns.
- 7 am Mini Breakfast #1: ½ cup Kashi cereal with ½ cup 1% milk
- 8:30 am Mini Breakfast #2: Banana with 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 11 am Snack: 10 walnuts and 6 blackberries
- 12:00pm *30-minute workout*
- 1:15pm Lunch: Leftover salad from a restaurant that had edamame, apples, lettuce, pumpkin seeds, goat cheese, dried apricots with a piece of whole grain bread
- 3 pm Snack: Nectarine with a few more walnuts
- 6pm: Sautéed chicken with roasted cauliflower and brown rice (saved half for lunch tomorrow!)
Eating regularly is important to maintain blood sugars and avoid getting too hungry and eating too much later on. If you can, try and have something every 3 hours to avoid getting too hungry. Planning ahead using these tips will help keep you satiated and full of energy to get you through your workday!
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