Did you know lunch is just as important as breakfast? In other words, don’t skip lunch: you need it every day! A nutritious lunch will give you the energy to get through an afternoon of work without wanting snacks from the vending machine.
One of the best ways to get a healthy lunch at work is to pack your own. We know that people who cook at home more often are likely to eat smaller portions and take in fewer kilojoules and less fat, sugar, and salt. And in turn, this is more likely to result in a healthy weight.
10 tips for getting into a work lunch routine
- Aim for a healthy lunch, not a perfect lunch. You do not need to meet all the nutrition recommendations, just contribute to your daily intake of good food.
- Cook too much on the weekend and at night, so you can take leftovers. Turn a Sunday roast lamb into a lamb and salad wrap on Monday.
- Buy some useful containers. Plenty of meals get soggy while waiting for lunchtime, so don’t mix together the meal elements until you’re ready to eat. With the right containers, you can keep everything separate and fresh.
- Make a work pantry. With your co-workers, contribute an item that everyone can use for their lunches. Salt and pepper, tomato/chilli/soy sauce, olive oil, lemons, honey, a chopping board, a sharp knife – work out a system to share the shopping and the expense.
- Make sure you have some inspiration. Find a chef whose recipes appeal to you, and then regularly check their online ideas to top up your lunch menu.
- Eat the food you love. Don’t have soup for lunch if you don’t find it filling enough. And don’t eat hot leftovers if they make you feel sleepy. Choose lunches that you find tasty and just right for the middle of the day.
- Use cutlery, a napkin and a nice plate. If you take the time to serve your lunch properly (rather than eating out of a plastic lunchbox or paper bag), you will probably take time to enjoy it and digest it.
- Finish with a treat. Something cold and sweet is a great energy boost before heading back to work. Think about the fruits that are in season (cherries, oranges, watermelon, grapes, raspberries, kiwifruit).
- Plan your weekly menu in advance, and get the ingredients into your fridge and pantry. You want to wake up each morning and make your lunch without having to think about it.
- Choose a lunch that gives you the energy that you need. If you have a highly physical job, you will need more lunchtime kilojoules than someone who has a sedentary job. And if you are a younger person or physically active person, you will need a heavier meal than an older person. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need additional energy too.
Ideas for your work lunchbox – a 9-step plan
Think about your lunch as if you are standing in front of a food counter and you have everything in front of you. What combination is your favourite? Do you like a lot of ingredients mixed together or simpler combinations?
Let’s look at a 9-step plan to a great lunch:
- Choose a carbohydrate as the base: rice, couscous, polenta, pasta, wholegrain bread, bread roll, wrap, pita bread, potato.
- Select some salad vegetables: capsicum, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach leaves, asparagus, avocado, corn kernels, carrots, cooked pumpkin, red onion, lettuce, rocket leaves.
- Choose some flavour foods: olives, capers, pickles, nuts, seeds, eggs.
- Choose a dairy item: feta cubes, mozzarella balls, cheddar slices, goat cheese, cottage cheese, ricotta.
- Choose a fish or meat: smoked salmon or trout, canned tuna or salmon or sardines, ham, sliced beef or lamb, preserved meat (such as salami or prosciutto), sliced meatballs, cold sausages.
- Or, take a vegetarian option: tofu, falafel balls, butter beans, kidney beans, chickpeas.
- Add a herb: coriander, basil, parsley, chives, mint.
- Sprinkle with a dressing or sauce: soy sauce, chilli sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, mustard, salad dressing or vinaigrette, mayonnaise, hummus, tzatziki.
- Have dessert: fruit, yoghurt, or some cheese and wholegrain crackers.
This list doesn’t even come close to all your options. And, don’t forget, you can do a different combination on different days.
Ideas for smaller snacks at work
Sometimes you may not have time for a big lunch, or you may want something light. Here’s a list of healthy foods that can be a mid-morning snack or a small lunch:
- air popped popcorn and a banana
- carrot sticks and hummus
- raisin toast with cottage cheese
- a fruit smoothie made with milk, yoghurt, and fresh or frozen fruit
- wholemeal toast or a large wholegrain cracker with ricotta and tomato slices
- peanut butter on wholegrain crackers
- a sushi roll
- a cup of homemade soup
- a small tin of mixed beans, or some salt-reduced baked beans on a toasted muffin
- a wholegrain muffin or toast with avocado or tomato and Vegemite.