Work lunches are possibly the most under planned and under-rated meal of them all. Most of us have a rough plan for dinners and breakie is usually a quick and simple routine, but lunches are often an afterthought.
If you’re lucky there’s some leftover dinner from the night before, or maybe you had time to make a sandwich, otherwise we’ll just buy something on the go. When we leave our workplace lunch to chance, we end up making quick choices that are not in line with our health goals (or our budget for that matter!). Thinking ahead can help you stay on track with your health goals as well as saving you time and money. Make lunch great again with these 8 tips!
1. Choose something that you actually want to eat for lunch
Have you ever taken the same tin of tuna to work 3 days in a row, telling yourself, “I’ll eat it tomorrow”? Don’t get me wrong, tuna is a nutritious and delicious food. However, with the best of intentions to be healthy, many of us get caught up in what we think we “should” eat and disregard what we like to eat, often leading to buying lunch out. Ask yourself the question, “what would I really love to eat for lunch?” then build on this with some basic nutrition principles to create a lunch that is filling, healthy and tasty!
What would you really love to eat?
- Cuisine such as Mexican, Asian, Greek, Italian or Indian.
- Something warm and comforting such as soup, curry or pasta.
- Something more suited for hot weather such as salad, pasta salad, sandwich or wrap
- Favourite protein such as roast chicken, beef strips, meatballs, schnitzel or spiced tofu.
After deciding what sorts of flavours/foods you would like to eat, use this as a base and follow the next key nutrition principles to ensure that lunch is filling, enjoyable and keeps you going throughout the day.
2. Pick your protein
Including protein-rich foods at meals and snacks can help us to manage our hunger during the day, and is also essential for muscle repair/growth. So make sure you pick a hunger busting protein source at lunch. Try choosing lean, less processed sources such as:
- Shredded chicken
- Greek yoghurt
- Cottage cheese
- Mince (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey)
- Salmon or tuna, tinned or fresh
- Boiled eggs
- Beef strips
- More processed options: lean shredded ham, crumbled feta, smoked salmon
3. Choose your carbohydrate
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. In fact, your brain can only use glucose (a type of carbohydrate) for energy! Carbs are also an important source of gut loving fibre, vitamins and minerals. Pick a carbohydrate for brain fuel to prevent that afternoon slump.
Choose options that are high in gut loving fibre such as:
- Wholegrain wraps, bread or bread rolls
- Wholegrain or high fibre pasta
- Roast sweet potato
- Brown rice
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils or beans
- Wholemeal couscous
- Baked potato with the skin on
4. Bulk up on veggies
Vegetables truly are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients, they are protective against many chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and cancer, to name a few. They are also high in volume with low energy content, making them a great addition for appetite and long-term weight management.
Pick your favourite veggies, ideas include:
- Roast veg from dinner (pumpkin, beetroot, zucchini) Tip: see our spiced vegetable bake recipe.
- Salad – chop and build it on the day (spinach, red onion, rocket, tomato, cucumber)
- Stir-fried vegetables such as Pak choy, broccolini, capsicum, mushroom, onion, carrot, snow peas. (try our Asian greens recipe)
- Steam-fresh bags of frozen vegetables
- Pre-packaged slaw or salad mix
5. Add flavour
Add a healthy fat for fullness (but also because they’re tasty!). Be mindful of portions, ideas include:
- Sundried tomato in oil
- Sauce (chili, aioli, relish etc)
- Toasted pine nuts or pesto
- Seeds, such as toasted sesame or pepitas
- Nuts such as or flaked almonds, toasted cashews or peanuts
As an extra option, add these flavours and don’t worry about portions.
- Herbs (dried or fresh) such as basil, coriander, parsley or rosemary
- Spices such as paprika, cinnamon, cumin or turmeric
- Lemon/lime juice
- Aromatics including garlic, ginger, onion or chili
6. Prep lunch like a pro
When planning your lunches for the week, take into consideration what you have on and plan around busy days. If you know you’ll get sick of eating the same thing every day, pick 2 options to alternate or plan for a day to buy your lunch.
Meal prep does not have to look like an instagram-worthy picture of rows of containers packed with perfectly portioned chicken and broccoli (but it can!). Meal prep is about making the healthy option the easy one by finding a method that helps you be consistent. This may look different for everyone. For example;
- Bulk cook and freeze meals ahead if you know that you won’t have much time during the week
- Plan a quick and easy option for busy days that you can throw together in the morning like a humble sandwich (see our 5 winning sandwich combinations), frozen meal, tinned tuna with microwave rice and veg, or our genius pulled pork sandwich thins.
- If you cook dinner every night, you may want to cook extra to take for lunch the following day. Dish it up into a container when you serve dinner, this way you ensure that there is enough for lunch.
7. Enjoy your lunch
Make lunch a priority at work. Eating lunch at your desk or on the run may save you time, however it is worth taking some time out to give your brain a well-deserved rest and enjoy your lunch mindfully. You may even find your afternoon is more productive for it!
8. Make lunch a priority
Many of us feel like we just don’t have the time or energy to plan or prepare for lunches. This may be true, however if you’re serious about achieving your health goals, lunch needs to be a priority. It’s a meal we have every day and so even if you have a nutritious breakfast and dinner, what you have for lunch still matters! Make time to fit it into your routine – just like showering or brushing your teeth – make it something that you just do because you need to! Eventually it will become normal and as you find which style of prep works for you, it will become easier.
Bonus! See these recipes for some tasty lunch ideas:
- Chicken and Tabouli Wraps
- Pasta Salad with the Lot
- Tuna Pasta Salad
- Beef and Vegetable Stir-fry
- Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Planning and preparing healthy lunches for work is a skill as well as a habit. The team at the Healthy Eating Hub are passionate about teaching people how to eat well for the rest of their lives through building skills and practicing habits one at a time. Book in with one of the experienced dietitians at The Healthy Eating Hub or call us on 6174 4663.