How To Eat Well In The Workplace — Lunch Edition
This is part 2 in our ‘How To Eat Well In The Workplace’ series — the first edition covered breakfast — which tackles the meal people seem to focus on most, yet still struggle with: lunch.
Imagine it’s noon on a weekday. You already fit in a solid breakfast and powered through a productive morning, but before you know it you’re starting to feel hungry again. On top of that, the massive coffee you grabbed on your way into the office is starting to fade and you can feel your energy levels starting to slowly plummet.
Your colleagues have decided to run out and grab some Halal food at the street cart downstairs, and they ask if you want to come along. Whatever — it’s quick and convenient, filling, and you’ve had boring salads for lunch for the past few days. Not to mention, it’s just chicken and rice, right? At least you’re not grabbing pizza or a burger and fries. Off you go.
Fast forward to mid-afternoon and you’re already regretting your decision. While it was absolutely delicious, you knew almost immediately that downing a massive plate of grease-drenched, processed rice and mystery chicken (I assume dark meat?) wasn’t one of your finer choices of the day so far.
With daily stress, a heavy workload, and negative influences from co-workers, we’ve ALL been stuck in this kind of situation before. Fortunately, there are easy ways to get around it — follow our simple, easy-to-implement guidelines to circumnavigate destructive lunchtime narratives (like this one) and grab control of your diet.
Make Lunch a Priority.
While it might seem obvious, the first step to eating healthier, more nutritious lunches — which consequently help you look AND feel better — is to make it a personal priority.
It’s important to consciously acknowledge that lunch is a critical part of your day, think through it like any business issue, and actively emphasize its importance. With distractions and stress plaguing your mind, it’s VERY easy to passively run down to the office cafeteria and scarf down a serving of “Today’s Special,” without ever thinking twice. Focus is key.
I also realize that co-workers can put pressure on you to go out for lunch together, but at the end of the day it’s YOUR body and YOUR health; it’s entirely up to you to make the best choices for yourself, and I’ve found that other people are ultimately respectful of this. That isn’t to say you have to reject their invitations, but arm yourself with the knowledge to know what foods will aid your goals and which ones won’t. Should you decide to join them, figure out where you’re eating and come up with a belly-friendly game plan.
That aside, my sustainable recommendation is to prepare lunch in the morning/the night before/over the weekend and bring it into the office in Tupperware. It requires a bit of time, foresight, and planning, and might make you feel like you’re in elementary school again, but it takes the complicated thought process out of lunch, especially when you’re stuck at your desk. Not to mention, it lets you precisely meet your dietary needs and maintain control over EXACTLY what goes into your body.
How to Construct a Better Lunch.
Once you’ve made lunch a priority, here comes the tricky part: deciding what specific foods to eat. If you’re looking to pack on serious lean muscle or shed body fat, and have already been through our Simple, Beginner’s Guide to Strength and Muscle-Building series, then you should already know your daily caloric and macronutrient goals. From there, it should be cake to break those daily targets down into meal portion sizes and timings that work best for you.
For those with a primary focus on casual health or physique improvement, and that don’t want to whip out the food scales and/or calorie counters, here’s the quick and dirty way to construct a balanced, filling, nutritious lunch without breaking the caloric bank. Whether you’re preparing lunch at home beforehand or looking for something outside, the same nutritional principles hold. Your lunch on any given day should include:
1. One serving of lean protein; roughly the size of a closed fist.
2. One serving of healthy complex carbohydrates; roughly the size of a closed fist when compact. Many people believe in leaving out carbs from their lunch in favor of pure lean protein with salad and vegetables. That’s fine if you’re looking to really restrict your carb and calorie intake, but given that carbs help fuel your body, provide fiber, increase satiety, and maintain energy levels — both cognitively and physically — I personally recommend including some sort of whole-grain carb source with your lunch.
3. One or more servings of vegetables. Veggies are calorie-friendly; be generous with the portion as long as they’re not drenched in butter, oil, or other fatty dressings.
4. One serving of healthy, unsaturated fat. You have to be careful with portion size here, as fats are calorically dense (9 calories per gram, versus only 4 calories per gram for carbs and protein). If it’s in a liquid or “spreadable solid” form like olive oil or peanut butter, keep the serving to one tablespoon; if it’s a solid like almonds, seeds, or avocado, try to keep it to roughly a handful.
The following is a short list of optimal foods for each component of your lunch, most of which are common and should be easy to find near your workplace. For an exhaustive list of the best sources of lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats, check out the Six Pack Abs Shopping List.
- Chicken breast
- Turkey breast
- Tuna (without mayonnaise)
- Lean steak
- Egg whites
- Lean turkey bacon
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole wheat or multigrain wrap
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole wheat pasta
- Fresh fruit
- Natural peanut butter
- Various other mixed nuts
- Flax seeds
- Olive oil
- Olive oil-based dressings
Putting it All Together.
The easiest way to build balanced meals on a consistent basis, like the one we’ve recommended, is to make your own at home beforehand. That’s plan A.
With that said, however, you can still easily get something made at any deli, restaurant, or office cafeteria that fits the guidelines above, as long as you know what to look for and how to make the right choices. This even holds true for take-out locations, especially with chains like Chipotle popping up everywhere, that are actively diversifying their menus to include nutritious, healthy options.
While it may take some time and practice to make the recommended changes, take things one step at a time and gradually implement small upgrades. Before you know it, you’ll be going through the motions and eating better without even having to think about it.
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