Sure, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But lunch just might be the second most important. It’s the fuel that carries you through your afternoon, helping you perform your best at work and remain focused and alert.
This meal is often overlooked, overshadowed by the business of an average weekday and the convenience of just skipping it altogether. Working through lunch or subsisting on a sweet treat or fast food might sound like a good idea in the moment. But a poor lunch choice can have more of an effect than you’d think. Eat too little at lunch and you might find yourself incessantly snacking till dinner. On the other hand, if you opt for a massive burrito or otherwise eat too much at lunch, you might find yourself feeling tired, sluggish, and in need of a nap. While we can’t speak for your boss, we’re pretty sure “I didn’t eat a good lunch today” isn’t a great excuse for a failed day of productivity.
So what constitutes a “good lunch,” anyway? Well, you probably want to opt for a meal that’s both nutritious and filling. You don’t want to spend your whole paycheck at fast-casual salad chains, but you also might not have many ideas for what to pack from home. These simple ideas can get you started; but even once people do start packing their own lunches, they sometimes make these common mistakes.
Even if you’re buying low-budget lunches, that extra expenditure can add up. Save yourself some cash and plan to bring some food from home. Of course, sometimes you just don’t have time to pack a brown bag and end up buying food instead. That’s unavoidable. For those days, there are a number of healthy takeout options or even healthy fast food to help you get through the day.
During your grocery shopping trip, make sure you buy the materials you need for your week’s lunches. At first, this might take a little meal planning. Write down a couple of ideas for things you could pack and make sure those items get added to your grocery list. You might even try meal prepping a couple of lunches on Sunday so you can eat well all week long!
Leftovers can transition wonderfully into a new and delicious meal the next day. You just have to know what to do with them! Using one of these hacks to transform your dinner leftovers into lunch the next day can save you tons of money on food.
Left unrefrigerated, some foods can start to grow foodborne bacteria in just two hours. Make sure you know which foods need refrigerating and which you can leave at room temperature until lunch. Otherwise, you could end up sick from germs that start to grow on the surface.
Many people are deterred from cooking themselves a tasty lunch because they think they have to either make something elaborate with a recipe or buy something already-made. Keep a few simple recipes on hand for the days when you don’t feel like making anything. Even having a couple of simple sandwiches in your repertoire can help. Here are a few quick, no-cook lunches for those stressful days.
If you’re eating alone at your desk, you’re missing out on all the social interaction that comes from lunch with coworkers or friends. And a little socializing goes a long way when it comes to your health. According to some studies, people who eat meals with other people actually live longer than people who eat alone.
We’ve all been there. Rushing out the door, chowing down on a sandwich while you jump in your car to get to work, school, or the next commitment. Living a busy lifestyle can make this difficult, but it’s worth it to sit down — even for just a few minutes — and truly enjoy your food. Studies show that people who eat sitting down feel fuller and more satisfied by their meals than those who eat while standing or walking.
Trying to eat less food than you want isn’t going to help you lose weight — it’ll just leave you hungry, constantly thinking about food, and more likely to eat larger amounts of snacks and indulgences later. If you’re trying to cut down, we advise that you just, well… don’t. Focus instead on tuning in to your body’s natural signals and packing food that will nourish you rather than leave you feeling hungry.
While going hungry can leave you feeling deprived — leading to a rebound effect of overeating later — feeling unsatisfied by the taste of your food can have a similar effect. Sure, a salad with a squeeze of lemon and unseasoned cubes of avocado might seem perfectly healthy. But do you enjoy eating once lunch rolls around? Just like your body needs to be satisfied with the right nutrients, your brain needs to be satisfied by the enjoyment of food, too. You actually absorb more nutrients from foods you enjoy than foods you don’t, even if they contain the exact same things (isn’t that incredible?).
Feeling hungry an hour after lunch? A lack of protein might be your problem. Protein is absolutely essential to fuel you through your day. It doesn’t have to come from a turkey sandwich — or from meat at all, for that matter — but you do need it. Protein keeps your cells healthy and it keeps you feeling full.
Subsisting off of lean meat and vegetables is the premise of many popular diets these days. But these regimens aren’t right for everyone. Your body absorbs energy quickest from carbohydrates. When you don’t eat enough of them, you’re more likely to feel tired and depleted — and in the midst of that particularly deep afternoon slump, you’ll be more likely to experience an intense carb craving. When that craving hits, you’re more likely to reach for some quick, dense carbohydrates — like, say, a doughnut — and less likely to seek out quinoa.
You might not be hungry after lunch. But what if you are? All it takes is a little planning to save money on mid-afternoon treats. Come to work prepared and have a couple of snacks on hand. Some fruit, a snack bar, or any other portable snack option will do.
Packing a salad for lunch is a great way to add more vegetables to your day; but make sure you add enough ingredients that have the nutrients you need. A salad that skimps on healthy fats and protein isn’t going to cut it. You’re likely to be temporarily filled up by fiber, but quickly drained in energy and hungry for more. What should you add to your salad? Whatever you want! Some sweet potatoes, avocado, nuts and seeds, cheese… The sky’s the limit.
If you’re eating breakfast at 8 a.m. — or making the mistake of skipping breakfast altogether — it’s likely you’re hungry before your afternoon lunch break. By the time 1 p.m. rolls around, you’re famished. You might get hangry, or you might start to feel like you’re not even hungry anymore — until you take that first bite. At that point, your blood sugar levels have sharply declined and your metabolism may have slowed down. Once you start eating, you’re going to want to eat a whole lot more than you would have before you let yourself get to that level of hunger.
Or you opt for the low-calorie version of anything, for that matter. Low-calorie versions of regular foods (including the low-carb breads you see at the grocery store) are often overly processed and packed with sugar and other additives to fluff things up where they’ve removed caloric content. What’s much better for your body is regular, nutrient-dense food. You’ll feel more satisfied after eating and — let’s be honest — your lunch will taste way better, too.
Let’s all collectively leave the low-fat craze in the past where it belongs. Fats are good for you — and they don’t automatically turn into fat on your body. Low-fat yogurts and other dairy products in particular are often stuffed with sugars and other compounds instead of the natural dietary fat that’s been removed. Fats can boost your brain and your productivity — why skimp on them at lunch?
Snacks just aren’t as satisfying, even though they give you the same number of calories. They’ll also likely include fewer vegetables, whole grains, and sources of protein and include more sugar, salt, and processed foods. Some snacks can be more nutrient-dense — it really depends on which you buy!
More from The Daily Meal: