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Lazy Woman's Guide to Healthy Work Lunches

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Ever felt like you don't have time to make or eat a proper lunch? Here is a simple-to-follow guide from Bella for delicious meals and snacks you can take to work that are also easy to prepare. 

I am a lazy woman. On my days off I love to mull around the kitchen, experimenting with ideas and creating delicious and healthy concoctions. But when I’m busy (which is actually more like seven days per week), I have zero time to think and zero time to cook.

And that’s when junk food becomes an easy go-to. Fried food, food high in processed sugar and salt, high GI, and over processed foods creep their way into our diets when we’re rushed, stressed, or just can’t be bothered thinking.

So here are my top tips for healthy workplace lunches:

1. Take a lunch break

Working through your lunch break might seem like a good idea at first, with many people believing that it helps them to leave work at a reasonable hour. But the truth is, skipping lunch or not taking a proper break can make you feel physically ill in the afternoon, reduce your productivity, and put you in a bad mood (no one wants to see me hangry, that’s for sure!).

Taking a proper break means stepping away from your desk for at least 30 minutes, eating a proper meal, and not answering work calls or emails during this time. Mindfulness is key here – focus on eating and relaxing without distraction. Even better, if you can take some time to sit outside in the fresh air and sunshine, you’ll get a good dose of vitamin D.

You can also try breaking your bad habits by pairing up with a work colleague to take a healthy lunch break together!

2. Say yes to good carbs

Yes, you can and should eat carbs, especially at lunch time. While processed and simple carbs such as potato, white bread and white rice should be avoided, there are good carbs out there. Choose carbohydrate rich foods which are also high in fibre, and and therefore low in GI. Wholemeal pasta, whole meal bread, beans, lentils, brown and basmati rice, oats, veggies such as carrot and sweet potato, and fruits such as bananas are all excellent choices.

We’ve heard it all before and I’ll can’t stress it enough – low GI foods keep you feeling fuller for longer and more energized throughout the day (reducing unhealthy snacking). They can really reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, so for me they’re a no brainer. Pair these good carbs with plenty of fresh veggies in a salad with a vinaigrette or lemon juice dressing – the acidity also reduces the GI of your meal.

3. Eat good calories

Don’t be sucked in by labels such as “low fat”, because good fat (in moderation) is very good for you. Ask for real butter or mashed avocado on your sandwich, and avoid processed margarine. Proteins are also important and will keep you feeling fuller for longer, so eggs, meats, fish and dairy are all great for you.

4. Drink well

Obviously sugary soft drinks should be avoided, as well as processed energy drinks. Fruit juices and smoothies are also a no-no, they might be full of natural sugar but it’s still sugar! The best option? Good old fashioned water. If that’s a bit boring for you, try adding a squeeze of lemon juice or trying sparkling mineral water.

5. Takeaways to avoid

It doesn’t take a genius to know that fried chicken and hot chips aren’t a healthy lunch option, but there are plenty of everyday lunches that people incorrectly perceive to be healthy. In a supermarket, we can read the label to see ingredients, but buying takeaway food can be quite deceiving.

The most misleading lunch has to be sushi. It’s full of high GI short grain white rice and a LOT of sugar. Similarly, many Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese dishes are very sugary with sweet dressings and sauces, and served with white rice or refined noodles.

Salad can be naughty too! Creamy processed dressings, or dressings with a lot of oil (unless it’s olive oil) undo the good work of the veggies. And if the salad doesn’t have any substantial low GI foods in it (such as beans, meats, or dairy), it will literally go straight through you and you’ll be wolfing down cheeky snacks by the afternoon.

6. Be a leftover lover

Cook more! Leftovers from dinner are the ultimate lazy way to enjoy a healthy and delicious lunch. You made it yourself – so you know exactly what went into your meal. My favourite is leftover wholegrain pasta with any tomato based sauce and plenty or parmesan.

7. Don’t be a tough guy at client lunches

You don’t need to show off in front of your workmates or clients, choose healthier options from the menu and remember that if you’re full, you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Limiting alcohol intake is also a great idea. 

Ideas for lunch to bring from home

• Make big batches of hearty soups and keep frozen so you can grab and go on your way out in the morning
• Tinned tuna and sardines are great pantry staples that are low GI and full of omega-3 brain food
• Tinned beans are another pantry staple that flesh out salads
• Wholegrain tortilla wraps and sliced wholegrain bread keep well in your work or home freezer, so you can whip them out anytime to make a sandwich or eat alongside soup or salad
• Roast a big batch of fresh seasonal veggies on the weekend, and make warm salads during the week with chickpeas and nuts for crunch
Curries keep well in the fridge or freezer, pair with a small portion of basmati rice for a heat-and-eat ready made meal
• You’ll be surprised at what healthy salads you can create from what’s hiding n your pantry – seeds, nuts, dried fruits, buckwheat, barley, brown rice – and pair it with goodies lying around in your fridge – feta, herbs, leftover roast chook, or a piece of cheese. So get creative!

Healthy takeaway options

Roast chicken (no stuffing) with roast sweet potato and salad
• Salad with seasonal nutritious veggies, fleshed out with chicken, egg, tuna, or beans/lentils and a healthy dressing in small doses (ask for dressing on the side)
• Sandwiches on wholegrain bread with butter or avocado, and meat, chicken or cheese, alongside plenty of salad
• Grilled fish with salad
• Brown rice sushi with raw fish and avocado (just 1 or 2 rolls), sashimi, and a large side of edamame
• Stir fry or steamed asian foods with lots of veggies, a half portion of brown rice, and low sugar sauces (avoid sweet chilli, chilli jam, sweet and sour… a simple ginger soy is best)
• Wholegrain pasta or pasta salad without creamy dressings or sauces, try a Bolognese, napoletana or arabbiata and don’t forget a side salad.
• Soups such as chicken and corn, minestrone, or clear Asian broths with ¼ portion of noodles and plenty of veggies and lean meat.
• Indian curries with tomato or spinach based sauces, rather than coconut or cream (try saag, madras, or rogan josh) and a half serve of basmati
• Kebab on whole meal pita bread with grilled chicken, lots of veg, no cheese and yoghurt garlic sauce or humus.

Avoid 3:30itis with a healthy snack drawer

• Dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, berries, bananas should always be by your side in case of emergency!