Packing a healthy lunch might just be one of life’s greatest first-world challenges.
Not because it’s hard. It’s not hard to wack a bunch of healthy ingredients into a tupperware container, per say.
But it is hard to do so… and make it delicious. And not soggy. And something you’re going to actually want to consume at midday. And at the same time as getting everyone else in the family’s lunch sorted.
We don’t know about you, but we’re always up for more tips and tricks, and healthy lunch ideas for work.
So we asked Dietitian and Sumo Salad Nutritionist Georgina Moore to share four ways to eat a healthier lunch, minus the effort. Here’s what she said.
No mason jar required.
1. Healthy swaps for comfort recipes
Something warm is always on the cards for pretty much every meal of winter, but it doesn’t have to be laden with calories, saturated fats, added sugar and/or sodium.
Regardless of what you are eating make sure your plate is made up of 50 per cent veggies or salads (preferably dressing free), 25 per cent lean protein such as lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, lentils or tofu; and 25 per cent low GI carbs e.g. pasta, quinoa, wholemeal couscous or barley.
This will limit the total energy of your meal (found predominately in the carbs and protein) as well as the total fat as veggies are virtually fat free. The veggies will also help bulking up your fibre intake without filling out your waist line.
A good quality protein can help make you feel fuller quicker, thus reducing the need for a sugar hit to finish your meal. In saying that, you don’t need to be eating a 500g steak. About 100-120g of lean meat or chicken will provide you with about 30g of protein, which is all that your body can utilise at any one time.
Psst, here’s a handy guide to help you with your portion sizes. Post continues after video.
A few simple lunch time swaps include:
- Replace creamy soups for vegie based soups.
- Choose vegetarian proteins: slow cooked meals tend to be higher in fat than other cooking methods, and it’s mainly the fat from the meat. Instead, opt for a vegetarian protein source such as legumes or lentils.
- Replace pastas and risottos with warm salads.
- Choose energy free beverages: drinking hot chocolate and milky coffees can make you feel warm and cosy, however the calories they contain can very quickly add up without making you feel any fuller nor providing you with much nourishment, try teas instead.
2. Eating for better energy in the afternoon
As much as carbs are currently the number one enemy for many of us, they are actually essential for avoiding that afternoon energy slump. Carbohydrates have a direct impact on your blood sugar and blood insulin levels.
If your blood sugar levels get too low, you will start feeling sluggish and peckish for a sugar hit. If you opt for a lunch that has a low GI carbohydrate (i.e. one that takes your body longer to digest and absorb), your blood sugars will be much more stable, thus providing more constant energy throughout the afternoon.
Fibre is often an unacknowledged hero in preventing the onset of the dreaded 3:30itis! There are three key reasons why fibre has such amazing ‘fill factor’:
- Most fibre rich foods require a lot of chewing, thus they taken longer to eat. The longer food is in the mouth, the more time the brain has to realise that we are no longer starving, thus preventing over consumption.
- Fibre rich foods tend to be really low in energy. In fact, a study conducted in America found that those who increase their daily fibre intake by 14g ate less food as well as 10 per cent less calories than the control group.
- Finally, fibre helps slow digestion thus stabilise blood sugar levels (generally the higher the fibre content of a food the lower the GI). By slowing digestion and keeping our blood sugar levels more stable, we are less likely to seek out an afternoon sugar hit.
If you feel you are making really good lunch choices yet still find yourself heading out for a sugar hit in the afternoon, then maybe it’s time to take a look at your usual afternoon routine.
Do you always buy something sweet when you get that afternoon coffee? Or do you have a routine of getting treats with colleagues you don’t want to give up?
Often the habit of doing something is the biggest barrier to improving how you eat. But who says you can’t go for the walk without actually buying something? No one, except the little voice in the back of your head that needs to shut up.
3. Jazzing up salads for winter
Warm salads are a great choice and there are some fabulous vegetables in season during the colder months.
I bet no one would have expected brussel sprouts to make a massive comeback but they have and they are delicious!
If your local salad shop doesn’t serve warm salads, choose a salad that doesn't contain lettuce, cucumber, avocado or other ingredients that do not heat well - take your lunch back to the office and whack it in the microwave for a toasty warm yet incredibly nourishing lunch.
4. Watch your portion sizes
Try to watch your portions.
We get it - when it's cold and you're hungry, you may want the biggest, warmest food container you can find to help keep your hands warm. But try to keep portion sizes sensible to avoid overeating.
Do you pack your own lunch for work? How often do you find yourself wishing you could go and buy something else instead? Tell us in the comments.