Business of Well-being

Eat Well While at Work

When lunchtime rolls around at work, do you find you're either chained to your computer too busy to eat, or bolting out of the office to the pizza joint down the street to get a quick slice? Is your keyboard covered with sandwich crumbs and your desk spotted with soda spills? Or does the cafeteria check-out lady know you by name? If so, you may be suffering from eating unhealthfully while at work.

Many people feel they are too rushed during the day to enjoy a relaxed lunch, and rely on the convenience of ordering fast food, and speed eating at their desk to scarf down the midday meal. This unhealthy habit is twofold: Buying your lunch out at a restaurant or cafe, or even in the office cafeteria, may lead you to choose unhealthy options that are laden with fat, sugar, salt and calories.

Additionally, eating at your desk while distracted by the boss' latest memo or a slew of unread emails causes you to munch mindlessly, which may lead to overeating. This combination of less-than-stellar lunch options paired with multitasking while eating can lead to packing on the pounds. Eating healthfully during the day will not only keep your health and weight in check, but it will also help to keep you alert and energized, which is just what you need to get you through that three o'clock conference call.

With a busy work schedule, how are you supposed to find time to fix a healthful lunch? You don't need to be a master chef or shop at gourmet lunch spots. With some extra planning and preparation, you can break up your work day with a well-rounded meal.

Brown Bag It

Does brown bagging it remind you of your elementary school days? I'm not talking about a brown bag lunch of soggy sandwiches and a side of cookies. I'm talking about brown-bagging grown-up style. For starters, packing your lunch can do wonders for your wallet. Let's say you spend $8 a day, five days a week for lunch and a beverage. Over the course of the year, that adds up to a whopping $2,080 a year to go out to eat.

A healthy packed lunch would cost you less than half of that each day, saving you over one thousand dollars each year. I'm sure you can think of a good way to put that savings to use! Not only will packing your lunch keep your wallet in check, but your waistline too. Oftentimes when we eat out, we have no control over the amount of calories and fat that is in the food we order. Who would have thought your healthy sounding grilled Panini was brushed in butter or oil?

And that one slice of pizza you ordered may actually be the equivalent of two to three servings? If you make your lunch, you know exactly what's going into it, and exactly what winds up in your mouth. Additionally, you have control over the serving sizes of the foods you pack. Don't think you have time to pack lunch before you're rushing out the door?

Consider this: It probably takes you five minutes to get down to the office's cafeteria or out to the closest lunch spot. Another five minutes to wait in line while you order your food, a few more minutes to wait in line to buy your food, and another five minutes before you're back at your desk. And now you have to spend time eating the food!

Those 20 or so minutes can be put to good use allowing you to enjoy a leisurely lunch, or even take an energizing walk after you eat. It only takes a few minutes to put together a nutritious bagged lunch. Packing your lunch the night before will allow you to grab it and go on your way to work. Do this while you're cleaning up the kitchen from dinner so you can use leftovers in your lunch the next day.

Healthy Lunch Components to Eat

You want your lunch to leave you satisfied and energized for the rest of the day. What's the best way to ensure your meal is nutritious? Make sure you have a combination of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and a fresh fruit or vegetable with every lunch. This terrific trilogy of healthy carbs, protein, and produce will keep your blood sugar stable, your stomach satisfied, and your energy level up. Your body - and boss- will thank you. Examples of these components include:

  • Lean protein: beans, tofu, chicken, nuts, lean turkey, tuna, eggs, bean soup.
  • Complex carbohydrates: whole wheat bread, brown rice, bulgur, whole wheat crackers, whole wheat tortillas. Look to make sure "whole wheat" is first in the ingredient list.
  • Produce: Chopped, sliced, cooked, diced, grilled, roasted, or raw. However you enjoy fruit and vegetables, make produce part of your lunch everyday to pack in necessary nutrients.

Luscious Lunch Ideas

Having healthy lunches at work actually starts at home. Be sure to stock your fridge and pantry with nutritious foods that you enjoy, to easily be used for brown-bag lunches. Yes, your grocery bill may increase at first, but think of all the savings you'll have from not buying your lunch out each day. Look no further for some creative lunch ideas:

  • Fruit and yogurt parfait with fresh or frozen berries and whole grain cereal
  • Fresh veggie strips, like peppers, zucchini, carrots and celery, dipped in rich, Greek yogurt or hummus with pita on the side
  • Fruit salsa mixed with rice and beans in a wrap or homemade wheat tortilla chips topped with fruit salsa
  • Vegetable and bean-based soups. In the warmer months, blend tomatoes, cucumbers and spices for a cool gazpacho
  • Veggie-burger between slices of whole grain bread
  • Salads that aren't limited to lettuce. Experiment with a chickpea, tomato and cucumber salad, three bean salad with Italian dressing, or green bean salad with sliced almonds and olives
  • Fresh fruit or applesauce mixed in with light cottage cheese
  • Try sandwiches on tortillas, English muffins, pita pockets, Naan bread, or crackers instead of bread
  • Hot or cold pasta salads or rice salads using fresh or frozen vegetables, beans or diced chicken, and a light dressing
  • Fruit in your traditional salad - mix cut melon, apple wedges, pear slices and dried cranberries with your spinach salad
  • A bowl of whole grain cereal with skim milk and fresh fruit means you can have breakfast for lunch. Just keep a bowl, some milk and cereal at work

Now that you have your brown bagging down pat, make sure to actually take your lunch break. Leave your desk, and all the emails and paperwork behind, and enjoy your midday break. Munching away while staring at the computer screen is mindless eating, which can cause us to overeat and ignore our hunger cues.

Now that you've actually taken the time to prepare a wonderful lunch, you should spend time enjoying it. Slowing down to eat has been shown to improve weight control, since you're less likely to scarf down excessive calories if you're taking the time to savor every bite, and stop when you feel satisfied.

Eat your Leftovers

If you're anything like me, you love leftovers. But leftovers don't always have to be eaten the same way they started out. You can transform your leftovers into new lunch ideas.

  • Fill a whole wheat tortilla with leftover meat, vegetables, brown rice, add salsa for a filling burrito
  • Make a healthy tuna, chicken or turkey salad with leftover meat - use low fat mayo or Greek yogurt and add in lots of healthy fillings for added flavor and crunch, such as dried cranberries, walnuts, chopped carrots and celery
  • Mix leftover meat or vegetables together with some stir fry sauce - add in extra rice or couscous
  • Fill your sandwich with leftover vegetables - get creative! You don't always have to stack your sandwich with tomato slices and lettuce leaves. Try grilled zucchini, grated carrots and roasted peppers
  • Turn a hot rice, couscous or other grain dish into a cold rice or pasta salad by adding chopped vegetables and mixing in some light salad dressing or marinade
  • Top a fresh salad with leftover turkey or chicken
  • Put grilled fish in a hearty whole wheat bun topped with pineapple slices
  • Add meat, vegetables and pasta to soups and stews
  • Make a mini pizza with pita or a mini bagel - top with sauce, cheese and leftover veggies

Brown Bags are so Anti-social!

I hear you. You think that you're going to have to give up your lunch crowd now that you pack lunch instead of eating out. But you can - and should - still join your lunch break cronies during your break. If the weather is nice, join them on a park bench with your bagged lunch.

With all the extra lunch time you now have, you could even enjoy a post-lunch stroll outside. You can still meet pals in the office cafeteria with your packed lunch from home, too. And who knows? You may even inspire co-workers to do the same.

About The Author

Janel Ovrut is a Boston-based registered dietitian with a master's degree from the Nutrition Communication program at Tufts University in Boston, and a bachelor's degree in Dietetics from Syracuse University. She works in corporate wellness where she develops wellness programs for large companies, provides nutrition counseling for employees, and gives nutrition presentations relevant to a working professional's busy life.

In addition, she also offers personal and practical nutrition advice for individuals and families. Janel believes that healthy eating starts when nutritious food is brought into the home, and promotes no-nonsense grocery shopping and cooking so that eating is both healthy and enjoyable. Janel's nutrition experience includes maternal and family nutrition, weight loss, meal planning and preparation, food allergies and vegetarian/vegan nutrition.

As a member of the Massachusetts Dietetic Association, she has served on the board as the State Professional Recruitment Coordinator and Membership Chair. She is also a member of the American Dietetic Association's Member Value Committee. A frequent speaker and lecturer, Janel has been quoted in media including SHAPE, Prevention, The Chicago Tribune, Today's Dietitian and others.

She writes articles about healthy eating and the benefits of pomegranates for the POM Wonderful website, and contributes to the Healthy Eats blog with The Veggie Table posts. In addition, she authors articles about family nutrition for the Super Kids Nutrition website, and keeps her own food and nutrition blog at For more information about Janel and her work, please visit

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