So you’re heading out of the office for lunch, or you want to prepare lunch beforehand.
You might fall back onto the fast and easy choice (a sandwich, take away thai, or fried food for example) with a limited lunch break. But you know the consequences well – the post-lunch drowsiness, abdominal bloating, perhaps constipation. If poor nutritional choices are repeated day-to-day, you may develop or worsen high blood pressure, high cholesterol and nutritional deficiencies.
The most common mistakes are: 1) Eating a large meal along with side dishes, followed by dessert/snacks. This form of overeating results in a sense of heaviness and drowsiness, which leaves you feeling sleepy through the afternoon. 2) Eating only a small snack such as yoghurt, fruit, or something from the vending machine. In this case, your body doesn’t receive sufficient or lasting energy, and consequently, you’ll experience poor concentration and become hungry quickly.
How do you make better choices?
A balanced diet must include all macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in the right proportions. Seek to maintain this balance in your lunch and meals overall.
Look to the summary from the Australian Department of Health below to guide your lunch choices:
What should your lunch look like?
These concepts and modifications can apply regardless of whether you dine in a restaurant/cafe, or bring a packed lunch:
Avoid heavy and creamy sauces which are high in saturated fat (mayonnaise, buttercreams, cocktail sauce), cured meats as they are high in sodium (salami, pancetta, mortadella), and too much cheese (gorgonzola, stracchino, taleggio).
Look for meals with at least a fist-sized amount of protein to keep you feeling full through the afternoon. This could be chicken, tuna, eggs, lean ham, bresaola, ricotta or mozzarella. Choose a dish with an abundant serving of vegetables for fibre and micronutrients, grain complex carbohydrates (switch white buns to whole grain buns, or white rice to brown rice), and a light seasoning (extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper).
If you have the time and want full control of what you eat, prepare and pack your lunch the night before. Choose a complex carbohydrate such as low-GI pasta, brown rice, spelt, barley or couscous, then add vegetables, and a protein such as legumes, eggs or meat. For instance, you could make a savoury pie with ricotta and spinach, or an omelette with zucchini.
Always remember to choose whole grains as they are richer in fibre than highly processed grains, and 100% extra virgin olive oil over regular olive oil, which has been stripped of its nutrients and antioxidants.
Little thought is given to lunch, and it is often rush as it is sandwiched between your other tasks. However, eat slowly and chew a few more times after each bite to aid your digestion and enhance nutrient absorption. If you need a boost at mid-morning or mid-afternoon, pack healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, yoghurt or a handful of nuts.
What does your typical lunch look like? We'd love to know!
P.S. Join our Facebook group "Tasty, but healthy" for exclusive tips and tricks.