I’ve been a working mum for almost as long as I’ve been a mum. Despite that, I still have a lot to learn about nailing the perfect work lunch.
Here are some wise pieces of advice gleaned from rigorous scientific research plus my own personal experience.
Don’t skip brekky
Isn’t this a blog about lunch, you ask. What’s breakfast got to do with it?
Plenty, actually. Skipping breakfast makes you more likely to overcompensate with sugary and high-fat foods later in the day.
Furthermore, people who skip breakfast have less mental clarity, are less productive at work and are less effective problem solvers than those who do eat a healthy breakfast.
So make sure you start your workday – or in fact any day – with a filling and nutritious breakfast.
Tip: If you have the sort of job where you can get away with it, why not eat breakfast first thing at work while you pore through the backlog of emails?
Bring lunches from home
We get that it’s difficult in the mornings – when you’re time-poor, your children’s lunches take priority over your own. Perhaps because you love them more than you love yourself. Or perhaps because no one will judge you, call child services or sting you with an inflated canteen bill if you forget your own lunch.
But ensuring a decent lunch for yourself doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. You can easily do any of the following:
- Make an additional sandwich for yourself while preparing the kids’ ones
- Throw some leftovers from last night’s dinner into a container
- Cook up big on the weekend and store some things in the freezer that you can take in the mornings
- Grab a few odds and ends and enjoy being creative
- Grab a few odds and ends
Here’s a brilliant example of a ‘Number 5’ that I had the other day. My children were considerate enough to throw their half-eaten pizzas and unwanted crusts back into the box, ready for Mum to take to lunch the next day. Yum!
Keep a lunch stash
Here is an option that doesn’t rely on you remembering to take your lunch every morning (though it does require you to remember to do so at some point!)
If your workplace enables this, keep a few staples in the office such as a loaf of bread (which you can freeze for longevity), cheeses, spreads, fruits and veggies. Include a few ready-to-go tinned and frozen meals, for those days you’re feeling lazy and just want to throw something in the microwave.
If possible, don’t keep food at your desk. I know from personal experience that it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind” (not to mention, out of reach), and having food within easy arm’s reach places it at risk of being stared at longingly all morning, or being completely demolished by 11 am.
Just make sure you clearly label your goods so that your foodstuffs don’t accidentally run off with someone else.
Fruit is your friend
Need a healthy energy boost? Something cold and sweet is a terrific way to increase energy levels without giving you a dramatic sugar high (and crash).
Set up or join a Lunch Club
If you have colleagues who would be agreeable to such a suggestion, why not set up a lunch club or join an existing one? It could involve throwing money into a kitty and using it to buy ingredients that members can use to make lunches every day. Or it could involve a bunch of you going out every Friday to your local cafe.
This is totally a photo of me and my colleagues having lunch, and not at all a stock image that comes up when you type in “fancy lunch man wearing suspenders”.
Buying lunch? Go wild!
Buying lunch is the elephant in the lunch room. If you’re anything like me, you probably feel a bit sheepish admitting that you’re going to buy your lunch. Such wasteful decadence! It’s only because you forgot your lunch today, honest!
Well, turn that sheepish into elephantish and indulge to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content!
If you have young kids, work can actually feel like a holiday. And what do you do on a luxurious holiday? EAT! (Or maybe that’s just me).
So if you find yourself needing to go out and buy lunch (whether by accident or design), slay the guilt demons and savour the experience of a tranquil, kid-free lunch that someone else made and that does not contain chicken nuggets (unless you want it to).
In case you’re still feeling a bit guilty about the expense, remind yourself of how much more expensive it would be if the kids were there too. You’re actually saving money!
If nothing else, at least you’re getting out of the office for some incidental exercise. Which brings us to…
Let’s get physical…
If possible, eat your lunch away from your desk. Go for a walk or sit outside with your colleagues.
Let me hear your body talk (your body talk)
Each body has its own unique relationship with food. You know better than anyone else what kinds of foods will improve or inhibit your productivity at work.
Consider the following, for example.
Do you have a tendency to get ‘hangry’? Make sure you have some healthy things like nuts and crackers that you can snack on regularly during the day.
Does your job require a lot of physical energy? Allow yourself a higher intake of kilojoules so you can sustain the energy levels you need during the work day.
Are you susceptible to food comas? If so, avoid huge and sudden intakes of food, particularly high GI foods such as wheat and pasta. The last thing you need is to nod off during Jim’s post-lunch presentation, Approximation and Weak Convergence Methods for Random Processes with Applications to Stochastic Systems Theory: Signal Processing, Optimization, and Control.* (I got bored just typing that – sorry Frank)
*Apparently this is a real book title. Intrigued? No judgment, check it out here.
Scavenging 101: Rescue those office leftovers.
On those occasions when you have forgotten to take lunch but don’t have the time, money or energy to forage for food beyond the office walls, what do you do?
Be resourceful and scavenge the office for leftovers. I’ve been fortunate enough to work at places where BBQs and birthday morning teas are a regular feature. If your office is similar, this means that there’s a good chance you can concoct a half-decent lunch out of neglected stale rolls, hummus dip and scraps of sliced tomatoes. If you still require a bit of extra pep, offer a colleague some coins in exchange for some of their ham or cheese.
Tip: If you genuinely don’t want to leave home without your lunch, put your car keys near your food as a reminder.
Aim for a balanced meal
The world is a rich tapestry which includes people who genuinely like vegetables. Perhaps you’re one of them. But I’m not.
So work provides a good opportunity for me to progress towards the mandatory 5+2. If I chow down on some carrot sticks or spinach leaves while working, I’ll barely notice I’m doing it (the veggie eating, that is).
This also means I can be a bit more relaxed about what I eat come dinner time.
Here is an example of a balanced meal I had a few days ago – brown bread, organic veggies, cheese, chicken breast…
…. cheese balls and a jellybean (which came courtesy of a thoughtless colleague who recently returned from a trip to America and brought back some tasty temptations designed to topple me off my high horse.)
BTW, our stunning Bento Boxes are the perfect way to encourage balanced eating. Just throw the various elements into the compartments et voila!