You know the routine. Lunch time at work is looming and you’re faced with choices: the boring ham sandwich (if you had time to make it before leaving home), fast-food drive thru, co-workers heading to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, vending machines or skipping altogether. Dietitians say all of these options can wreak havoc on a healthy eating plan, but they also say there are ways to eat smart at work and enjoy it.
Deborah Colby, who’s an outpatient clinical dietitian at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, frequently sees skipping lunch as a problem for workers. “Those who do this usually go overboard at dinner and continuously snack at night,” she said. “I also see a lot of dining out, and lunch is the biggest part of that. Unfortunately, much of that is fast food. You can get a full day’s calories in a super size meal.”
She says people give lack of time as the main reason for dining out. However, those who eat 90% of their meals at home have greater success with weight loss and maintaining it, which is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
“We must rethink lifestyle and how Mom cooked meals,” she said. “We now have microwaves and a lot of convenient foods, plus blenders for making smoothies and slow cookers are coming back. You can put something in a slow cooker at night to be ready the next morning.”
Making wise choices
Colby, who says she became interested in nutrition as an obese teenager, thinks wise choices can be made even when dining out. Fast food restaurants have some healthier foods now. She warns, however, that many people fail to realize the number of calories in salad dressing.
For brown-bagging it at work, she recommends leftovers (if you cooked the night before) and wraps.
“It only takes two minutes to roll up a wrap. It’s not rocket science and it keeps you from getting burned out on sandwiches,” she said.
She also recommends shopping from a list so you have good things for making lunches.
This dietitian, who has a master’s degree in health education, even has tips for managing those luncheons business people often must attend.
“That’s just one meal out of the day. You can leave off dessert, go light on starch, and watch what you eat later in the day,” she said. “Eat the salad first and eat slowly. The larger the salad, the fewer total calories are consumed in a meal as long as you watch the dressing.”
That eating slowly advice is especially important given that it takes 20 minutes for the stomach to send an all-full signal to the brain. “Eat slowly when you have the opportunity,” Colby said. “If you must eat quickly on the job, don’t let it spill over into your personal life.”
Get out from behind the desk
Judy Gill has been with Wesley Hospital in Hattiesburg for 24 years. She’s the director of nutrition and food services there.
“One problem with lunch at work is people eating at their desks,” she said. “That’s not good. Everyone needs a break. I’m also concerned about quick lunches like munchables and sandwich meats that have high fat content. The fat and sodium content should be checked on pre-packaged foods.”
She says baking a turkey or making chicken and tuna salad during the weekend can provide some healthy, tasty lunches. Just make sure your lunch is stored properly on the job and stays cool.
“You can bring grilled chicken strips and add them to a salad and have wheat crackers,” Gill said. “Homemade soup is good to bring, too. Of course if you cook a little extra at night, you have leftovers for work and most places have microwave ovens. The trick is to think about it at night and put your lunch into a container so it’s ready to go the next morning.”
Gill adds that keeping bottled water at your side on the job is a good thing to do, too.
Jessica Kendrick, registered dietitian at Singing River Hospital, says she hasn’t seen a vending machine with anything good in it although there may be some with yogurt and soup.
“It’s best to plan ahead and pack a lunch for work,” she said. “Raw vegetables and fruit, whole grain or pita bread with tuna are healthy. You can take frozen dinners if you check the sodium content of them. There are a lot of garden salads in cafeterias and most places to eat out have low-fat options now.”
Kendrick says most people out in the working world should stay away from fried foods and be careful of Mexican and Chinese foods when eating out.
“Now days, they’re making a lot of healthy things that are quick and easy,” she said, “but watch out, there’s always something that’s quick to grab that’s not healthy.”
This dietitian advises, “Try to get more exercise when you can. Don’t fight for the parking space closest to the door, and take the stairs instead of the elevator.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.