Updated: Aug 13, 2022
Looking for more nutritious, delicious or purse friendly lunches?
Have a read through our dietitian, Chloe's, top tips to make lunch times more exciting!
Many of us eat the same lunch everyday simply because it’s convenient, with a consumer poll showing over 77% of people had the same lunch every day and had done so for the last 2 years.
We think variety is the spice of life, and research shows that having the same thing every day could lead to an increase in snacking or eating later on. The same lunch every day could lead to nutritional deficiencies depending on what you have, and may also affect gut health.
A variety of foods is most beneficial for gut health, including a mixture of food groups like carbohydrate foods, fruit & veg and sources of protein. Food such as fruit & veg, beans lentils and pulses provide a boost for our gut bacteria – acting as a food source. While fermented foods like yogurt or kefir contain beneficial bacteria that in turn benefit us. An interesting study in the American journal if nutrition found that women lacked energy from ’habituation’ when having the same lunch everyday compared to those who varied the meal, so why not shake things up?!
Try meal preparation
If sandwiches get boring why not try having a portion of meal you enjoy like spaghetti bolognese or chilli. These meals will reheat well when prepped in advance and you can store in individual portion tubs so they are ready to go. (Just make sure the food is piping hot before serving and be careful of reheating rice.)
A homemade version means you can control the ingredients like the amount of salt that you may find is higher in a ready-made alternative. Aim to include a mixture of food groups in your meal so it is balanced like pasta or rice as a source of carbohydrate, meat, beans or lentils as a protein source, vegetables in the dish or fruit as a snack after the dish to provide a source of vitamins & minerals and to boost the fibre content of your lunch.
If your dish doesn’t contain any dairy foods, you could have a yogurt with your lunch, or include elsewhere in your day to ensure you don’t miss out on nutrients like calcium and phosphorus. Meal prep can be cheaper than buying a separate meal each day, and you only have to cook once then can store food in the fridge or freezer ready for taking to work or for eating in the home. Having a hot meal can feel comforting on a cold day but can also leave you feeling fuller for longer, and more satisfied. Research has shown that ‘snack’ meals can lead to increased snacking later on as we don’t feel we’ve had a proper meal. In comparison, people who have eaten what they class as a meal will tend to snack less after the meal as they feel more satisfied after eating.
Take time for lunch
Many people do not take a designated lunch break, and this can affect us is many ways. As mentioned above a snack meal – often eaten on the go or while distracted with something else can lead to an increase in snacking or eating afterwards in comparison to what our brain brands as a ‘meal’. Sitting down, using cutlery and crockery and sitting at a table all help to tell our brain and our body that we are eating a meal and we can better recognise hunger and fullness as a result. Getting a proper break at work can have both mental and physical benefits including fatigue and even productivity! Some fresh air or gentle exercise at lunchtime will set you up for the afternoon ahead, especially if working from home. Research also shows us that we make better nutrition choices when we’re physically active.
Dump the meal deal?
Many retailers offer a variation of a lunchtime meal deal, offering better value for our hard earned money, however we may end up buying more food than we need thanks to the offer of additional items and the premise that we are getting a good deal. Add on items to meal deals often include options like fruit or vegetable based sides, but always include the more popular choice of crisps or chocolate as a side. Plus an added drink that can often be a sugary or fizzy option. Try bringing a couple of snacks from home like fruit, nuts or popcorn and a reusable water bottle to also help with reducing plastic waste. By adding these to a sandwich or main from the meal deal, you’ll save and just buy one item and have the choice of healthier snacks. If you are not a big snacker and the main on its own is enough then ditch the additional sides, as chances are if we’ve bought and paid for them, we are going to eat them! While clever marketing and branding makes us think we are getting great value for money with a meal deal, consider the cost of making the same thing at home. If might work out to be a real cost saver to bring your own version from home.
Whether some chicken for a sandwich or a portion of leftover curry using up food you already have is another lunchtime winner. Leftover ingredients like vegetables or meat could be great for a sandwich, or use up a whole meal like curry or bolognese to do the next day’s lunches. Making a spare portion of your dinner is a great idea so you’ve got it to have the next day for lunch and also saves preparing something for lunch separately. Cook up some pasta and add passata or sauce with leftover vegetables, or making a pasta salad that can be eaten cold. Using up leftover food is very cost effective, reduces food waste and will keep meals varied – so you’ll never get bored!
Don’t forget breakfast!
Eating something in the morning helps our body to start the day and can greatly reduce snacking or over eating later on. For a more positive lunchtime, make sure it isn’t the first thing you’ve had to eat that day, especially if you’re working. Starting the day with breakfast helps to get the body’s metabolism going, as we sleep overnight and are essentially fasting the metabolism slows down and the stomach is empty. If you are up and away to work in the morning, it is important to give yourself some energy to get going. Research again shows an improvement in fatigue, stress levels and productivity when breakfast is included compared to those who skip it.
If you’d like more advice on building better meals, or for healthy workplace advice please do get in touch or simply book a consultation.
Chloé is a registered dietitian and is passionate about promoting a whole-person approach to health and helping clients to feel empowered. Her specialities are weight management, IBS, plant-based diets and cancer rehabilitation. Book a free 15 min call to see how Chloe can help you. Also, remember to get your free nutrition assessment to get the best nutritional advice for you.