Food & nutrition Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team

Healthy lunch tips for eating well at work

Business person eating healthy lunch

In my years of nutrition counselling, I have noticed that lunch often seems to be the forgotten meal. People say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and dinner is almost always the biggest meal of the day. But what about lunch? Lunch should make up almost one-third of your daily nutrition intake — shouldn’t that be important?

There are many ways we might neglect lunch. Sometimes we work though lunch, postpone lunch, or skip it all together. Or perhaps we multitask our way through lunch, eating at the desk or on-the-go. Other times we just don’t give it the time or attention it deserves. So lunch becomes a quick bite – a coffee shop run, soup and crackers, or a slice of pizza.

Improving the quality of your lunch will not only help shape your daily nutrition intake, it can boost your energy and concentration for the rest of the work day. Lunch can even curb some of that evening hunger that creeps up when we fail to satisfy our earlier hunger.

Below are my top three tips for healthy eating at lunch time:

Enjoy a balanced meal for lunch

That’s right, balanced meals aren’t just for dinner! Keep the below plate model in mind when packing your lunch. Include some lean protein, lower glycemic index starch, and ensure half of your meal comes from vegetables. You may adjust portions according to your energy needs, or add a fruit/yogurt to finish off your lunch if you are still hungry.

Veggies 1/2 plate, Starch 1/4 plate, Lean protein 1/4 plate

How to portion your meals: 1/2 plate veggies, 1/4 plate lower glycemic index starch, 1/4 plate lean protein



Sandwich and vegetable salad

Veggies: Raw vegetable sticks such as carrots, cucumber, celery
Starch: 2 slices of whole grain bread
Lean protein: 1/2 can tuna

Bean & whole grain salad

Veggies: Mixed leafy greens with diced onion, peppers & herbs
Starch: 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
Lean protein: 3/4 cup chickpeas/lentils

Leftovers: Sweet potato, chicken, mixed vegetables

Veggies: Stirfry with eggplant, zucchini, snow peas, mushrooms
Starch: 1/2 sweet potato
Lean protein: 3oz skinless chicken breast

Take time for mindful eating

Start the process to a more mindful eating experience by allowing yourself space to savour your meal away from distractions. Sit at a table, turn away from the computers and cell phones, and take at least 20 minutes to enjoy your meal.

The Center for Mindful Eating describes mindful eating as:

  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your inner wisdom.
  • Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
  • Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.

Give yourself a break – think 80/20

The 80/20 rule is all about moderation. Trying to follow a healthy eating plan — or any plan — 100 per cent of the time is unrealistic. A very strict dietary regimen can also feel daunting, and make it easy to slip up. Instead, aim for balanced, mindful meals 80 per cent of the time. Give yourself permission for a 20 per cent buffer zone for those unexpectedly busy days, or for celebrating your colleague’s birthday with some cake.

Planning for some cake or chocolate once in a while can be a part of a well-balanced diet. Food is primarily meant to nourish our bodies, yet it can be a source of fun and pleasure too. We can make room for an occasional small treat while maintaining an 80/20 balance between healthy nourishment of our bodies and joy in eating.