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When you have a long workday punctuated by just an hour (or less) for lunch, it's easy to opt for fast food or TV dinners during your lunch break. Unhealthy lunches day after day can take their toll on your energy level, productivity and physical health, so it's important to make your office lunch routine as healthy as possible. But that doesn't mean your lunches have to be time-consuming or bland – just dedicate a little more time on Monday mornings (or Sunday nights) to preparing your weekday lunch routine.
Stock Your Food Supply at Work
To avoid relying on takeout or getting stuck with flavorless packed lunches, Bon Apetit suggests that you keep a few certain items on-hang in the office kitchen (or your desk drawer, if there's room). Consider stocking up on:
- Sea salt
- Togarashi (for rice bowls, soups or veggies)
- Olive Oil
- Pepper Grinder
- Marcona Almonds
- Hot Sauce
- Wasa Crispbread
As long as you have these food items on hand, you won't have to worry about a bland office lunch.
Try Out a Lunch Bowl
If you're trying to hit all your food groups and punch it up with flavor while still keeping everything simple and convenient, consider a lunch bowl. It's exactly what it sounds like: a bowl of greens, veggies, proteins, nuts and herbs, designed to keep you full and focused without sacrificing too much of your morning or lunch break on prep time. Try arranging it as follows:
- Base: Whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice) and/or greens (like kale or spinach), and maybe some dressing.
- Protein: Opt for eggs, chickpeas or meats to keep your lunch bowl solid and filling.
- Mix-ins: From there, get crazy and flavorful. Try cherry tomatoes, pita crisps and feta cheese, or seeds, herbs and almonds – anything that brings the flavors you're craving.
Carve Out Some Prep Time
Let's be realistic: As Health.com points out, if you're going to keep things healthy on your lunch breaks at work, it means making time to prep your meals in advance. When it comes to meal prep time, you generally have three options to choose from: over the weekend, every evening or every morning. Pick which time allotment works best for you (or perhaps try a few and see which fits best with your schedule), and make it part of your daily (or weekly) routine.
To expedite your meal prep time as much as possible, take advantage of your leftovers. For example, add a tortilla to last night's casserole and you have a burrito, or grab some cooked pasta from the fridge and turn it into a pasta salad.
Remember Your Mental Health, Too
A truly healthy lunch break nourishes your mind along with your body. Try eating away from your desk – it's healthy to separate your relaxation spots from your work spots, plus eating at your desk can often lead you to overeating, or burning out earlier in the workday than you otherwise would. Remember to treat yourself, as well. Include a treat with your packed lunch to satisfy your sweet tooth (and that potential urge to indulge). Give yourself a freebie day, when you're allowed to head out for a sit-down lunch of your choosing. Flexibility is key.
Keep Basic Recipes On Hand
Keep your lunches from becoming repetitive by maintaining a rotation of interesting recipes, and changing them out every once in a while. Eating Well provides a long list of office-friendly lunches, so perhaps choose from a few of the following to keep your recipe rotation fresh:
- Vegan Buddha bowl: Sweet potatoes, chickpeas, avocado and Tahini dressing make for a protein-rich and delicious lunch bowl.
- Avocado and white bean wrap: White beans, avocado, sharp cheddar, onion and slaw make for a tangy, exciting wrap. Add ground chipotle pepper and some cider vinegar for an extra kick.
- Cauliflower soup: Smoked Gouda, paprika and crunchy croutons keep it both filling and interesting.
- Green curry vegetable soup: For a Thai twist, pour hot curry-flavored broth over veggies and pasta and add some crunchy vegetables. Mix in some chicken, shrimp or tofu for some extra protein.
- Tomato and provolone sandwich: Keep it simple with bread, tomato, melted provolone and tarragon-garlic mayo.
Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, California, and she holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University.