Do the words ‘work lunch’ get you dreaming about Uber Eats, dreading squished up bananas at the bottom of your bag, or lusting after your coworker’s delicious home-cooked meals? Although packing a healthy lunch – and actually eating it – seems like a huge effort, it’s valuable time spent on achieving a nutritious diet and healthy metabolism. After all, most of us eat five lunches and ten morning or afternoon snacks at work every week! Read on for some inspiration and tips on packing a healthy, delicious lunchbox, that will leave you as the envy of your office.
Recent studies show that meal preparation is associated with reductions in body weight and improved dietary quality and variety. Packing a healthy lunch gives us the chance to plan what foods we need the most of, and deters us from a tempting vending machine, local takeaway or meal delivery option. Eating regular meals is also associated with an improved metabolism, improved energy levels and concentration, and reduces the risk of excessive hunger leading to over-eating.
So what should we have in our lunchbox? We should be eating a balance of fruit, vegetables and legumes, wholegrains, dairy or dairy alternatives and meat or meat alternatives.
Try following this portion guide that illustrates the types and quantities of foods that we should be aiming to incorporate in every main meal (lunch and dinner):
- ½ plate (1.5-2 cups) of vegetables or salad
- ¼ plate (80-120g) of lean protein such as red/white meat, eggs, tofu or legumes
- ¼ plate (1/2 cup) of carbohydrate foods such as potato, sweet potato, corn, pasta, rice or bread
- 1-2 tablespoons of healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds
A healthy salad, homemade stir fry or curry, sandwich or wrap would definitely fit the bill.
- 1 medium piece of fruit (apple, banana, orange or mandarine, pear), 2 smaller fruits (apricots, kiwi fruit, plums) or 1 cup of diced, free fruit (melons, berries).
- Yoghurt covered berries: using a toothpick or clean hands, coat fresh blueberries, strawberries or raspberries in reduced fat yoghurt. Freeze for one hour.
- Banana toppers: Slice a banana once lengthwise and once widthwise. Coat with thin spread of nut butter (eg. low salt/sugar peanut butter) and topping of your choice (try shredded coconut, chia seeds, blueberries, muesli).
- 1 cup raw or salad veg dippers (try carrot, celery, capsicum, sugar snap peas) with nut butter, hommus, or cream cheese (reduced fat).
- Spiced chick peas: drain and pat dry a can of chickpeas. Coat with 1 tsp olive oil and spices of your choice (try cumin, paprika, ginger, ground coriander). Roast for 30 minutes at 180 degrees. 100g = 1 serve of veg
- Veggie chips: Peel veg of choice (try sweet potato, beetroot, kale, carrot) into thin slices. Drizzle with olive oil and coat with dried rosemary or oregano. Bake at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden, turning halfway.
- If packaged snacks are your go-to for convenience and shelf life, look for snack packs of roasted chickpeas, fava beans, low-cal popcorn, sugar snap peas or edamame.
Breads and cereals:
- Home made pita chips: brush a wholegrain wrap lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with chilli flakes, parmesan cheese or dried rosemary. Bake for 15 minutes at 200 degrees or until golden. Cool and cut into chip-shaped triangles.
- 1 slice multigrain bread, 3 crispbreads or ½ medium multigrain bread roll. Topping suggestions: Avocado and tomato, cream cheese and tomato with rocket, nut butter and banana, hommus with cheese and tomato, cheese and pear slices, cream cheese with blueberries or banana.
- 30g muesli (look for no added sugar, check the nutrition panel for >4g fibre per 100g, and read the ingredients list to avoid excessive dried fruit, clusters and honey/maple syrup). Great with: 200g reduced fat yoghurt
- Packaged options: rice wheels or corn thins are often available in snack-size packets.
- 250mL reduced fat milk, or a calcium fortified milk alternative (check the nutrition label for at least 100mg of calcium per 100mL). Serving suggestion: serve with ice and 30mL espresso for a tasty iced latte. Or blend with fruits of your choice for a tasty smoothie. These store well in a sealed glass bottle to keep in the work fridge.
- 200g reduced fat yoghurt. Label suggestions: look for 2% fat or less. The healthiest choice is a plain yoghurt, which you can sweeten with fresh fruit if necessary. If choosing flavoured yoghurt, try to find an option with less than 12g of sugars per 100g.
- 2 slices or 40g hard cheese (a matchbox size). Great with: tomato and a multigrain cracker
- A boiled egg Great with: sliced avocado, a spread of hommus, cracker pepper or chilli flakes, sliced tomato and cheese on a multigrain cracker
- 30g unsalted nuts, seeds or nut butter. Create your own trail mix by mixing nuts and seeds of your choice in an airtight container. Try almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, linseeds. Add dried fruit with caution, as they have a high concentration of natural sugars and can easily contribute extra calories!
- Home made bliss balls – at 120 calories per bliss ball, these homemade alternatives are a great low-kilojoule alternative to processed, sweetened options available on the supermarket shelf: combine ¼ cup seeds of your choice, 300g raw whole nuts (almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews or a combo of your choice!), 2 tablespoons cacao powder and one teaspoon cinnamon in a food processor. Add 8 pitted dates, 1/2 cup desiccated coconut and 2 tsp vanilla extract and continue processing. Loosen with ¼ cup of water (or as needed). Roll into 3cm balls, and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one month. Makes 20 bliss balls.