Most of us spend long hours at work, so workplace nutrition habits can have a significant impact on your health. Eating unhealthy food every day in sedentary jobs like office & retail workers or truck drivers can lead to weight gain and health issues, but even physically demanding jobs require nutritious meal choices to provide the right fuel to keep you going through the day. Studies show that productivity is lower for people who binge eat or don’t eat nutritionally balanced meals, as well as healthy-weight workers earning 15% more on average than overweight workers.
The key to eating healthier at work is being organized and planning ahead.
Planning ahead makes it easier to resist the temptation of unhealthy food, especially if you have limited time for breaks, or don’t have the facilities to prepare meals at your workplace. Many people think planning ahead limits their meal choices and variety, but most people over estimate the variety of meals they ordinarily enjoy. Have a think about your favourite meals and see how long the list really is…
Tips for organising your meals and snacks:
Make your lunch while cooking your evening meal or before you go to bed, so when you’re rushed for time getting ready for work you will still have a well-planned meal ready to take with you;
Make extra serves in your evening meal and take the left overs for lunch or freeze for another day;
On a day off, spend some time to make a big batch of a favourite meals or a bunch of meals and freeze them in single serve portions, then you have a selection on hand for when you’re rushed for time or don’t feel like cooking;
If you work late on a regular basis, take two meals with you to avoid opting for take-away for your evening meal;
If you eat breakfast at work, try making some eggy-muffins or frittata in advance for an easy portable snack or meal;
Keep some healthy snack options with you either in your drawer or work fridge, or esky if you’re not office bound. Good options include fruit, nuts and seeds, yoghurt, tins of tuna or salmon, and carrot & celery sticks. Keep them out of sight so you don’t snack unnecessarily;
If you are short on time or find it hard to manage meal preparation:
Team up with a work buddy to share the meal preparation – alternate a day or a week where you bring the lunch for your buddy and then swap. You might find an increase in the variety of your meals with less stress;
If you have kids at home, involve them in preparing dinner or lunches. If they’re too young to use a knife or vegetable peeler, engage them by asking them to create stories about the fruit, salad or vegetables while you’re adding them to your lunch box;
Add some left-overs from the evening meal like roast chicken or lamb, with some mixed lettuce or baby spinach leaves for a quick salad;
Boil eggs in advance, they’re versatile and keep well in the fridge and can be used for breakfast, snacks or to add to salad or vegies for lunch;
Consider using pre-cut frozen vegetables as the basis for lunch and add eggs or another good protein source.
Aside from meal planning, there of plenty of things to help make some better choices about eating well at work.
Make time for your meals
Most people have busy work days and some find it hard to stop for lunch. It’s important to take time away from your desk, truck or construction site and spend at least 10 minutes to focus on eating your meal. A simple 10 minutes to stop and enjoy a nutritious lunch can help you return to your desk feeling refreshed and energized. If a little more time is available, why not take a short walk in the sunshine to help get the blood and oxygen circulating.
Schedule when you might have a break and don’t wait too long – you might become Hangry! When you get really hungry it’s far too tempting to reach for the fastest option which may not be the best option to give you the right kind of fuel to make it through the day.
Consider if you really need to eat food just because it’s there
Morning tea and afternoon tea in the workplace can be a nice way to have a break and celebrate, like a birthday. You can remind yourself that just because the cake and biscuits are there doesn’t mean you have to have it. If you want to stick to healthier options, eat a piece of fruit or some nuts before you go, and you’re more likely to make better choices.
Business lunches or dinners are a normal part of many people’s workdays, but you don’t have to indulge, especially if the food and drink is all free. Think about ordering a lighter meal that is tasty and can still fill you up. Opt for water rather than alcohol as many people consume much more food if they’re drinking alcohol at a social function.
Cut out the crap
Remove all temptation! If you can see chips and chocolates you’re more likely to want them. Remove all the unhealthy snacks from sight, and don’t keep them in your drawer. When you are hungry or tired, the temptation to reach for a sugary snack will be harder to ignore if it’s easy to reach into the drawer and grab one. One once you start on a sugary snack, it’s often a slippery slope and really hard to stop. Keep a piece of fruit on your desk as a better option – while fruit has some sugar, it’s natural sugar and fruit also has fibre to slow down the absorption and minimise the blood sugar spike you get with chocolates and lollies. Be mindful that fresh fruit is a better option than dried fruit, as dried fruit is more concentrated in sugar and can often contain food additives.
Try to include a small serve of protein (like eggs, meat, lentils) and a little healthy fat (like avocado, nuts & seeds or olive oil) with your meals, especially at lunch time. It will help you feel full for longer and keep your blood sugar stable.