Lunch: Office Envy

by | Oct 7, 2008

Several weeks ago I held a poll asking which meal people found the most difficult to keep healthy: breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner. The overwhelming response was lunch.

To me this implies that the vast majority of you do not bring your lunch to work, but opt to eat out every day instead. Indeed, it is extremely difficult (and boring) to be healthy if you rely on restaurants for your meals. But if you want to eat healthy you must find a way to bring your lunch, and eating out needs to be the exception rather than the rule.

I have heard several reasons why people choose to eat out for lunch, and would love for you to share your own personal reasons in this week’s poll. But so far, the most common reason I hear is peer pressure. People do not want to be the odd man out at the office. No one wants to be left alone at their desk with a salad, even if the alternative is a Big Mac and trans fat-laden fries. And it isn’t any better to try and choke down a soggy McDonald’s salad while everyone else enjoys their delicious salt and cholesterol.

I completely sympathize with these arguments and at first glance I can see how they seem almost impossible to overcome. But in my experience, it does not have to be this way. Believe it or not, most people agree about what food looks really delicious, and bright, colorful and fresh is always appealing. So as you can imagine, the first step to successfully bringing your lunch to work on a regular basis is to make sure you pack food you actually want to eat. An added bonus is that if you sit down with a meal that looks and smells amazing, it is likely your friends at work will not only respect your decision, but may even be a little jealous. Instead of being the poor sucker on a diet, you will be the new lunch trend-setter!

A couple years ago I started a mini revolution at work. Giant café sandwiches and personal pizzas were the norm in the lunch room. Knowing this was not an option for me, I started dropping by my local market on my way in to work on Monday morning. I would pick up a bag of spinach, a basket of cherry tomatoes, an avocado or two, zucchini or cucumber, red bell pepper, a bag of walnuts, some kind of salad dressing and fruit. This adds maybe 5-10 minutes to my commute (shopping can also be done on weekends). My office kitchen is stocked with plates, forks and knives, but clearly it would not be hard to bring these items in if necessary. A large tupperware is particularly nice to have around because it makes your lunch portable.

Chopping the vegetables and fruit onto a bed of spinach or mixed greens takes about 5 minutes, and within that time I am invariably bombarded with compliments and praise from envious people microwaving their Healthy Choice entrees. Since I started this approach fresh, seasonal salads have become a common sight in our lunch room, and a trend has grown toward healthier, homemade lunches in general. Importantly, this new lunch culture started without an ounce of resentment or exclusion from the former pizza crowd.

One obvious barrier to this method would be if your office lacks a refrigerator. But even then all is not lost. Cut up vegetables are perfectly stable in a tupperware for several hours without refrigeration so long as they are not dressed. I keep bottles of California olive oil (Trader Joe’s) and balsamic vinegar (TJ’s again) at my desk, along with walnuts and salt and pepper grinders.

If you feel the need for a more substantial lunch, brown rice, boiled eggs and smoked salmon are fantastic additions to any salad. Adding fruits like figs, berries, pears or grapes help create a gourmet “wow factor” that elevates your lunch from good to exceptional.

Alternatively, one could make a smaller salad and use it as a supplement to a purchased lunch. For example, one of those giant sandwiches can last you two days if you fill up first with seasonal greens.

I admit that I buy my lunch at least once every week or two, but on those days it is a choice that I make and it is never because healthy eating is too difficult or elusive. If you hope to hit your 60th birthday in full stride, healthy eating must become at least a semi-automatic part of your routine.

Consider that you eat lunch at work 5 days a week. I say that makes for a fantastic opportunity to streamline your healthstyle.

What do you think, does that really sound so bad?

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7 Responses to “Lunch: Office Envy”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello, Miss Darya. What do you recommend for students that don’t have any real personal space on campus for fancy dressings or backpack space for tupperware?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve found that an inch of preparation reaps a mile of benefit. For instance when I buy a big bag of grapes, I pluck and rinse them and put them in a giant ziplock, so that when I’m hungry there are NO barriers to eating something from mother earth. Same with apples(sticker off and rinsed) and other fruits/veggies. I guess cutting out those mundane steps first just makes it easier to make a healthy meal later on.

  3. Jed Wolpaw says:

    I don’t know Darya, add in the fact that free food is fairly ubiquitous on the med school campus and now you’re fighting peer pressure and FREE food. Tall order. If only we could get all these meetings and lunch talks to serve healthy food instead of pizza and/or burritos. That little bare side salad they always have next to the pizza just doesn’t do it for me, especially not when the only dressing options are light italian (read: water) and heavy ranch (read: hot wing sauce).

  4. Darya Pino says:

    anon 1:

    My recommendation is to invest in a lunch box, but even a small department store bag will work. For salad dressing, you can mix your own in the morning before you leave and bring it with you. Empty spice containers are the perfect vehicle (I have extras, call me and I will send you one). Just fill it half with olive oil, and half with vinegar then add salt and pepper directly to the mix. Shake it up before you pour it on your salad.

    ——–

    jed:

    I was wondering when this point was going to come up. Personally I am furious that a “health sciences” campus dedicated to “advancing health worldwide” continuously serves its students and staff what has essentially been shown to be low dose poison. But waiting for the campus administration to change this policy is like waiting for the Bush administration to balance the budget: not gonna happen.

    I understand your point, but it is your own life you are putting at risk by taking the bait. Plus, if you guys stop eating it then maybe, just maybe, they’ll stop serving it.

  5. doug says:

    A Trader Joes is opening accross the street from the art store in Berkeley. Mmm.

  6. Guillermo Walsh says:

    You say that you do go out for lunch 1-2 a week, what kind of stuff do you eat ? It will be interesting to see the choices you make.

  7. curious george says:

    hi! this might sound weird but i am very interested in your salad! the figs, tomatoes, and greens all so well proportioned, im wondering how much of each it is? is it under 1/4 cup walnuts, 1/3 cup figs, 2 cups greens, just over 1/2 cup tomatoes?? i really wanna make one looks delicious! do you snack between meals and what’s your dinner look like? how much do you work out? i’ve been eating the same eveyday and feel like i get hungry between meals (i have 5 small meals because i get hypoglycemic unless i’m laying down) i feel like i might not be eating enough but i’m not sure.. like because i’ll eat too much fruit between a meal and a snack (…)

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