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?