The midday meal is the meal most often eaten away from home. Your options include bringing a lunch from home or purchasing foods in a cafeteria, vending machine, or local delicatessen.
The same rules apply for “eating well” at lunch: plan to eat foods low in saturated fat and high in nutrients. This midday meal helps you meet your goal of 5 fruits and vegetables every day, and it is the perfect time to include whole grains. Lunch helps you to distribute your intake of calories and nutrients evenly throughout the day. It can keep energy
levels high and help prevent unplanned snacking on foods that may not be the best choices.
Bringing lunch to work can save you money and help you eat what you really want to eat. To be sure that your lunch tastes good and is good for you, try to incorporate each of the food groups in your lunch. If you bring too little food, you will likely be hungry later in the day. You
then increase the chance that you will snack before supper or eat too much at supper.
To keep brown-bag fare interesting and healthful, pack more variety. Think of the options:
Grains—Instead of the usual sandwich bread, try pita (pocket) bread, tortilla wraps, crackers, pretzels, or rice cakes. Or, try salads made with nutritious grains.
Fruits—Include fresh fruits. Every now and then, choose an “exotic” fruit to add interest. Try star fruit, kiwi, papaya, mango, or passion fruit.Fruit juices can be nutritious and refreshing.
Vegetables—Expand your repertoire from raw carrots and celery sticks to potentially more satisfying vegetable soups and salads. Stuff pocket bread with a variety of cooked vegetables. Use vegetables to make your sandwich more filling: fresh spinach or romaine, and slices of cucumber, tomato, mushrooms, and sweet or chili peppers. A vegetable juice makes a great lunchtime drink.
Dairy—Some days drink milk. Other days eat yogurt or a bit of cheese. Choose the low-fat forms more frequently to be sure your meal is rich in nutrients and not fat and calories.
Meat — Meat (which includes poultry, fish, and also beans, legumes, and nuts) is good for you, but remember that “moderation” is the keyword. To help take the meat off center stage, be sure that you also include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and grains in your lunch. Eat only lean meats.
When possible, instead of meat, try to substitute foods such as hummus, lentils, beans, tofu, and nut spreads,
which contain large amounts of plant protein (see sidebar: Sandwich Fixings, below).
Vary the temperature of your lunch by including both hot and cold if you first rinse it with hot water. Likewise, rinsing with cold water will help keep foods cold longer.
If your workplace does not have a refrigerator, a thermal lunch bag can help keep your food fresh and safe. A frozen
box of juice can help keep your lunch cold, and the juice will thaw by lunchtime.
Going Out for Lunch?
If you know what you are doing, eating lunch out increases your options rather than your temptations. Most fast-food restaurants, eager to please the ever-growing number of
people who insist on eating more nutritious foods, now offer “lighter” fare such as salads and chicken. But be careful that you don’t choose foods that are healthful in name only.
Many foods that at first glance seem to be good choices, in fact, are loaded with fat and calories.
Simple salads are the best. To construct a nutritious salad, incorporate lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Remember that the word “salad” is not synonymous with “healthful.”
Try to eat salads that are low in calories and fat but high in much-needed nutrients.
Many taco salads contain at least 900 calories, more than half of which comes from fat. High-fat meats and cheeses heaped on a chef salad can dominate the vegetables.
Chicken and seafood are low in fat; however, this advantage is lost when they are covered with high-fat dressings and oils.
Many of today’s salad bars look like delicatessens. Pasta salad, potato salad, guacamole, and tortellini are popular items. Depending on how they are made, they too can be high in fat and calories.
Unless used sparingly, some dressings can provide up to 400 calories to your salad. Watch for packaged dressings that contain more than “1” serving; check the label to see how many servings are in the package. In some instances, the listed ingredients are those contained in a half-ounce
serving, even though the package may hold up to 5 servings! A generous-sized ladle can easily drown an otherwise healthful salad with a quarter-cup of dressing (300 calories or more). Instead of using high-fat dressings, try squeezing lemon on your salad, request low-calorie or fat-free dressings, or ask that the dressing be placed on the side.
Burgers and Sandwiches
Beware of burgers and sandwiches that are described as “jumbo,” “double,” or “deluxe.” Many contain about 1,000
calories and the majority of your fat allowance for the day. Ask for a regular-sized burger. Stick with lean meat without
mayonnaise or cheese. If salt is not a concern, ketchup or mustard adds very few calories. Request extra lettuce or toppings such as tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, or sweet peppers.