What you eat for lunch affects your productivity for the rest of the day.
High-fat, high-sugar lunches make us sleepy and have low energy by 3 p.m., says Lisa De Fazio, a healthy lifestyle expertand registered dietitian, so it’s important to go heavy on the protein and healthy fats and easy on the carbs when choosing what you eat for lunch.
Of course, we can all come up with plenty of excuses to make poor eating decisions during the workday.
Luckily, whether you bring your lunch, buy it, or scrounge something from the noon meeting, there are plenty of healthy lunch options that will keep you from passing out at your desk.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
“Believe it or not, a peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread is a great choice,” De Fazio says.
She suggests choosing all natural almond or peanut butter and all natural fruit preserves. “Pack some baby carrots and an apple, and you have a healthy vegetarian lunch that reminds you of your childhood,” she says.
Hummus and whole grain pita, string cheese, grapes, and cherry tomatoes
Hummus is a good source of calcium, iron, protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats, which prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly.
There are many healthy, tasty frozen entrees that would be easy to grab in the morning and keep in the office freezer, De Fazio says.
She prefers brands like Amy’s Kitchen, Cedarlane, Luvo, and Artisan Bistro, which boast more natural ingredients than other brands.
For those who prefer to order lunch, De Fazio says she prefers bowls to burritos because they’re less messy, and she likes that restaurants like Chipotle let you personalize your burrito bowls with healthier options. She suggests ordering your bowl with rice, lettuce, chicken or beef, salsa, guacamole, and go easy on the cheese.
“The rice will give you just enough carbs to feed your brain without overdoing it,” she says. “The chicken or beef give you protein to keep blood sugars steady, and guacamole is a healthy fat that keeps you fuller longer. If you want to order double protein, go for it.”
De Fazio says you should skip the chips and beans. Fried carbs will only slow you down, and you don’t want to be bloated and gassy at work, she says.
Even fried chicken joint KFC offers a healthier take on it’s famous offering. A Kentucky grilled chicken breast, house side salad with light Italian dressing, and corn on the cob will provide you with a good helping of protein without all the fat and carbohydrates.
Another healthier takeout option, chicken or beef teriyaki bowls are offered in many Asian and sushi restaurants. “It’s a balanced meal and easy to take out and eat at your desk or sitting on a bench outside,” De Fazio says.
Turkey or chicken sub
If you’re heading to a sub shop for lunch, choose turkey or chicken breast, all the veggies you want, avocado, and go easy on the mayo, De Fazio suggests.
“Avoid high-fat, greasy subs like meatball or Philly cheesesteak,” she says. “You’ll be tired with indigestion by 3 pm, which is not a good feeling at work!”
Sandwich platter and fruit
And if you’re snagging lunch at a conference or work meeting, De Fazio suggests skipping the high-fat croissants and opting for sandwich platters with basic white or wheat bread or wraps.
Again, opt for the leaner meats like turkey breast, or go vegetarian. If there are baked chips available, go for them. But always choose fresh fruit instead of high-fat potato salad, De Fazio says.
Whether you’re heading to the corner pizza place for a slice or ordering for the whole office, there are, believe it or not, healthier pizza options that won’t put you to sleep or give you indigestion later.
De Fazio suggests always asking to go easy on the cheese and opting for thin crust when possible. “This keeps the carbs and fat under control, which will keep you energized without making you sleepy,” she says.
And feel free to load up on all the veggies you like, pineapple, and chicken. Just be sure to skip the greasy pepperoni and sausage. “Indigestion is not good for productivity,” De Fazio says.
If you’re out to lunch with a coworker or client, you can’t go wrong with an entree lunch like a Cobb or seafood salad.
Grilled salmon, rice, and vegetables
Or you could opt for a grilled salmon or chicken entree with a side of rice and vegetables.
“These choices are balanced meals, higher in protein and vegetables, and are easy and neat to eat while discussing business,” De Fazio says. “The last thing you want at a business lunch is to be eating a messy plate of pasta or a burger that gets sauce all over your face!”
Soup can be a healthy choice or a productivity disaster — it all depends on what you pick.
In general DeFazio says it’s a good idea to avoid anything that is crispy, cheesy, creamy, greasy, or otherwise obviously high fat. Soups that contain lighter meats, lentils, chickpeas, and other pulses will pack more of a protein punch.
Plus, drink lots of water
Regardless of what you choose to eat for lunch, always accompany it with water.
Sometimes when you think you’re hungry or crave sugar, you’re actually thirsty, De Fazio says. Instead, staying hydrated keeps you energized and focused.
Skip sugary drinks like soda. They spike your blood sugar levels and, once they crash, make you sleepy, she says.