Being someone who trains – a lot – I consequently am someone who eats – A LOT. And well do I know the pain of always being hungry. But when it comes to packing lunch for work, I, like many, have previously fallen short of the mark. “I’ll just grab something at the shop during my lunch break.” This is a huge mistake, and here’s why:
First of all, buying lunch every day is much more expensive than making it at home – cash expensive. Second of all, bought lunch is usually much higher in fat and energy and far less nutritious ( call this “energy dense food” as opposed to “nutrient dense food”) – which is calorie expensive. Lastly, when you’re training hard, you need the right nutrients to fuel your body. The fresher and healthier your food is, the faster your body will recover. When you buy lunch every day, you’re winning in time but really, you’re losing everywhere else.
So how can you save on money and calories? Here are some work-lunch tips:
- Pack the good stuff
If you’ve done a mad training session in the morning before work, don’t think you’re going to survive the day on lettuce leaves and celery. Your body needs real food! Choose a wholesome grain, like brown rice or quinoa, as your base. From there, add your protein: fish, chicken and meat are great, high quality proteins but eggs, cottage cheese, beans and legumes are just as good for you. So mix it up! Lastly, add your vegetables – and go all out! My favourites at the moment are broccoli-rice and shredded kale, flash-boiled peas, zucchini noodles (zoodles!) and roasted beetroot.
For snacks I pack fruit and yoghurt, but on days when I know I’m training after work I pack date bliss balls for an extra energy boost. Other great pre-training snacks are raw nuts, pieces of dried fruit, Provitas with nut butter or –when time really is sparse – a whole avocado!
- Don’t skip breakfast
Skipping breakfast means you’re going to be that much hungrier later in the day. People who make time for breakfast are both leaner and make better food choices at other meal times.
Not having time in the mornings is no excuse! You can easily pack boiled eggs and avo with rice cakes to eat at work. Another great option is overnight oats in a jar – you don’t even need to cook it! My favourite combination at the moment is rolled oats, almond milk, a shot of espresso and a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips. Add a chopped banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter on top and you’ve got fuel to keep you going all the way through to lunch time! If you don’t like a heavy breakfast, pop some chopped, frozen bananas, peanut butter and milk into a blender and drink it in the car on the way to work.
- Get equipped
It’s simple, if you have lousy food storage containers, you’re not going to want to use them for your packed lunches. So get a cool lunch box. It really makes a difference!
Mason jars work so well for salads, soups and chia fruit pots. If you make sure your jar has a good seal, you can pop it in your bag without worrying about it tumbling around in the car or mixing all the ingredients. And trust me, your colleagues will be jelly when they see your lunch – everyone loves a good-looking mason jar. Here are some tips:
- The dressing goes in first. This guarantees that your salad ingredients don’t get soggy.
- Then go with a grain or a protein. This protects your more delicate ingredients from getting wet.
- Then the fixings. Little things like shaved nuts, raisins, cheeses. The ingredients that you want to stay dry until just before you eat it.
- And if you have any leafy greens, they go in last. That way when you turn the Mason jar over and unload it all into a bowl, the greens will make the salad bed. Genius.
Glass and BPA free plastic containers are great for any meals too. You can choose a plastic container with compartments if you like to keep foods separate, and you get microwave friendly ones if you like to eat hot food. Since they come in all different shapes and colours you can pick one or two you really like.
Make extra dinner and pack it straight into your lunchbox for the next day! Packing it straight away will prevent you from eating seconds and keeps your food as fresh as possible. It also prevents the morning rush with no packed lunch.
- Always be prepared!
Meal prepping will save you tonnes of time! There are loads of things you can make over the weekend that can be eaten with anything. I make salmon fish cakes and freeze them in twos, or I grill a big batch of chicken and keep it in the fridge/freezer to be added to salads or cooked veg. You can even cook a load of ratatouille vegetables and freeze that into your desired portions. Other things that are easy to prep and keep are cooked batches of quinoa or rice, roasted veggies and washed fruits, ready to be packed and eaten.
- Start a squad
Misery loves company, right? So if you really hate bringing your own lunch to work, get a colleague to do it with you! You’ll get ideas from each other and enjoy seeing what the other has come up with. You can even make rules if you want to – on Mondays we eat chicken, on Wednesdays we wear pink. Have a day where you swap lunches – anything you like! Think of it as book club, but with food!
- Make it yummy
Don’t make something you’re not going to want to eat! Your lunch should be enjoyable as well as healthy. If you hate kale, use baby spinach or lettuce leaves. If you hate beetroot, don’t add it to your salad. Make a healthy lunch that you’ll be excited to eat the next day.
- Don’t forget
There’s nothing worse than going to the trouble of making a packed lunch and then forgetting it in the fridge at home. Do what you have to do; set a reminder on your phone, leave a note with your keys – whatever it takes. Soon grabbing your packed lunch will be a part of your routine and you won’t leave the house without it.
To read more about health, nutrition and other food advice, follow Anri Horne on The Healthy Rhino:
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