Healthy Lunch Choices

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By Shonda Dudlicek

When we’re at work, unhealthy food choices are everywhere. From bowls of sugary candy to birthday cake to doughnuts and bagels—and that’s all before lunchtime. Fatigued and rushed, we may reach for the first thing we see for lunch or that mid-afternoon snack.

And then we’re surprised when we may put on weight.

We talked to Kim Kirchherr, president of K2 Outcomes, a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and blogger, for some tips on making healthy choices for lunch and snacks.

Q: What are some health tips to avoid gaining weight, like bringing your own lunch from home?

A: Start with a plan. Knowing we need variety and balance to help get the diverse nutrients we need, think about the five food groups and aim for two to three food groups per snack or meal. This helps build in the mix that will offer a variety in nutrition, plus be more interesting than just eating one giant serving of one thing. So a win for the taste buds and nutrition. It’s a simple way to approach eating—so an apple and stick of string cheese would be two food groups. Or popcorn, which is a whole grain, with nuts and dried fruit is three food groups and easy to eat, even on the busiest of days so you don’t get stuck. Meal planning can be easier than people think!

Q: What are some good choices people can make when packing a lunch?

A: The mix of food groups noted is great, and focusing on color in fruit and vegetable choices and quality of “all” choices, meaning when we look at the dietary guidelines and the suggestion to try for red, green and orange produce weekly, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Keeping this top of mind that it’s about balance of food groups and variety within each.

Be sure to have a thermal lunch bag, reusable ice pack and other packing and transport equipment that easily goes from fridge to microwave and helps keep your choices food safe.

Q: What foods will satiate? What foods are good for energy to battle that mid-afternoon slump? 

A: That mix of food groups is not only great for nutrient mix, but for helping us feel satisfied, too. A mixed meal, meaning one that has appropriate amounts of carbs, protein and fat, can help with this, as will fiber. A sandwich made with bread that has fiber, loaded with veggies and some lean protein is a simple meal that fits this. Salsa makes a great condiment that doesn’t overdo calories or fat, and leftovers from dinner with a piece of fruit or some veggies on the side are all easy ways to satisfy while providing balance.

It’s also important to remember to hydrate/drink adequate water as well as get in some activity. Take a break from work and walk around the office or outside—a little movement throughout the day—this can be helpful for so many reasons, too.

Q: What foods will pack and keep well? 

A: Proper containers actually help tremendously with this. I like glass bowls with snap-tight lids that can go from freezer to fridge to microwave  (usually you have to remove the lid first), and making chili, soup, stews and casseroles that can be portioned out and include multiple food groups are among my favorite meals on-the-go.

Consider all five food groups and options that are shelf-stable. Fruits—whole pieces, canned in juice or water and dried—all carry easily and you can find veggies in pop-top cans that can be kept in a desk drawer to transfer to a dish to heat up easily. Tuna pouches/cans, peanut butter, shelf-stable milk, popcorn, and oatmeal packets are great options to keep handy, too, in addition to bringing meals from home so you are prepared and food safe if the day gets away from you with unexpected meetings or weather causing changes to your eating plans for the day.

Q: If faced with a hot bar at a grocery store, what should people choose and what should they avoid?  

A: Take advantage of posted nutrition information and calories and ask questions about how things are prepared. Look for entrees that are grilled, poached, broiled or baked. Look for fruits and veggies without high-calorie sauces and select condiments and dressings on the side. Keep balance in mind—those five food groups offer unique mixes of nutrients, and the variety within are important for that, and to keep our interest in our meals, too.

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