Maximize Your Lunch Hour

Don’t let lunch become another extension of your overburdened day. Make the most out of your midday break by eating healthy, and sneaking in some healthy activities with these tips.

For a Healthier Lunch, Eat a Healthier Breakfast

Breakfasts composed of simple starches like doughnuts, white breads, or many popular breakfast cereals are quickly converted into sugar that floods your bloodstream and then goes away quickly. This leaves you craving fatty, high-calorie foods come lunch. Far better is to eat healthier breakfast foods that are slow to digest and thus leave you fuller longer. These include whole grains and lean proteins.

Go Outside

If you work in an office or a retail establishment, you likely are stuck in the same building all day long. Now’s your chance to escape. Soak in the sun, watch the rain, or feel the wind. Breathe some real air, and disconnect for a moment from the job. At least once every workday you should make the time to step outside, even if just for two minutes. It will recharge your body and your mind.

Daydream for 15 Minutes

“Creative daydreaming is not only a way to get out of the daily lunch hour grind, but also a way to put your creative juices to work,” explains Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., psychologist and author of How to Be Your Own Therapist. If you’re feeling particularly stressed about a project, spend your 15 minutes mentally exploring ways you can tackle it. If you feel mentally stale and burned out, spend the 15 minutes in la-la land, on a mini vacation. Imagine yourself strolling the beach, climbing a mountain, or generally spending time in a location that makes you happy. “Take yourself somewhere and have an adventure,” says Dr. Farrell.

Take a Power Nap

Studies increasingly show the value of short naps during the day, and progressive employers are becoming more lenient about them. So if you can, curl up under your desk, nod off in your car (unless you’re driving!), or otherwise arrange yourself in your office chair so you can snooze without anyone noticing. “Your nap will refresh your mind and put a whole new perspective on the afternoon, because it breaks the tension of the day,” says Dr. Farrell.

Pack a Frozen Dinner

They’re not just for dinner anymore. You can pop your dinner into your break room microwave for a quick-and-easy meal that allows plenty of time to run errands or power walk during the rest of your lunch hour. Today’s frozen food aisles include organic, vegetarian, low-fat, low-carb, and numerous other healthy food options. Look for a frozen dinner that supplies fewer than 400 calories, 15 grams total fat, 800 milligrams sodium, and 15 grams added sugars. It should contain at least 8 grams fiber and 7 grams protein. The fiber and protein will give you staying power during the afternoon, preventing the post-lunch refrigerator raid.

Choose Smarter Fast Food

If coworkers invite you out for fast food, you don’t have to decline on the basis of health considerations. Just choose wisely. Opt for a broiled chicken breast sandwich without the sauce or purchase a salad (store your own homemade or store-bought low-fat dressing in the break room fridge). At sit-down restaurants or the company cafeteria, opt for broth-based soup, fresh fruit cups, and grilled or steamed items.

Mini-Size Your Sandwich

When purchasing sandwiches from a deli or company cafeteria, ask for a half portion. In one study, participants presented with a 12-inch sandwich ate the entire sandwich but felt just as satisfied afterward as when they ate an 8-inch sandwich. Apparently, seeing less translates into eating less.

Exercise as You Run Errands

If you need to run errands during your lunch break, get some exercise in at the same time. If possible, complete your errands as you power walk, hitting the bank, convenience store, and other locations on foot. The exercise will help refresh your mind and reduce the stress of the day.

Walk to the Deli

If you must eat out, walk to your destination. You’ll burn some extra calories and refresh your mind at the same time. The short walk may also give you the willpower you need to order more healthfully.

Start a Lunch Group

Eat with other coworkers who are interested in weight control, health, and nutrition. Share foods for taste-testing, exchange tips and recipes, and once a week, have each member bring in one healthy contribution to the meal.

Improve Your Work Performance with Healthy Food

When Appleton Central High School in Wisconsin began serving more healthful food options and replaced soda-filled vending machines with juice, water, and energy drinks, students began behaving better and achieving more in the classroom. They stayed on task, were better able to concentrate, and paid better attention. If switching from fatty, sugary lunches produced that effect on high school students, just imagine what it can do for your mental outlook and motivation at work!

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