While breakfast is given the reputation of being the most important meal of the day, eating lunch is just as essential to staying healthy. Going too long without food denies your body glucose, the sugar that supplies your brain with energy.
Eating in the middle of the day, several hours after breakfast, re-energizes your body and can raise blood sugar levels when focus and concentration are flagging. If you’re feeling sluggish, eating even a small lunch can renew your energy and help you feel refreshed and ready to take on the next several hours. In addition, eating lunch keeps your metabolism active, especially if you have a moderately sized meal and a snack before and afterward.
Lunch may have even more importance for school-aged children than it does for adults. Since most kids don’t get breakfast or dinner at school and may not have any snacks until they get home, lunch is the only meal they have to power them through the day.
Reasons for avoiding lunch
Time restraints are a common cause of skipping lunch. When you’re busy getting yourself ready for work and the kids ready for school, packing a lunch may be the last thing on your mind.
Many dieters make the mistake of skipping meals because they think it will lower total calorie intake and promote weight loss.
Effects of avoiding lunch
Some people think they can ride out the day without lunch but some problems might arise. Skipping lunch is like going on a mini fast and may lead to intense feelings of hunger especially if breakfast was not adequate.
When you skip lunch, your body slows down your metabolism. The purpose of this is to decrease calorie burn to conserve these calories for later use. This process hinders weight loss. Successful weight loss comes from supplying your body with the right nutrients by eating healthy meals regularly.
When your body does not have access to glucose, which comes from the foods you eat, it turns to glycogen, the stored form of glucose in the liver. While glycogen serves as a backup source of energy, it only lasts for so long. Once glycogen stores are depleted, your brain does not have access to glucose. As a result, your ability to concentrate decreases, and you may have difficulty focusing.
There are many reasons why you should get up and move around during work hours. Lunchtime is a great time to step away from your desk, and eating lunch at your desk can have adverse physical and mental health effects.
We all know that eating lunch at your desk isn’t good for you, yet we still do it.
However, staying at your desk all day can decrease your productivity and increase stress levels. Furthermore, sitting for long periods can cause a whole host of health issues including back pain, leg disorders, and an increased risk of heart disease.
Here’s a list of reasons to skip eating lunch at your desk to take an actual break.
- Increased long-term health risks
- Sore joints
- Brain fog
- Reduced productivity
- Lack of balance
- Missing out on inspiration
So, take at least half an hour to eat lunch in a calm and restful environment with other people if possible. This will help you to digest the food and drink consumed without any pain or discomfort.
What is a healthy lunch?
The key to a nutritious packed lunch is variety and getting the right balance of foods to provide you with the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Our daily intake of calories and nutrients is split over the meals and snacks we eat throughout the day. One way to spread calorie intake over the day is to consume 20% of total calorie intake at breakfast, 30% at lunch, 30% at dinner, and 20% for snacks. The calories we consume from drinks are also included in this allowance.
A healthy, sustaining lunch should be based around whole grain bread such as wraps, pitta pockets, rye crispbread, wholegrain pasta, rice, or noodles.
Try to include some lean protein to help keep you full such as salmon or tuna, eggs, pulses, prawns, or chicken. If you include these foods in a packed lunch it will need to be refrigerated to minimize the risk of food poisoning.
It is important to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your lunch, e.g., an apple, satsuma, handful of cherry tomatoes, carrot, cucumber, pepper or celery sticks, a small tub of fruit salad, or a small box of raisins.
Include a drink with your lunch. Water is fine but you can also include milk or milk alternative like Oat Drink if you are lactose intolerant.
Of course, what you eat for lunch matters. If your lunch includes a lot of fat and processed carbohydrates (like white bread or Pop-Tarts), you may feel sleepy after eating. To avoid this and get all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need, make sure you include some vegetables, fruit, protein (like chicken, beans, eggs, or tuna), and some whole grains. Stick to healthier fats, like avocados or nuts.
Here are some more quick tips for eating a healthier lunch:
- Substitute olive oil for mayonnaise, a whole-wheat wrap for white bread, and grilled food for fried food.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables are much cheaper than fresh ones, and usually just as healthy.
- Try making a Southwest-style wrap with guacamole, salsa, chicken or beans, and spinach and other veggies.
- Another healthy lunch option is a salad with lots of vegetables plus a healthy grain like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, or soba noodles, and a protein such as eggs, beans, or fish.
- Healthy snacks include vegetables with dip (like hummus or guacamole), nuts, string cheese, or high-quality granola bars (meaning they don’t have tons of sugar!).
- Carry a bottle of water with you, so you’re not tempted by the soda machine.
- If you buy your lunch at school, ask for a double helping of vegetables and a smaller helping of carbs.
Some ideas for healthy lunch
1. Lemon-Herb Rice Salad
Fresh herbs, like mint and basil, add bursts of fresh flavor to this simple salad. Make sure you leave room for leftovers — the dish tastes even better the next day!
2. Kale and Apple Salad
Antioxidant-rich kale is even better for you when eaten raw. Thin strips are softened in a light lemon dressing, then tossed with the savory-sweet blend of apple, dates, almonds, and cheese. A little pecorino goes a long way in giving this nutritious salad a satisfying depth of flavor.
3. Veggie Lover’s Club Sandwich
Stacked high with veggies, this sandwich is as appealing to look at as it is to eat. With the luscious avocado spread and smoky tofu, there’s no bacon or deli meat required.
4. Vegetarian Chili
Beans and vegetables add a rich bite to this meatless chili. With fiery spices and a dash of hot sauce, it’s guaranteed to power you through the afternoon.
5. Chicken Tacos with Avocado Salad
These quick-and-easy tacos make the perfect midday meal. Packed with protein and veggies — and topped with salsa and sour cream — they’re healthy and flavorful.
6. Pork and Broccoli Grain Bowl
A fresh, slightly spicy grain bowl adds a fun zing to your lunch break. The pork, quinoa, and sweet potato combo are enough to keep you satisfied, but not so heavy that you’ll fall asleep at your desk.
7. Garden Egg Salad
Celery, radishes, romaine, and sprouts add a heart-healthy crunch to this vegetarian lunch. Don’t skip the mustard in this egg salad — just a little bit adds loads of flavor!
8. Salmon with greens
“One of the healthiest lunches you can have is grilled salmon over a colorful salad,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, and author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. “Salmon is high in protein which helps you to feel full and rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids (known as “good fats”). A colorful salad contains an assortment of veggies, which are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and the different colors ensure that you are getting a mix of different nutrients.