If you have been working at home for some time, or have found yourself with the fridge in easy reach in recent weeks thanks to COVID, you will be all too aware that what we choose to eat throughout the day not only plays a powerful role in energy regulation but also in weight control. So if you know that your ‘at home’ nutrition needs a little work, here are the easy ways to ensure that you are getting your lunch right, to ensure you are fueled and satisfied throughout the afternoon.
1. Eat your lunch at the right time
The human body is programmed according to a circadian rhythm or 24 hour clock – this means that the body naturally burns more calories during the day when we are most active, and is more likely to store calories at night. Eating late in the day or many hours after your first meal fails to tap into the metabolic boost we naturally get during the first half of the day. For this reason, the earlier you have your lunch, even in place of a late morning snack, the better it will be for fat burning. If you are hungry at 11 or 1130am, eat your lunch then, rather than holding off and then binging on a late lunch and sweet foods at 3 or 4pm because your blood glucose has dropped significantly, leaving you ravenous and prone to overeating.
2. What should I eat for lunch?
Achieving the right lunch balance to support weight control is relatively easy once you know what to aim for. To get the amount of vegetable bulk we need to keep full for 3-4 hours we need at least 2-3 cups of salad and / or vegetables at lunch. Next a decent serve of protein such as canned tuna, lean chicken breast or beef or beans or tofu if you prefer a vegetarian eating plan. The amount of carbohydrate you will need will depend on your level of activity. If you sit down all day for work, just ½ -3/4 cup sweet potato, beans or brown rice or a slice of bread or a few crackers will be adequate, more active workers may require 1-2 cups. Finally do not forget the good fat – olive oil dressing, nuts or avocado will help to slow your digestion after lunch and keep you full. In fact, a recent study published in Nutrition Journal found that individuals who included ½ an avocado with their lunch felt more satisfied and had lower blood glucose levels than dieters who did not.
3. What are some good lunch options?
Working at home means that warm leftovers make a great lunch option, along with wraps and homemade sandwiches that are packed full of lean protein and salad. You may find that adding some extra soup or salad to your lunch meal is an easy way to build a more satisfying lunch. Or if you struggle with food prep check out the growing range of frozen and fresh meal options at supermarkets that clock in at just 300-500 calories and are balanced and satisfying warm options.
4. What does it mean when I crave sugar after lunch?
Some people find that they need something sweet after finishing their lunch. This craving can be attributed to a habit, where you get used to enjoying something sweet after a meal or fluctuating blood glucose levels which can cause sugar cravings. Including a green or herbal tea after a meal may help to manage the cravings, or low sugar sweet options you can include with your lunch include a small piece of biscotti, a small protein ball or a square or two of dark chocolate.
Some of the best lunch choices
Soup and a sandwich
Not only will the vegetable bulk in the soup help to keep you full but the serve of carbs and protein via some egg, tuna or chicken on a sandwich or wrap will fill you for several hours. The key is to make sure the sandwich or wrap are small, not the jumbo size serves we generally have access to in food courts.
A substantial salad
2-3 cups of salad ingredients along with a palm sized portion of protein such as chicken breast, lean lamb, salmon or a couple of eggs and a decent serve of carbs via a slice of wholegrain bread, ½ – 1 cup brown rice, sweet potato or beans along with some good fat will keep you satisfied for several hours. . And remember that you are always better to make your own salad as food court options tend to be packed with extra fats and calories coming from cheese, nuts and lashings of dressing.
The perfect mix includes 1-2 brown rice rolls served with sashimi, Edamame and seaweed salad so you achieve a low calorie, high protein lunch that will satisfy you until late afternoon.
The beauty with leftovers is not only that they are cost effective but you can completely control your calorie intake and as it is lunch you can also include a decent serve of carbs via rice, pasta or potato without impacting your weight loss attempts. You may have also noticed that enjoying a hot meal at lunch is much more satisfying than a comparatively unappealing salad or sandwich that you have been used to grabbing for years if not decades. Good options include stir fry with brown rice, a serve of pasta with tuna and salad or mini frittata muffins and salad.
Chances are you have never thought about eating a potato for lunch let alone at work but if you consider that a single potato is a perfect portion of carbs; you can cook it in minutes in the microwave and then stuff it with your favourite protein – tuna, salmon, chicken or beans and top it with delicious sides such as avo, cheese, a little sour cream, chili or mayo and serve with salad, a stuffed potato goes down as one of the cheapest and most filling lunches there is.
This post was written by dietician Susie Burrell, founder of Susie Burrell.