When life gets busy, eating right can be hard to do. Our increasingly chaotic lifestyles are jam-packed with so many long hours working, taking care of families, trying to maintain healthy relationships, and many other responsibilities that it's often difficult to find the time to take care of ourselves. One of the first things that gets put on the back-burner is eating healthy and getting enough physical activity. However, health should be a priority in all of our lives. With a little planning and self-discipline, making quick but healthy lunches and snacks can be as easy as pie (but I'm not suggesting you choose pie). Consider the easy options below the next time you pack a lunch to take to work or know you have a long busy day ahead of you.
Wraps and sandwiches are great because they take little time to prepare and are travel-friendly. They also allow you to incorporate some of your favorite vegetables and can contain a mixture of fuels (carbohydrates, protein, and fat). Use whole-wheat bread or a whole-grain tortilla or wrap (Flat-Out wraps work wonderfully) and add a lean meat or protein such a sliced turkey or chicken (or beans or tofu if you're a vegetarian). Throw in a slice of reduced-free cheese, an abundance of veggies, and some mustard or light mayonnaise.
Tuna, salmon, chicken, and crab salads make for quick, simple, tasty lunches. Prepare with low-fat mayonnaise (try the kind made with olive oil) or nonfat Greek yogurt, your favorite chopped vegetables (green onions, pickles, radishes, bell peppers, celery and carrots work well and provide some crunch). Adding chopped nuts to these salads will provide a dose of heart-healthy fats, fiber, protein and minerals. Eat the salad between two slices of whole-wheat bread, in a whole-grain wrap or pita pocket, or with some whole-grain crackers. Add a piece of fruit and a glass of skim milk or non-fat yogurt and you've got a complete, well-balanced, healthy meal.
Another quick, easy lunch option that requires no refrigeration is a microwavable pouch of whole-grain brown rice. Uncle Ben's "Ready Rice" pouches, which you microwave in the pouch for just 90 seconds, are a great start to a fast, healthy, delicious meal. You can add your own seasonings, or if you are really strapped for time, pick one that is already flavored. Just be sure to choose a whole-grain variety over the white rice varieties (which usually come in more flavors). Some of the whole-grain varieties come in chicken-flavored or Santa-Fe-flavored packs. There are similar microwavable pouches sold by other brands, so check what's available wherever you buy groceries. A 1-cup serving of these types of microwavable rice pouches has about 190-220 calories and serves as a healthy vehicle for a well-balanced meal. Add plenty of chopped veggies, cooked chicken breast, tofu, tuna or other lean protein source, and top with reduced-fat shredded cheese for a complete meal.
Additionally, be sure to always plan ahead for a sneak snack-attack. Hunger pangs tend to strike mid- to late-afternoon as our blood sugar and serotonin levels drop, causing us to crave carbohydrates to refuel. If you're not prepared, you may find yourself reaching for whatever fat- and calorie-laden leftovers are sitting in the office break-room. Ideally, your meals and snacks should contain a mixture of complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and a little healthy fat.
Here are few quick, easy, healthy snack items to have on hand. You may need to store some in your office's break-room fridge,but you can stash other shelf-stable options in your purse, car, desk, or locker at work. Reach for these when a snack-attack sneaks up on you:
- Light string cheese and a piece of fruit
- Peanut butter paired with whole-grain crackers or an apple
- Beef jerky and whole-grain cereal
- Sliced turkey with reduced-fat cheese and mustard and a handful of baby carrots
- Trail mix made w/whole-grain cereal or crackers, dried fruit, and nuts
- Instant packs of plain oatmeal, topped with nuts and a dash of cinnamon
- Canned soups (look for light versions and those with lower sodium)
- Nonfat yogurt topped w/ granola or pretzels
- Granola bars (choose those that are high in fiber and have less sugar)
- Hummus with whole-grain crackers or pita bread, or cut-up vegetables
- Pouches of tuna or salmon with whole-grain crackers or rice cakes
- A couple of hard-boiled eggs and a whole-wheat toast
- Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese topped with sliced pineapple or cucumber
A snack in the mid- to late-afternoon can help stave off hunger and provide you with a much-needed energy boost. Healthy snacking has also been proven to prevent overeating later in the day, which tends to happen when you eat too few calories throughout the day and overcompensate by binging in the evening.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.