It’s National Workplace Wellbeing Day this Friday 28th April and Heather will be on Virgin Media bright and early sharing her tips on eating healthily at work, whether your workplace is at home, in the office or a mixture of both.
Lack of time is a common problem
Many of us will eat at least one, if not two meals during work several days per week, a good chunk of our overall food intake. Post-Covid, many of us have adapted hybrid working practices and might be working from home more. In theory this makes things easier, and studies show it can allow more time for exercise and cooking. However, in practice meals and especially lunch can be even more rushed when working from home, without the benefit of the staff canteen or nearby cafes to grab a healthy lunch, or colleagues to drag us away from our desk. Hybrid working can also make it more difficult for employers to offer as many options as before and potentially fewer healthy choices. So, what can we do to eat healthily at work?
Have a healthy breakfast to set you up for the day
It can be tempting to grab a slice of toast for breakfast as we run out the door or turn on the laptop. But taking even 10 minutes to have or prepare a healthy breakfast to bring with you can get your day off to a much better start and fuel you for longer. This can also be done the night before. Including protein – like eggs, nuts, seeds, yoghurt means that our breakfast will fuel us for longer. Some breakfast options:
- Natural yoghurt, berries, low sugar granola
- Porridge or overnight oats with ground linseeds and fruit
- Slice of wholegrain toast with nut butter and banana
- Wholegrain cereal with seeds or nuts and fruit
- Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomato, slice wholegrain bread.
Plan ahead AKA cook once, eat twice!
Getting organised and planning meals ahead of time can save a huge amount of money, hassle and time at lunchtime. One of the easiest ways to do this is to plan your dinners first. If you cook extra at dinner, you can use that for your lunch the next day. Spending a little time in the evening or weekend cooking a batch of soup or chopping or roasting some veg for salads means you will have easy and quick options on hand during a busy week.
If you don’t have time to cook or prepare lunch in advance, there are good options available to buy, like tomato-based soups, salad bowls, and ready meals or stir fry mixes packed with veg. If you don’t have facilities to heat food at work, use a food flask to keep food warm.
A little bit of advance planning and prep will make it much easier to have a healthy lunch in a working week. It should also take some of the stress and work out of dinner time if you just need to check what’s on the plan, maybe take something out of the fridge or pick some ingredients up in your lunch break.
Some healthy lunch options for work:
- Carrot and lentil soup
- Salad jar
- Leftovers from dinner
- ‘not’ pot noodles
- Wholegrain pitta or wrap with goat’s cheese, red pesto and rocket
Build in some breaks and even some exercise at work
Taking breaks during the day helps to increase concentration and productivity. But whether at home or in the office, it can be tempting to rush through lunch at your desk, while sorting out emails or even skip lunch altogether. It might seem like skipping meals is a good idea in terms of increasing work time or decreasing weight. But you may be shooting yourself in the foot if you do this. Going for long periods without eating can have a negative effect on concentration, mood and energy and if you go for too long without eating, you may just end up eating more later in the day.
Try to take regular breaks throughout the day, at least every couple of hours, for your head and body. Try to take at least 20 – 30 minutes at lunch and ideally longer and get away from your desk. Studies show that eating at your desk means you feel hungry more quickly afterwards and it can lead to overeating and weight gain. The social aspect of catching up with colleagues is also great for mental health. If you can encourage some colleagues to join you for a short brisk walk after lunch, even better!
It’s not just about food. Think about healthy options to drink too….
Hydration is important for concentration and energy and many people struggle to drink enough water while working. Ironically it is often more of an issue at home, even though the kitchen tap may only be a few steps away. Try to get into the habit of starting the day with a glass of water and then topping yourself up throughout the day. Having a water bottle, ideally glass or metal rather than plastic, on your desk can help to remind you to keep yourself topped up. Herbal tea like peppermint, chamomile or fruit tea is also a great way of increasing hydration levels.
While some caffeine is ok for most of us, it is a stimulant. Too much can have a negative effect on concentration and sleep and its diuretic effect means that it can reduce hydration levels at high amounts. Many of us drink more caffeine (in tea including green tea, coffee and colas) while at work. Try to limit yourself to 2 or 3 cups by lunchtime and then go for caffeine-free options.
Talk to your employer
Most employers are very focused on supporting their employee’s health and wellbeing as much as possible. Evidence shows that this increases productivity and staff retention, so there is a commercial reason for doing this too. But it can be difficult for employees to know what will work best. Often health initiatives, even ones that are requested, will not be taken up, which makes it difficult to justify additional spend.
Talk to your employer about what would be helpful, within reason. Could they switch to a caterer or vending machine operator offering healthier options? Can they improve facilities for people bringing in their own food – more storage, cutlery and crockery, outdoor seating….? Could they increase distribution of water coolers or offer a range on non-caffeinated drinks like herbal teas? If space is an issue, could they offer vouchers to health cafes nearby, contribute to gym membership, allow more flexibility around lunch breaks or organise a lunchtime walking club …… There are lots of small things that can make a big positive difference, many of them low cost.
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