Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
One of the ultimate comfort foods, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are better as an after-school snack for your kids than they are for a lunch in the middle of your working day. Although undeniably yummy, they’re not the most satisfying sandwiches and, unless you eat enough to put yourself into a carb coma, might leave you hungry.
It might be super-tasty but the combination of rich meat sauce with carb-heavy pasta is a surefire way to guarantee a sleepy afternoon. If you really can’t resist the flavors, try lentil bolognaise sauce with wholewheat spaghetti. Alternatively, why not crack open that spiralizer and make your own zucchini spaghetti?
They’re the perfect option if you didn’t bring a packed lunch – right? And, while they are hot, tasty and very convenient, it’s easy to over-indulge. Before you know where you are, you may well have scoffed a whole day’s worth of calories in one 30 minute lunch break.
Cream-rich soups are hard to digest, making them a poor choice if you need to be on the ball in the afternoon. They’re also fairly likely to contain a goodly helping of “quick release” energy sources like potatoes. These are guaranteed to have you craving a chocolate bar before mid-afternoon rolls around.
Meat feast pizza
A meat feast pizza is almost guaranteed to be a smorgasbord of additive-laced, nutritionally-slight, white flour, sugary tomato sauce, greasy cheese, and fatty, over-salted meat. If you can, opt for a thin-crust Napolitana pizza, with freshly-made tomato sauce, a scattering of mozzarella and plenty of fresh tomatoes.
Bagel with cream cheese
Although one of the ultimate comfort foods, a bagel with cream cheese isn’t ideal for lunch. Unless you choose a multigrain, wholewheat bagel topped with something like cashew cheese (which probably defeats the object in choosing bagel and cream cheese in the first place), you risk spending the afternoon feeling a little bloated and yet still peckish……
Yes, they’re a convenient option that requires little to no forethought. However, as is often the case, convenience comes at a price. And, with store-bought sandwiches, that price is the nutritional quality of what you’ll be consuming. Expect processed white bread and fillings that are high in salt, other preservatives, and additives.
Let’s be frank: the average microwave meal has nothing more going for it than convenience and heat – and the latter only applies if you’ve heated it through properly. Most store-bought microwave meals are additive-rich and nutrient-light, and definitely not what you need to power yourself through the afternoon.
Crackers and cheese
Yes, cheese and crackers have a valid place in your diet. However, that place is best saved for a quick snack or after-dinner treat. It’s simply not a sufficiently substantial combination to make a good lunch. That said, add a few extras – try avocado, tuna or lean meat – and watch the amount of cheese and you might have the makings of a decent meal.
Although almost certainly full of valuable vitamins, a fruit smoothie falls short as lunch in other ways. High in natural sugars and low in soluble fibre, it’s likely to cause a spike in your blood sugar levels and make you hungry again very quickly. Vegetable juices with added flaxseed are a better alternative.
Who could say no to a cheeseburger! However, just think about the typical constituent ingredients: processed meat patties, processed cheese, a slew of high sugar and salt condiments, and a white flour bun. All in all, what better way to guarantee an afternoon nap. It lacks the same comfort factor but a turkey patty served with greens on rye is a tasty and good-for-you alternative.
Whether your French fries come with a burger or by themselves, they’re not lunch – and you know this. However, in case you need reminding: fries have a high glycemic index (which means you’ll feel hungry sooner), they’re cooked in fats that are bad for heart health and, as if to add insult to injury, they’re probably coated in salt.
The refined ingredients and processed fats push potato chips right down the healthy eating scale. While you might assume that deep fried chips are the worst culprits, neither air fried nor baked versions are great either. Essentially, you’re eating empty calories with little nutritional value. Worse, you’re eating empty calories that will help you pack on the pounds. Make them a very occasional lunchtime treat.
A “clean eating” favorite, green juices do have something to recommend them – and that’s their vitamin content. However, they are not a meal replacement. In particular, the absence of proteins and fat is likely to mean you’re left unsatisfied and looking for something else to eat.
Definitely a winner when it comes to making up burgers for a backyard barbeque, you’ll nonetheless want to approach iceberg lettuce with caution at lunchtime. There’s nothing wrong with it, of course – but there’s also nothing much to it. As a result, whether it’s in a sandwich or a salad, it’s invariably accompanied by a range of high-fat, creamy and sleep-inducing additions.
Mac and cheese
Another prime comfort food, mac and cheese is hard to beat. And, if you’re working from home, what could be easier than reaching for a quick-to-make box of the stuff! However, persuade yourself to swap white flour macaroni for gluten-free rice pasta and add some healthy extras (try walnuts, fresh peas or red onion) and you’ll have a far more nutritious lunch.
Deep-fried and sugar-glazed, it’s easy to appreciate a doughnut’s attraction. However, don’t be tempted – especially at lunchtime. Unless you’re abstemious enough to opt for a mini version, the size of the average doughnut means you’ll be too full of the sweet doughy treat to eat anything that’s any good for you. And then the inevitable sugar crash could see you reaching for another doughnut…..
Let’s clarify what we mean by muffins. We’re not referring to English muffins, toasted and eaten with butter; we’re talking about the large, cake-like creations sold in coffee shops and diners across the land. Even if they’re labelled “blueberry” or “lemon and poppy seed”, those healthy ingredients come with a large side helping of fats and sugars. None of this equates to a sensible lunch.
It’s hard to argue against a hard-boiled egg’s place in your lunch menu. High in protein and fat, it’ll keep you feeling full for longer and, provided you don’t eat too many, you don’t need to worry too much about the cholesterol content. What you do need to think about, however, is the smell – at least if you share a workplace kitchen!
Meal replacement shakes
“Meal replacement shakes” is a misnomer. Although a good one will contain the right mix of nutrients, it’s never going to convince your brain that you’ve just enjoyed a satisfying meal. This alone is likely to see you graze your way through the afternoon, potentially consuming more calories than if you’d had a regular lunch in the first place.
Meal replacement bars
Just as with meal replacement shakes, a meal replacement bar is never going to convince your brain that you’ve had a satisfying meal. As a one-off, quick refuelling effort, a meal replacement bar is probably all right. However, as lunch? You’re likely to be looking for something else to eat within the hour.
Freezing is an excellent way to store certain foods. However, very few of them make ideal lunch fodder. If you find yourself freezer diving at lunchtime, there’s a very good chance that you’re about to make yourself a classic beige meal of fries and nuggets or fishfingers. High in refined carbs, processed meat, salt and other additives, it definitely won’t be a nutritionally-rich meal.
Too many simple carbs
Sometimes, there’s nothing nicer than a piece of toast slathered in butter, or a bowl of pasta with olive oil and parmesan. However, when consuming carbs – especially so-called “simple”, or highly processed ones – it’s important to remember that they have a high glycemic index. In a nutshell, this means you’ll be hungry again far more quickly than the number of calories you’ve eaten might suggest.
While we’d never decry the joys of a big bowl of ice cream, there’s a time and place. And that time and place is not lunchtime in the middle of the working or school day. Much better to save it for a sunny afternoon on the beach or a cozy evening on the couch.
Last night’s takeaway
It’s great to be frugal with food. However, it’s not always the best idea to reheat a takeaway that perhaps wasn’t top of the nutritional charts to begin with. Then there’s the food safety issue. Reheating any food is potentially problematic and a takeaway that may already have been reheated more than once is even riskier.
We get it: cake is a common feature of most workplaces. And, while it’s lovely to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday, new baby, engagement, imminent retirement and so on, don’t let the cake form your lunch. As well as not being great for your health and weight, all that sugar and fat will make you slow and sleepy in the afternoon.
Often touted as a healthy option perhaps due to its general lack of rich cheesy sauces, you still approach a pasta salad with caution. If it’s made with processed white pasta, no amount of accompanying vegetables can prevent the mid-afternoon energy slump that awaits you. If you’re still tempted, make sure you include lean protein, like tuna or salmon, and opt for wholewheat pasta.
Eating leftover rice at any time is a potential risk. To avert the chance of serious food poisoning, you must be sure it was cooked properly, cooled quickly, refrigerated promptly and kept chilled until you’re ready to reheat it thoroughly. In a workplace environment, keeping rice chilled and reheating it properly may be challenging.
Freshly-made deli sandwiches look very appealing. And, assuming the ingredients are fresh, they’re usually a better choice than a pre-made grocery store alternative. However, beware of the quantities of cheese, bologna, mayonnaise and other fatty treats as it’s easy to over-indulge without realizing. Watch out, too, for the type of bread. Once again, whole grains are the preferable option.
Vending machine snacks
At one time or another, most of us have relied on a vending machine for a meal. That said, given the contents of the average vending machine, it should be your option of last resort. Chips, cookies, candy and soda are typical products – and definitely won’t give you the right sort of fuel for a productive afternoon.
If you’re fond of baked goods in general and pastries in particular, it can be hard to resist their siren call. Unfortunately, pastries made with white flour provide quick-release energy, which will be see you hungry again in no time. Add this to the fact that most pastries contain sugary or salty fillings and it’s easy to see why they’re not the healthiest lunch option.
You’re probably already well aware that fried foods are not good for your arteries or your waistline. Even when cooked in healthier fats, like olive oil, it’s still not a brilliant option. If you must indulge, stick to those healthier oils and pan fry rather than deep fry. Even better, use an air fryer for a similar taste with much less artery-clogging fat.
Refined white bread, pasta or rice
Once considered luxury foodstuffs for the wealthy, many people now regard refined white bread, pasta and rice with suspicion. One of the reasons for this is their high glycemic index. This means they prompt a spike in blood sugars, which is then rapidly followed by a corresponding slump – leaving you hungrier than ever.
A diner-style omelette is delicious. And, of course, its protein content (the eggs) will help keep you feeling full for longer. However, watch out for all the extras. Yes, the cheese, ham, butter and salt elevate the dish beyond anything you create at home. Unfortunately, they also make it an easy way to eat far more calories than you realize – and end up sleepily full…..
Potentially, fresh sushi is a healthy lunch option that will satiate you and keep you feeling perky all afternoon. However, some takeaway options are high in refined carbs, unhealthy fats, and salt. It can be hard to tell the difference but choosing sashimi (just the fish) or sushi made with brown rice and without the extra sauces can help.
You might think that a veggie burger is a healthier option than a meat burger. And, sometimes, this is true. However, the trouble with many veggie burgers is that it’s hard to know what’s in them. The worst offenders hide a multitude of bad fats, salt and additives. Then there’s the bun – usually made from processed white flour – plus cheese, mayo and ketchup.
You can’t go wrong with a pre-made salad for lunch, surely! Actually, it depends. If it’s genuinely just a salad consisting of leafy greens, tomatoes and so on, it’s unlikely to keep you going through the afternoon. And if it’s topped with cheese, bacon or mayo, the fat content may be too high. Look, instead, for something with lean chicken, tuna or seeds.
Let’s be frank: sugary cereals aren’t a good option at any time of day. Aside from the potential damage to your teeth, your waistline and your arteries, they’re yet another food with a high glycemic index. As a result, you’ll be reaching for a second bowlful before your mid-afternoon tea break.
Lunch meats are cold cuts of meat that are precooked or cured and typically served in sandwiches or with salad. The umami taste factor is high but, so too, are the fat and salt contents. If you’re looking for a healthier lunch option, this definitely isn’t the one for you.
Whether it’s a chocolatey pudding cup, a vanilla one or some other flavor, it’s more of a morsel than a meal. And, what’s more, it’s a morsel that’s laced with sugar and fat. Fine as an occasional post-meal treat but absolutely no good as a meal in itself.