In France, we are champions in taking the longest lunch. Studies show that 77% of lunches are longer than 30 minutes when it’s only 33% in the US. And in my case… It’s 90 minutes! That extra time gives endless possibilities: restaurants, take away, delivery… It’s easy to fall in the “eating good” trap and to gain weight way too quickly. But don’t worry, at least your wallet is getting thinner…
When I first started working, my colleagues and me were eating almost 3 times a week in restaurants. Entree, meal, dessert… All served with beer or/and wine: I ended up gaining 8 kg (17 pounds) in only a year (I was 21-22 yo at that time) and not saving any money on my salary. After realizing how critical the situation was, I figured I had to pay better attention to what I was gulping down between two working hours. But it’s not as easy as it may sound…
Why is it so hard to eat a healthy lunch when you are working?
You feel like lunch is not that important
I don’t know about you, but for me, lunch has always been a “left aside” eating moment. I don’t cook for it, I don’t plan ahead for it and I fall easily in the “I’ll see what I’ll want at the moment” state of mind. My company’s office is sitting right next to a huge mall. And with the all kinds of food delivery business taking off in France, you can really get anything you feel like eating without even taking public transportation for it. So why sweat it? You’ll find something anyway…
You have colleagues to mind
“This new fast food has just opened! Let’s check it out!”, “Let’s celebrate my new promotion!”. You have probably already heard those sentences in your colleague’s mouth. And who are you to say no? What about team building? You were going for a salad, but “you’re not gonna take a salad at Mc Donald’s, are you?”
You got caught up in work/you don’t have time
Two important meetings this morning, this huge milestone is set for 2 P.M. Nope, no time to go to the next grocery store and wait in line with your two tomatoes/chicken filet/piece of bread/fruit you thought would make the perfect healthy lunch. Those cookies in the 2nd floor dispenser will do. And the bottle of coke will help you stay focus on what you have to do.
So what can you do to eat healthy at work for cheap?
Prepare meals at home
Hey, you’re a great chef when it comes to dinner. Why should lunch be any different?
Actually, why not having dinner for lunch? When cooking at home, make some few extra portions you can easily bring with you the next day in a lunch box. Don’t have a microwave? Wrong excuse: some recipes are delicious both warm AND cold. Plus, bringing your food with you helps with declining an unexpected restaurant invitation from your colleagues. What about team building? Here’s an idea: make everyone prepare something at home and share (those who don’t like to cook can bring the drinks)!
Go to the right restaurants
Sure, Burger King is way more organized to handle long lines of customers than that cute little organic/gluten free/soup restaurant that is booked for weeks. But healthy food can be fast food too. Look out for salad bars, for example. Choose your lettuce, add two vegetables, some chicken and that honey/vinegar dressing. BAM. Healthy. And in 5 minutes you’re back in your office.
Be smart when ordering deliveries
Okay. Stop looking at that burger picture and get back to that healthy restaurant website that has a delivery service. It’s too expensive? Internet is your friend. Do a Google search with [name of the restaurant/food delivery company] + coupons. Many websites list all the discount codes the company has to offer when a customer orders online. I know in France you will easily get a code for free delivery, for example.
Choose wisely in a grocery store
I hate ready cooked foods with all my heart. They are bad for your health, they are disgusting, they are way too expensive for what they are worth, they end up too hot or too cold and you keep struggling when trying to open them. Seriously, the last time I had them, half of the box ended up in the trash can because I really couldn’t eat it. You can make a good meal with raw ingredients you buy from a grocery store and it is cheaper than delivery or restaurant. Find some vegetables that don’t need cooking (cherry tomatoes, avocados, cucumber, carrots…); buy ham, chicken slices or already cooked shrimps; choose some kind of cereal source (piece of bread, rice crackers, granola bar or wholegrain/no-sugar kind of cookies) and finish with fresh fruits, a fruit salad or a piece of 70% dark chocolate.
Tips and ideas for a healthy lunch
So your journey to healthier and cheaper lunch is almost over. Here are some tips that will help…
Bringing too much food is better than not enough
There is a saying: breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. Lunch will get you through the afternoon, so always eat cereals and some kind of proteins. Otherwise, you’ll get hungry and the lunch problem will turn into the 4 PM snack problem. Bring a big quantity of food: if you have too much, you can either share with your colleagues or keep it in the fridge and eat it the day after.
Keep a fruit basket on your desk
I’m often starving in the morning. Eating a fruit (apples and bananas are the best) at 10 AM will avoid me dying and I won’t throw myself at the first sweet looking thing at noon.
Lunchbox ideas you can make at home (and don’t need to be heated up)
- Salads containing vegetables, some kind of proteins and cereals. Remember to bring the dressing in another container (keeping it together might wither the lettuce).
- Caesar salad
- Pasta salad with chicken, cucumber and cherry tomatoes
- Lamb’s lettuce, duck and red beets salad (and bring a piece of bread)
- Rice salad with eggs, red beans, tomatoes and corn
- Quiches containing vegetables
- Broccoli and chicken
- Spinach and salmon
- Tomato and zucchini
- What I like to call “Buddha box“, not sure if it is a thing (basically a Buddha bowl in a box).
- Sushis, makis, sashimis and california rolls
- Pick your favorite: tuna, salmon, shrimp, eggs, octopus…
- Vegetables: avocado, cucumber, carrots…
- Sandwiches: use whole grain bread or “real bread” rather than soft bread
- Vegetables: tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, cucumber, pickles…
- Proteins: ham, chicken, tuna, eggs…