When hunger strikes at the office, it helps to be prepared to keep your nutritional goals on the right path.
Eating lunch – or dinner, depending on your schedule – during the work day is a given for most people. Snacking is probably also part of the office routine.
To make healthy food choices, it's a good idea to build out a meal and snack plan for the day or the week.
"I typically recommend creating a plan for the following day before heading off to bed. Think about what your schedule entails for the upcoming day and schedule your meals and snacks accordingly," said Kristen Smith, a dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
A day of nutritious eating can begin before arriving at the office. Eating breakfast within an hour or two of waking up may help boost your metabolism and control hunger later in the day, Smith said.
Healthy eating can yield benefits in the long run. Research shows a poor diet is associated with deaths from heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Here are three steps to eat healthy at work.
When it's time for a coffee break, keep it simple without adding too many extra ingredients, and empty calories, to your cup of joe. Try to limit added sugar to 1 teaspoon per cup, Smith said.
Added sugars result in extra calories that can lead to extra pounds and possibly obesity, which can impact heart health.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting total added sugar to 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women and 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams) for men.
Remember creamers or syrups may add sugar, as well. Consider skipping the creamer and instead add your favorite cow or nut milk, Smith said.
"For added flavor without all the calories, sprinkle some cinnamon or a dash of vanilla extract in your coffee," she said.
And rather than heading to a nearby coffee shop, opt for a cup brewed in the break room at work or sip some sparkling water you've brought from home. It will help you avoid unwanted calories of fancy coffee drinks.
Pack a lunch
Bringing your own lunch to the office eliminates the stress of trying to make healthy choices when eating out.
Consider taking at least a 15- to 20-minute break away from your desk to eat your lunch so you don't fall into the habit of "mindless eating" while working, which can reduce satisfaction and lead to overeating, Smith said.
For a balanced lunch, include a lean protein, a fruit or vegetable and a whole grain item. It will help you reach daily nutrition goals and keep you feeling full.
If a salad is your favorite healthy lunch food, opt for a dark green leafy base and top it with other vegetables and a lean protein such as chicken or fish. For vegetarians, beans, quinoa or tofu can serve as a lunch protein. Remember, dressings and other additions can add fat and calories.
Aim for half of your plate to be vegetables, whether a dark green salad, raw vegetables or steamed vegetables.
Healthy cooking at home for dinner can provide leftovers for easy, budget-friendly lunches at the office the next day, reducing the need to eat out. Restaurant eating can lead to excessive sodium in your diet because many restaurant and fast food items are loaded with sodium, Smith said. The AHA's recommended daily intake of sodium is no more than 2,300 milligrams, and it's best to move toward an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults.
When you do eat lunch at a restaurant for a business meeting or social get-together, keep in mind a few healthy tips for eating out: Try to avoid fried foods and choose plenty of fruits and vegetables. If a restaurant's portions are large, limit the amount of food you eat and ask for a to-go box. Or, check to see if there are lunch specials offering smaller portions.
It's important to listen to your stomach for signs of hunger. Eating every three to five hours typically helps to keep hunger under control, Smith said. For most people, that means eating a snack about two to three hours after a meal.
Does the office vending machine seem tempting at snack time? To avoid those chips and candy bars – and all the sugar, fat and calories – pack snacks from home containing fiber and protein to help keep you feeling satiated longer, Smith said.
Consider bringing unsalted nuts, Greek yogurt, low-fat cheese, whole grain crackers, unbuttered popcorn, fruit or raw vegetables to the office.
Keep extras in your desk drawer or chilled in the office refrigerator. That way nutritious food is handy if you find yourself hungrier than usual. If you don't need them today, the nutritious snacks will be there tomorrow.
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