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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

Here's the Easiest-Ever Guide to Eating Healthier at Work

Odds are that you eat one meal a day at work (hello, lunch break). Maybe you also eat breakfast at your desk, too. Or, perhaps you’re working nights on a project with a fast-approaching deadline so you have dinner in the office a few nights in a row as well.

And, let’s be real, you usually have a mid-morning snack or late afternoon pick-me-up at some point, too. Oh, and don’t forget to add happy hour with your team.

Welp, there you have it. You don’t even need a dining set, because you officially eat all of your meals at the office. With the work-eat-work-eat-drink cycle on repeat, it can feel like you’re stuck in an unhealthy cycle of consumption. At that point, it starts to feel like, what’s one more cookie? Or wing? Or chip?

But maintaining some healthy habits during the workday doesn’t have to be another dreaded task—you can easily make better choices that will keep you energized all day long. Emphasis on easy.

1. Simplify Your Concept of Breakfast

I don’t need to tell you that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day.” And yes, I know how challenging it can be to find any extra time in the morning—even to eat. But the proof truly is in the oatmeal here (sorry, nutritionist humor).

According to Sarah Romotsky, a registered dietitian and Director of Health and Wellness at the International Food Information Council, “Breakfast kickstarts your metabolism and provides necessary fuel and nutrients. Skipping breakfast is the fastest way to lose focus, energy, and patience in that long mid-morning meeting. Look for quick and easy meals that contain at least 25 grams of protein to keep you feeling full and satisfied.”

Here are my best AM recipes. And no, don’t let the word recipes scare you.

Easy: Prep a container of overnight oats the night before. It takes three minutes to mix up equal parts oats and milk, a scoop of chia seeds, and a handful of your favorite fruit and nuts in a mason jar. Refrigerate. And then, the next morning, you will be greeted by a delicious and creamy concoction.

Easier: Let your microwave and toaster do the work for you! No seriously, don’t even touch the stove. Mix an egg or two in a small bowl and pop it in the microwave for 60 seconds. While that’s “cooking,” toast a whole grain piece of bread. By the time you get dressed, all you need to do is place the egg on top of the bread and add a slice of cheese (and a dash of hot sauce, if you’re feeling adventurous).

Easiest: If these meals (still) seems like too much, on-the-go breakfast items such as yogurt or breakfast bars are great options. Just make sure to choose the healthy versions.

2. Be Lazy With Your Lunches

Let’s be honest: You’re probably going to eat something unhealthy if you don’t pack a lunch. Because by the time you’re ready to eat, you’ll down anything that’s fast (and cheap). So, do yourself a favor and pack it.

If you have dinner leftovers, this is really a no-brainer! But, if cooking’s not your thing, try coming up with easy-to-assemble lunches that you can literally grab and go.

For example:

Easy: Pick up frozen veggies, lean protein, complex carbs (I like frozen brown rice), and greens, and combine. Bonus tip: Leave the dressing at work so it’s always there for you.

Easier: Grab a can of tuna, whole grain crackers, and fruit.

Easiest: Keep a jar of peanut butter at your desk, your favorite jelly in the office fridge, and a loaf of bread in the freezer so you can whip up a classic PB&J when hunger strikes.

3. Snack Wisely (and Often)

3 PM hits, and you’re starving. To fuel yourself through the rest of the day, gravitate toward balanced snack options that are a mix of complex carbs, protein, and fat.

Romotsky says snacks get a bad rap: “Eating between meals ensures that you aren’t going into your next meal ravenous and making poor decisions on food choice and portion size. When you’re really hungry, sometimes our eyes win over our head in terms of what we decide to eat. Snacking will help make sure your head wins, at least most of the time!”

Some good options include:

Easy: Prepare sliced fruits and veggies with a scoop of nut butter.

Easier: Combine Greek yogurt and granola.

Easiest: Buy trail mix.

You should also take this time to get up out of your chair. Take a 15-minute walk, do a quick set of stretches, or some office-friendly exercises such as desk pushups, chair dips, and squats. Nothing crazy enough to work up a sweat or wrinkle nice clothes, but enough to make you feel refreshed and renewed.

4. Make (Semi-) Smart Decisions at Happy Hour

Happy hour can easily turn into “hangry hour” if you haven’t eaten in a while and you start drinking on an empty stomach.

Here are some tips to make sure happy hour stays, well, happy:

Easy: Choose red wine or seltzer-based drinks. Red wine has the added benefits of flavonoids, antioxidants that promote heart health. And drinks made with seltzer are usually a little bit better for you.

Easier: Gravitate toward options that are protein heavy. Enjoying a cheese platter (calcium!) or dips with some crudité is a great place to start.

Easiest: Don’t show up hungry. (Yes, this is where your new, healthy office snacks come in handy.)

If incorporating all of these changes at once sounds daunting, don’t worry! Try one or two out at first and then add in another as it works best for your habits and lifestyle. Adding these hacks to your workday will make you not only healthier, but more productive during the day.

Photo of eating at work courtesy of Shutterstock.