Nutrition Articles

Lunch Strategies for Work

The Best Choices When You Don't Have Time to Pack

If you've read "Fun and Filling Lunches To-Go" then you already have some great ideas for packing a healthy, filling, and tasty lunch. But some days, packing your own meal isn't an option. When you're not able to brown-bag it, don’t let that excuse derail your healthy diet! Instead, make smart choices:
  • If your only option is fast food, pick a broiled chicken breast sandwich, but skip the high-fat sauces. Or, try the salad bar, but keep portions of dressing, cheese, and high-fat meats (like pepperoni) under control. Limit mayonnaise salads, including coleslaw, potato, egg and chicken salads. Beware of all-you-can-eat “deals” that will sabotage your hard-won healthy choices.
  • For appetizers, avoid the crispy, creamy, and cheesy, and go for to broth-based soups or fresh fruit cups. Better yet, pick a healthy appetizer (a thin-crust veggie pizza, for example) as your entrée.
  • In choosing an entrée, look for keywords: grilled, steamed, poached, and broiled. Order with special instructions such as light on the sauces or butter, sauce on the side (so you can control the portions), or simply no sauce. "Cajun" or "blackened" items usually make good choices, because they are spicy, but low in fat.
  • Keep portion sizes realistic. You may even find it helpful to ask for a to-go box with your order so that you can divide your food immediately after it comes, thus avoiding the temptation to continue nibbling after you’re really full.
  • Try to avoid  vending machines. If it’s your only option (or you’re just tempted beyond belief), choose the healthier items: wheat crackers, pretzels, yogurt, string cheese, or dried fruit. If there are no healthy choices—take the initiative! Survey your fellow workers, then submit a respectful request that machines include at least a few healthy items.

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Member Comments

    I usually take lunch. My biggest problems are the day when I have no leftovers from the night before. On theses days I will either wait until I return home after work to eat or I will pick up some fresh fruit to hold me over. I'm trying to do better.
  • Thank you for sharing this article. I pack my lunches 99.9% of the time. For a couple of reasons. #1. Cost. It is expensive buying out all the time. #2. I find it much healthier. I know exactly what is in it when I make it myself. I love that this article reminds us to stay focused on what we eat and has reasonable options to keeping this practical. Once again thank you. :)
  • I pack my "lunch" 99% of the time, mainly because I don't really have access to other options except the Hospital Cafeteria or snack bar, and they are EXPENSIVE!
  • good article. thank you
  • Nice suggestions. It is good to plan for emergencies, but better to have some ideas for those times when you don't have emergency rations! Thank you!
  • When I don't pack lunch, I go to the supermarket near my workplace during my break.
    There, I have a wide range of healthy foods I can choose from.

    Shift work is one of the worst for not being able to get a healthy lunch. When I was working in a small community hospital there was only the cafeteria and it was a crap shoot if they would have healthy options or not, as it had been contracted out. It also was not open 24/7. With only a 30 minute lunch break you can be truly stuck.

    Congratulations if you're super-organized and never have any last minute emergencies happening at your house - I'm not that fortunate.
  • 4A-HEALTHY-BMI : the answer is simple, could be any reason one of these a combination of these something I didn't think of

    8 hour work shift gotta eat ...

    work downtown where a proper restaurant might not be available or will be too full to serve you before your lunch break is over...

    not enough $$ for anything nearby that is not cheap fastfood

    gotta run and no time to pack a lunch to something unexpected like maybe hospital to take care of a friend ... 4 hr drive to pick up a friend/family member who's ride bailed on them,

    forgot/ruined the lunch you made time i brought two boiled eggs and chives, ripped the egg open da da da egg had gone bad before i hard boiled it ... at the time i worked smack dab center montreal downtown and there was NO way i was going to eat anything healthy unless i took the rest of the day off to get to a place and be served, but i had to eat or work is more stressful and than i gorge when i get home so I had mcdonald's ... on a side note i JUST had the sandwich doubled up on the veggies and added no sauce but that's just making the best of what's available. but atleast i performed well at work, made the best of what was available and didn't eat like 3 dinners when i get home
  • Can someone explain how fast food might be a person's only food option?

    This would only happen to me if I ran out of low-carb protein bars, and I carry enough to last me 24 hours, if necessary (after getting stuck in airports, etc.)

    Seems to me that most of these "less unhealthy" options can simply be avoided with proper planning and preparation. But what do I know - I've only lost 180 lbs...

  • Great, simple steps that are easy to forget! Thanks for the reminders! Making good food choices when eating out can make a BIG difference in your calorie count for the day. And the to-go box to control portion size is great!
  • Good article. However, to me, Cajun and Blackened dishes always seemed to have a lot of salt. If this is my misconception, please let me know.
    Phew! I just read this article in the nick of time! I was just about to head down to the vending machine for a bag of chips! LOL!!!

About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.