You had the best of lunch intentions. But then a last-minute [insert mini crisis here] interfered with your Sunday meal planning. And then at work on Monday, you’re reminded that the team is headed to [insert notoriously unhealthy restaurant here] for Karen’s birthday. On Tuesday, you still haven’t found time to get to the grocery for lunch ingredients, and, thanks to back-to-back-to-back meetings, there’s no time to leave the office for food, which means you’re forced to hit up the vending machines for a quick processed snack.
With a busy work schedule and a full plate at home, it might seem impossible to plan, prep and pack a healthy lunch for every workday. Going out every lunch hour to find something suitable to eat probably costs more time and money than you care to spend. So what’s a hungry (and health-conscious) employee to do?
Here’s an idea: Try starting a "healthy lunch club." Chances are you’re not the only one at the office struggling to find that work-lunch balance. By joining forces with like-minded and equally lunch-challenged co-workers, you can increase the quality of your midday meals so both your body and brain get the fuel they need while your taste buds also reap the rewards. As an added bonus, you’ll save time and money while creating new connections with your co-workers. Plus, the club takes all the guesswork out of what’s for lunch, which is one less (big) decision you’ll have to make during your busy workday.
What Is a Healthy Lunch Club?
In a healthy lunch club, employees take turns each day bringing in nutritious meals to share with all of the members. If there are five members, for example, each person would be assigned one weekday to bring in a meal for the group. This way, everyone gets a different healthy meal every day, but each person only has to prep and cook once. If this sounds too ambitious, consider meeting once a week to start. Or, if you need consistency, rotate who brings the main dish and sides to make the commitment more manageable.
In addition to the obvious nutrition benefits, a healthy lunch club can help encourage co-workers to interact socially and foster a more positive and collaborative environment.
Getting a healthy lunch club up and running doesn’t have to require a lot of time or planning—simply send an email to the group explaining the concept and inviting them to participate. Once you have a list of those who are interested, you can create a simple schedule on a shared calendar and then circulate it to the group. You might also consider reaching out to your Human Resources department to help get it up and running, particularly if your company is open to health initiatives.
8 Tips for a Successful Lunch Club
- Keep it small (and manageable). It might be tempting to include as many people as possible to cut down on the number of days that each member has to cook. However, if the group gets too large, each person will have quite a task on their hands when their assigned day rolls around. Try to keep the group at eight or fewer members.
- Start with a planning meeting. The group should meet to discuss ground rules and guidelines. For example, will you set a price limit for each meal? Who will manage the schedule? Are there any ingredients that should be used sparingly, or not at all? Are there any "rules" as to how many servings of fruits, veggies, carbs, et cetera are served? What time will lunch be served each day? This meeting should be an open forum to ask and answer these and any other questions that arise to ensure that clear expectations are set.
- Do a kitchen inventory. Does your office kitchen have enough space and amenities to accommodate prepping, serving and storing lunch en masse each day? Will you need to bring in any tools or equipment from members’ homes, such as a slow cooker, plates, bowls or utensils?
- Start slow, then gradually ramp up. When launching a new group, it’s usually a good idea to start slow, perhaps assigning one meal to one member for each week. Once it gets underway and everyone seems to be enjoying the club, you can start to increase the frequency of meals, up to as often as each weekday.
- Ask about allergies and dietary restrictions. If someone is a vegetarian or vegan, can’t eat gluten, is allergic to peanuts or has other special food limitations, it’s important to keep that in mind. To make the meal prep easier, an office might even consider creating separate healthy lunch clubs based on employees’ different needs.
- Choose a dedicated space to share lunches. If possible, the healthy lunch club should plan to meet up and enjoy the meal together. This might mean booking a conference room, meeting in the break room or even heading outside to eat at a picnic table while getting some fresh air. This will give everyone the opportunity to socialize, share feedback on the meal of the day and trade ideas for future meals.
- Consider sharing the recipes with the group. Members will appreciate seeing the ingredients, processes and nutrition information for meals. They may even try recreating them at home. You could even create a social media page for the lunch club and post recipes, complete with photos. Check out this lunch club’s Pinterest page for inspiration!
- Do double-duty. When it’s your turn to cook for the club, consider making extra to serve at home. Why not knock out a family meal while you’re at it?
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is always easier with a supportive group that shares your goals. By creating an office lunch club, you’ll give your body the fuel it needs to function at its best, while spending less time (and money) shopping and cooking.