Eat This: Lunch Rehab

Lunch, lunch, lunch! That dreaded mid-day meal that disrupts the flow of work, play and focus. I guess it can also be a welcome break, but then you’ve gotta make it. Sometimes lunch doesn’t happen, or can be a half-hearted attempt at nourishment and while gone are the days of stopping by a hot dog stand as you head to your next meeting, or choosing what takes your fancy as you sit down to a lets-take-on-the-world lunch meeting. Oh what I would give to sit across from a friend, with a lunch that someone else has made for me.

We’re getting a bit of normal life back, as the country is slowly reopening and some people are heading back to their place of work, so that means a big change if the food court was your go-to grab and go, for now it’s back to brown baggin’ it, just like when you were at school.

What does your lunch look like? Is it a fly-by, a quick pass at the fridge or is it an event? Or maybe somewhere in the middle. I’ve heard from clients these days, sometimes lunch doesn’t really happen. Maybe breakfast does, and then there are the snacks, just enough to stave off lunchtime hunger then before you know it, you realize you’ve skipped lunch and end up having a lame something at 2 o’clock because you know you won’t make it to dinner.

But one of the best things you can do right now for you—or, if you’re a parent feeding your kids too—is get this lunch thing figured out. Whether that’s some structure, planning ahead or pack-it for home, I’m here to convince you of the power of the lunch box on our health and the day! How about I give you some ways you can repurpose your breakfasts and dinners into beautiful lunches, let’s get to it.

So today on EAT THIS with Lianne… Lunch Rehab! The importance of lunch not only for our bodies but for productivity, focus and a smooth balance to the day. Tune in for some very easy lunch ideas shared by my audience and get your life back on track with lunch!

I know a lot of people stress and think lunch is a pain in the butt. I’ve heard it’s the meal they dread making—well, dinner too, but that’s for another episode. There can be a mental block of “I have to make another separate meal?! Ugh, too much work!”, so sometimes they’ll skip it altogether. Or hit the drive-thru, or rely on something like Uber Eats and spend a lot more money than they’d like to.

But making lunch, believe it or not, can be fun. I went to social media and asked my community what their go-to lunch was. Everyone gave so many ideas I’ve never thought of before. And I hope this gives you some ideas too.

I asked if they would share if they plan ahead, make-ahead or wing it? And what’s the best lunch that you’ve eaten during COVID? That could be best could be tastiest, healthiest or whatever. 

For me, my favourite lunch if I’m out is a poke bowl with wasabi sauce, or when I’m at home a bowl of greens with lemon and truffle oil, a 6 minute boiled egg with loads of pepper and a sprinkle of salt. I first had this when I was in San Francisco staying with a friend. She made it for me, said it was what she ate every day, and I was in! She used curly kale, but I change it up to baby kale, purple kale, spinach, arugula, watercress. It’s how I get my greens in. I throw on some hemp seeds and maybe hot sauce. It’s fresh, antioxidant and fibre rich with some omegas, and protein. All in one bowl. 

I said I wanted to convince you of the power of lunch. But first, one of my biggest concerns as a nutritionist is the trend towards eating lunch at your desk. It’s something like 40 % of Canadians who eat lunch at their desk and don’t give themselves a break from their work.

There are some days I’ve eaten lunch while at my desk. And especially in quarantine, it’s hard to figure out the boundaries between life and work to begin with, and eating at my desk doesn’t help. 

With that said, there are many benefits to escaping your work desk to eat lunch. Here are my top two: 

One: Your digestion can improve. Eating a meal quickly without paying it much attention can lead to a lot of bloating, reflux, and indigestion. When you eat at your desk while multi tasking you’re eating purposelessly – which can lead to you not chewing so well, and you know, your stomach doesn’t have teeth, and you can swallow more air and shoveling it in mindlessly leads to less time for those digestive juices to do their thing before the next non-chewed mouthful. Getting away from your desk instead can help you to eat slower, more mindfully, CHEW and give your digestive system more time to break down your lunch and liberate all those good nutrients.

Two: Lunch away from your desk can really give your brain a rest and much needed break. When you burn through your food quickly, your brain doesn’t have a chance to switch off. This can lead to a lot of stress, mental decline, and loss of focus and productivity. Switching from your desk to table, island or even standing can also relieve the physical tension in your body, leading to fewer aches and pains. If you find your afternoons are foggy or just slow, then switch up the location of your lunch, even head out to the garden or onto your balcony for some fresh air. Or pair it with a small walk around the house, the neighbourhood, or where you work, if you can. A little exercise paired with lunch can do wonders to your metabolism and your mental health.

So if you feel guilty about lunch because you think it’s somehow not productive, then tell yourself the opposite is actually true! You owe it your work to actually take a break from it.

Lessons Learned

So those are the benefits of lunch! But how can we actually start to relieve some of the stress associated with making lunch? Well, I want you to start thinking of lunch as the “catch-all meal,” or “the meal of small compartments.

What I mean by that is that it may be time to pull out or invest in a lunchbox like a Bento Box kind, that has a lot of separate compartments, like 3 or 4 little compartments in one container. You can plan a meal, make a list of what’s happening at dinner, and then repurpose extras or leftovers from dinner time and fill up your lunch box. There are many varieties, shapes and sizes so find one that works for the amount that you usually eat. In a recent #CookTogether segment on Sprout Right’s FB, IGTV and YouTube Channel, I went through this topic in a more visual way and you’ll see some of the ones that I have left over from some back to school TV segments I’ve done over the years. 

Like I said, one of the main challenges of lunch that I hear all the time is just the mental block of “I have to make another separate meal?! This is too much work!”

So instead, concentrate your energy and resources into making a larger breakfast or a larger dinner. Make bigger snacks and bigger meals with the intention that you’re going to take a part of it and put it in a container later. And don’t worry if none of it makes sense to the typical bologna sandwich that you grew up with, and putting breakfast and dinner in the same container seems random. Your body doesn’t know the difference!

So, for example, you’re making a salad for dinner. You’ve cut up some yellow peppers, red peppers, graded beets, grated carrots. You’ve added some sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, even some raisins and red onion. Sidebar: if not, that’s your next creation, and you’re welcome. You’re already in the kitchen, so make up three or four of these and put them in the fridge! Once you make one salad, you just lineup all of your containers and fill them up. Lunch for the coming days is DONE! And you’re far more likely to eat all that when it’s made in advance, than prep it mid day, right?! 

Or if you’re still thinking about lunch as a “catch-all” meal and embracing the randomness of it all, get some toothpicks ready! Kids love eating off of a toothpick and I know some adults do too. You can do a whole lot with making different combinations with toothpicks.

Apple and cheese is a lovely combination. If you’ve got some grapes hanging around at home too, you can add that too. Cut up that cheese into a square, slide it onto the toothpick. Slice up some apples, and then add that to the toothpick. Close it out with some grapes on either side, and Hey, Presto. There’s a little mini lunch that can go into the lunchbox. You can try adding some baby tomatoes too, or watermelon. You can experiment with different meat slices – like ham or turkey. They can either go on the toothpick or you could fold it up into a squiggly ribbon and stick that toothpick in the middle. Feta cheese, bocconcini cheese and baby tomatoes with basil and a drizzle of balsamic ups the lunch game for sure. 

Thinking small and plenty is the key here, instead of large and mighty—again, to get rid of that mental block of “I don’t want to make an EXTRA meal!”

So something like mini pitas could be another answer for you. Make up a whole bunch of tuna melts for dinner with the intention you’ll put some leftover tuna into your container. Tuna is a great source of omega-3 fats, that help with a whole bunch of things: heart health, head health, immunity, depression, and anxiety. In your pita you can put a tablespoon of olive oil, tomato, pickles and sliced cheese. And then again, you can repurpose the cheese slices and pickles onto your toothpick. If you have extra mini pitas you can put that into your lunch box as well. As promised, here are some toothpick combinations. There’s lots more in my book, Sprout Right Family Food, available here.

Toothpick Combinations

Lunch on a toothpick is such fun to eat. You can put just about anything on a skewer or toothpick to vary what’s in the lunchbox. Be sure to discuss not poking any classmates with the toothpick once the food has been eaten.

  • Mozzarella or bocconcini cheese, cherry tomato, and basil served with a side of pita and hummus
  • Cheddar cheese, apple pieces, and colourful pepper served with a side of pita and tzatziki or hummus
  • Feta cheese, grapes, cherry tomatoes, and cube of ham
  • Watermelon, feta cheese, and cucumber with Greek yogurt
  • Mushroom, chicken, and cooked Brussel sprouts
  • Tortellini with tomato and chicken or tofu
  • Avocado, smoked salmon, and cubes of bread

Get more recipes in my book Sprout Right Family Food.

More recipes are available in my book Sprout Right Family Food—plus everything there is to know about getting your family off to a nutritious start, from birth to school age and beyond.

Get Sprout Right Family Food now!

One Comment

  1. While it may be convenient to slip down to the cafeteria or vending machine to grab a bite, this can wreak havoc on our waistline. Or sometimes, in an effort to be social, we go out with friends during lunch. Try to keep your lunchtime outings to once a week, and pick healthier foods when you do eat out. Always know where your local grocery store is, and if you have to go out, hit the salad bar or deli instead.

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