Are you a frequent lunch skipper, or an eat at your desk-er? Do you scarf down a sandwich or spend a few minutes munching and mindlessly scrolling on your phone?
We’re becoming worse and worse at figuring out how to truly take a break for lunch. But your lunch break can provide both a physical and mental boost to your day, if you give it the chance. Here’s how.
First, actually take a break.
Maybe you’re afraid your boss will think you’re not working hard enough or that you won’t be able to get to every task on your to-do list. But studies show that employees who take a lunch break are more productive, more creative and overall healthier than employees who skip lunch or eat at their desk. (If your boss is against lunch breaks, just show him or her the research.)
If you find yourself burnt out or lacking creativity in the afternoon, it might be time to prioritize that long-lost lunch break.
Pack a lunch that sets you up for success.
Notice I said pack. I prefer to pack a lunch because that way, I can control what I eat and stay on track with my healthy eating goals.
Going out to eat is okay, but remember to eat an appropriate portion and make good choices. There are usually nearby options for delis and bakeries that offer healthy salads. (As much as I love an enchilada or chicken fried steak, not only are these not the healthiest options, but they will also weigh you down for the afternoon and put you in an unproductive slump.)
Plan an efficient meal.
The goal is to have an efficient meal. Like any other meal, you should make your lunch a healthy one, including:
- Water (because staying hydrated during the day is key)
- Protein (lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu)
- Healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, nuts)
- Fiber (legumes, quinoa, leafy greens, fruits)
- Healthy carbs (think veggies, not starches like potatoes, rice, bread and pasta)
So, what does this look like for me? I go to our local grocery store and get a pre-made salad. It costs me $2.50 and it provides veggies and protein (chicken, bacon, eggs, etc.). I then use my own olive oil and vinegar dressing (olive oil = healthy fat, vinegar = blood sugar buffer).
You can bring leftovers or get really fancy and meal prep. As a busy working mom of three, my meal prep works well for dinner time, but lunch is pre-made, simple salads. I grab one and throw it in my purse in the morning before charging ahead to get the kids to school on time.
Eat a bigger lunch and smaller dinner.
Ideally, lunch should actually be bigger than dinner and act as your primary meal for the day. This is especially true if you eat dinner late at night and are going to bed shortly after. (P.S. here’s why that’s a bad idea.)
Avoid heavy carbs and simple sugars.
Remember that a good, balanced lunch helps maintain you for the day. When you eat quick carbs (found in many common “junk” lunches), you face a blood sugar spike and then a drop — aka that 3 p.m. crash when you hit the proverbial wall.
Also, those simple sugar meals make it harder to wait until dinner without snacking, and snacking can lead to overeating. You should aim for a balanced meal that will fill you up but not leave you feeling sluggish.
Go for a walk.
Studies have shown that using your lunch break as a chance to clear your brain can make you more efficient and productive in your workday — especially if you get a little exercise.
Yes, I will admit that I often work through lunch. But I also take a 10-15 minute break to go for a walk with my work buddy (hey, Dr. Pockrus) and psychologically decompress while we get some steps in and recharge for the afternoon. That exercise gives you a little dopamine boost to boost your mood, improve your blood pressure and regulate your blood sugar from the meal you just ate.
To sum it up, take a break and remember to keep your lunch efficient. If you plan ahead, your lunch break can act as a recharge for the rest of your day to keep you healthy, happy and functioning at your highest level.
About the author
Kathryn Greiner, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – College Station University Drive. She attended medical school and completed her residency at Texas A&M Science Center College of Medicine. Dr. Greiner enjoys teaching her patients how to partner with her for a healthier life. She is married with three children. Book an appointment with Dr. Greiner today.