When you’re working hard, sometimes food is the last thing on your mind. And before you know it, you’re 4 or 5 hours in and you get that hangry feeling. You bolt to the nearest gas station or fast food chain for a quick fix. About 30 minutes later, you find yourself feeling sluggish and unmotivated. We’ve all been there.
With some creativity and planning, you have the power to change that lunchtime slump. If you take an extra hour at the beginning of each week to plan out your lunches, you’re already setting yourself up for success!
We live in the real world and know that shift workers don’t always have access to a refrigerator. So the first step in planning a better lunch would be to purchase a lunchbox or small cooler, depending on where you are. Or, if you don’t need to keep anything cool, a good ol’ brown paper bag will do. Once you’ve got your bag or box, then you can get started on filling it!
Let’s start with the basics. The night before your shift, carve out half an hour (it’s only half of a Netflix series episode – you can do it). Even if you prefer not to cook, you can still make great choices for lunch or snacks throughout your day. And the best part? You’ll be saving money each week.
1. Grab & Go
These are your quick options that require no refrigeration throughout the day.
- Think whole fruit, the kind that you don’t have to put much work into – bananas, apples, grapes or peaches. No chopping, and it’s ready to go with a quick rinse.
- Nuts are a great, filling choice for a quick snack. Packed with antioxidants, healthy fats and fiber, they’ll keep you fuller longer than a bag of chips. For some portion control, try measuring out 1/4 - 1/3 cup nuts and place in a container or baggie. Or, if you want to do even less prep, opt for the individually packaged nuts at the store.
- Jerky made from beef, chicken or turkey is both perfectly portable and packed with at least 25 grams of protein per 3-ounce portion. A vacuum-packed package of jerky doesn't take up a lot of space in your bag or box, and won't get funky when you're on the go. Or, opt for the individual sticks of jerky, like Chomps. Chomps have zero added sugar, no fillers and are free from the usual allergens, such as wheat, dairy, and soy.
Now that we’ve covered snacks or additions, let’s move on to bigger things.
- Head to the grocery store and grab some bread – maybe not the usual white bread, though. White bread lacks fiber and overall nutrients. Consider a multi-grain bread option instead.
- Now, to make the sandwich. So many options. You could go traditional and stick with peanut butter and jelly. Or, opt for some higher quality deli meats like roasted chicken or turkey. Don’t forget your cheese, lettuce, tomato, and condiments! Nobody likes a dry sammy.
- If sliced bread isn’t your thing, consider using a higher fiber tortilla or wrap. Get creative and fill it with whatever you like. Or, if you’re avoiding bread, gluten or refined flour, try Folios Cheese Wraps.
If you’re not one who enjoys cooking, not to worry. There’s a whole section at the grocery store made just for you!
- The frozen section of your grocery store is packed with individual meals. If you can, opt for one that’s high in protein and fiber. Careful though, these can be loaded with sodium. Brands with higher quality food and ingredients include Kashi, Primal Kitchen, Evol or Healthy Choice.
- Minute rice – yes, it only takes 90 seconds in the microwave! Think jasmine rice, brown rice or basmati. Try to avoid the flavored rice, as it often has added oils and sodium. Pair your rice with a packet of tuna or another protein source to stay full and focused.
- Don’t forget about leftovers! If you cooked the night before, or even had something out, a quick hack is to save half for the next day. Pop it in the microwave and you’re all set to eat in 2 minutes or less.
- Consider a potato! Whether you like large, white Russet potatoes or sweet potatoes, microwavable potatoes do exist (they’re usually wrapped individually in plastic). It can take anywhere from 5-7 minutes to “bake” in the microwave. If you’ve got the time, make a small container with toppings – think butter, sour cream, chives, or bacon bits.
- Whether you make your own soup or bought it from the grocery store, soup is a filling, cozy option for lunch on a chilly day. Pair your soup with a hunk of bread or crackers for some extra energy, in the form of carbohydrates!
- Did you know there are individually made, microwavable soups? Check out the soup aisle at the grocery store. There’s usually a wide selection of Campbell’s brand – they’ve even got microwavable soup cups. Look for the containers with the red lids.
We know, salads sometimes get a bad rap. All types of salads are a great lunchtime option.
- Try making your own chicken salad or ham salad at home. Pair it with crunchy crackers or a side of baby carrots.
- Mixed salad bags – yes, you can buy these are most major grocery stores for $3-$4 per bag, depending on what’s inside. We don’t just mean romaine lettuce and spinach. Taylor Farms has mixed salad bags in the produce section called “Chopped Kits.” For example, their Everything Chopped Kit is a bagged salad with green leaf lettuce, shredded broccoli, cabbage, mini bagel toast, carrot, green onion and everything bagel seasoned Ranch dressing.
For the folks who are willing to do some full-blown cooking and prepping for their workday lunches, the concept of a power bowl is getting increasingly popular. Cook your favorite grain (rice, quinoa, barley) and pile it with whatever you like – try to get a protein source, a variety of veggies and then add some type of sauce on top for flavor. This could be as simple as making a copy-cat burrito bowl from Chipotle. Think rice with chicken, beans, onions, peppers, cheese, and hot sauce. Additional power bowl recipes can be found here.