Strategies to eat healthy at work even if you have only five minutes

by | Nutrition

“I want to eat healthily but I am constantly on the move during the day. Often I have just five minutes to eat between meetings, which makes it hard to eat slowly and have a healthy meal. Then I have training after work, and when I come home, I am so hungry I don’t care what I eat – I just want to eat!”
Eating healthy at work can be hard. Especially if you need to attend several meetings and then you don’t have time to go to a cafeteria. Often, what’s on the menu does not cater to your fitness goals.
The good news is I’ve broken the process down into bite-sized tasks anyone can master.

With this free, step-by-step blueprint, you’ll learn how to:

  • Make healthier choices at work (even if there is no healthy meal on the menu)
  • Think outside the box (so you have more freedom and less stress)
  • Prepare for the unexpected (so you avoid cravings when you finally get to eat)

Step 1 Identify your options

It is important to know what your options are. We are often unaware of them until we think about them. You will know the limitations and it will allow you to come up with creative solutions.
Jane, one of my clients who wanted to gain muscle felt like there was not a good choice in her buffet at work. Some meals were a typical example of unhealthy foods such as greasy fried cheese and meat.
Then there was a ‘healthy’ salad made of iceberg lettuce and different mixed vegetables, some cheese, and croutons. Although healthy, it was not a satisfying balanced meal that would fill her.
There was always a sweet option such as dumplings filled with jam.
It seemed like the only option for her was to prepare all her meals at home and bring them to work. But Jane came home tired and the last thing she wanted to do was to cook for the next day.

Action step

  • What is served in your cafeteria?
  • Can you prepare and take food from home?
  • How much time do you have to consume the food?
  • Can you order a take-away?

Step 2 Don’t let perfect get in the way of good

If you think you need to eat perfect food all the time, you are setting yourself up for failure. Now that you know what you work with, you can start thinking about how to make it better.
Upon closer examination of the menu, Jane found some possibilities. We identified that there were some meals that would partially fit her goals.
For example, there was a chicken with rice on the menu but without any vegetables. There were dumplings filled with jam that lack protein and this meal did not satisfy her for a long time.
The salad was too ‘light’, not providing enough calories for Jane’s muscle gain goals.
We looked at the menu and asked the following questions:
  • Which meal does she like?
  • What is that meal missing, if anything?
  • What can she do to make that meal better?
Jane had several options:
  • If she ordered the chicken with rice, she could add vegetables and fruits.
  • If she chose jam-packed dumplings, she needed to add protein.
  • If she had a salad, she would need to add more protein and carbohydrate sources to make it a more substantial meal.
  • She could also order the chicken with rice and the salad, making it a well-balanced meal.

There are many more options. It only depends on your creativity.

Action step

  • Balance your meal (by adding to the meal what it lacks – protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, fat)
  • Focus on the meals you have full control over (a lunch at work is just one meal of the day)

Step 3 Get practical

Now that you know your possibilities and what to do to make your meals better, put your newfound knowledge into practice.
Here is what Jane did:
  • On the days when the meal contains no vegetables, Jate prepares a salad which she brings to work.
  • When she wants dumplings with jam, she buys cottage cheese on her way to work.
  • And if she has the light salad, she brings protein from home. It can be cottage cheese, canned mackerels, or roasted meat.
In that way, she is taking control over the things she can control and she always has a balanced, satisfying, healthy meal at work.

Action Step

  • Plan ahead of time (by looking up the weekly menu or planning your meals at least a day upfront)
  • Find a strategy that works for you (there is always something you can do)

Step 4 Prepare for the unexpected

But what if you can’t use this strategy? In times when you get stuck between meetings, an unplanned audit is announced, or when you get stuck in a traffic jam on your way from work to the gym.

That is when you:

– Don’t have access to a cafeteria
– Can’t eat a normal meal
In those cases, it is unrealistic to expect you would have a normal meal that you can enjoy at the table without interruptions. If you decide to wait for later, it can happen that you will not eat until the end of your working hours. This will make you irritated, and stressed, and your training after work will suffer. You will also most likely come home tired and then eat anything there is.
What if you had a plan B instead that would allow you to get through your day without feeling drained only to come home and give in to the cravings?
A good rule of thumb is to have a protein bar or energy bar always with you. Carry it in your bag and have some in your car. That way you will always have a quick and healthy snack when you need it.
I can’t stress enough how having one or two protein bars saved me and my clients from devouring the whole fridge upon coming home from a long day at work!

Action Step

  • Create your backup plan (by buying non-perishable food that you can carry around)
  • Some meal ideas that I recommend include trail mixes, fresh fruit, smoothies, overnight oats, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, protein bars and energy bars, homemade granola, and fresh fruit.
  • Food delivery can be a viable backup plan (not only at work, but you can order food while going back home as well!)
  • Check the blogpost: How I Eat and Exercise During a Busy Day

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