We reached out to a couple of our favorite dietary experts, Kristina LaRue and Dr. Michael Fenster, for their advice on making work lunches healthier. Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, spoke to us behalf of the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA).
Dr. Michael S. Fenster, MD, FACC, FSCA&I, PEMBA, a faculty member at The University of Montana College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, suggests incorporating organic foods into your work lunch in order to make it as healthy as possible.
“If you’re willing to spend $14.95 for two ounces of a single growth, free trade, imported latte,” says Dr. Fenster, “then you should be able to dig deep into your pockets and cough it up for The Big ‘O’ at lunch time. I am, of course, referring to organics. Data continues to accumulate, and two recent studies highlight the nutritional benefits of simply substituting an organic option for the industrial mainstay.”
Dr. Fenster provides three easy organic lunchtime substitutions to the following list, and he also explains why they work. Along with Kristina LaRue’s tips, we’ve compiled the ultimate lunch health guide.
Add a Vegetable
“If the office is ordering lunch in, make sure to add a veggie,” LaRue says. “Whether you order a side salad or keep a stash of frozen broccoli in the office freezer to heat up when you need it, don’t skimp on the produce if you’re trying to eat healthier lunches.” If you do wind up ordering delivery, make sure to pick something with plenty of vegetables.
Blend a Nutritious Smoothie
“Keep a blender at the office for smoothies,” suggests LaRue. “When making a meal smoothie, make sure it has fruit, veggies, protein, and healthy fats.” Adding a protein and some healthy fat to your packed lunch is something we’ve been advocating for months now. Why? It works. LaRue also wants to make sure you get your fruits and vegetables in.
Bring Your Lunch Instead of Eating Out
There’s no need to go to a restaurant where your food’s integrity is out of your own hands. LaRue suggests bringing lunch instead of lunching out with coworkers or ordering in. “To keep portions in check,” says LaRue, “opt for a healthy frozen meal that has a simple ingredient list and then add a side salad for extra veggies.”
Dare Ye, Dairy?
“A recent meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition confirms the findings of a number of previous, smaller studies. Organically produced milk is nutritionally superior [to its non-organic relatives] in a deliciously fatty way. Organic milk is significantly higher in the heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory omega-3 type [of] polyunsaturated fatty acids (more heart-healthy foods you should be eating here). This is the stuff that people on television and Internet are promoting in their fish oil capsules. Since these are beneficial fats, choosing the tasteless, bland, and indolent low-fat, two percent, and no-fat options misses out on this nutritional powerhouse. To get even more bang for your buck; choose a fermented dairy option like yogurt, kefir, or skyr. Fermented foods bring the benefit of probiotics and prebiotics as well as a deliciously tangy mouthfeel,” Dr. Fenster says.
Frozen Foods for the Win
Frozen foods don’t need to be of the ready-to-eat, full-meal variety. “For a simple meal to have on-hand when you need to pack a lunch quickly, look no further than the freezer aisle,” says LaRue. “There you can find frozen brown rice or quinoa (still not quite sure what quinoa is?), pre-cooked shrimp, and broccoli. Keep these in the freezer and toss into a bowl or storage container and warm up in the microwave. Easy and ready to go when you need it.”
Get Creative With Your Crock-Pot
“Utilize the Crock-Pot (no cream of mushroom soup needed) — toss frozen chicken in the Crock-Pot with spicesand cook on low heat for six hours to make a simple shredded chicken that makes for a convenient way to get protein in throughout the day. Shred chicken for chicken salad (click for recipes) or top on fresh salad for a go-to lunch option,” says LaRue.
“We are constantly reminded that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Fenster. “There is increasing evidence that, at least for some types of fruits and vegetables, organically produced options may pack a more powerful phytochemical punch. The organic carrots that are bursting with the color of a Caribbean sunset appear that way because they are loaded with powerful, flavorful, and helpful compounds like carotenes (a bit more on carotenes and carrots here). It is not because they’ve been spray-tanned with orange dye number two. By some estimates, a serving of organic produce may be the equivalent of two servings of conventionally prepared product.”
Put Meat Back on the Menu
“Another recent meta-analysis also published in the British Journal of Nutrition confirmed what had long been suspected,” says Dr. Fenster. “There is a big difference not only in the flavor, but also the nutritional profile of organically versus industrially processed meats. Organic (often more humanely raised) livestock had an overall 47 percent increase in the beneficial and anti-inflammatory omega-3 type of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Raising the animals in a more natural environment and in a more natural way also affects the location and deposition of different types of fats. The increase in flavor is accompanied by a nutritional profile more akin to wild game.”
Side Salads Increase Nutrient Intake
“Build a nutrient-packed salad and top with your favorite frozen veggie burger for a fast office protein,” says LaRue. Note that LaRue suggests a “nutrient-packed salad” and not any salad that tastes good. You’ll want to make healthy salad choices and avoid diet-wrecking salads like these.
Try Making Soup
LaRue suggests making a batch of broth-based soup (as opposed to a creamy or cheesy one) and use it for a few lunches throughout the week. We suggest boldly experimenting with bone broth, one of the latest healthy eating trends.
“Soups are an excellent way to get lots of veggies and lean proteins into your diet,” she says.