Make Your Lunch Hour Healthier

Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition
on March 21, 2011
Mark Boughton Photography

Brown-bag it. Take a walk around your office park. There’s no shortage of suggestions for making lunch physically healthier. But what about your mental health?

In a survey conducted by The Energy Project, an organization dedicated to “changing the way we work,” 60 percent of respondents said they take only 20 minutes or less for lunch, and 25 percent said they never even leave their desks. Three-quarters said they don’t get away for a lunch break every day.

“For some reason we’ve decided that we should work the way computers do — continuously at high speeds,” says Emily Pines, director of web marketing for The Energy Project. But we aren’t robots, she says—we’re living, breathing, moving beings, and require clear breaks to satisfy our emotional needs. The organization challenges folks in the workforce to “Take Back Your Lunch” by leaving their desks for an hour every Wednesday.

And yet, getting away can be tough to commit to, not only if you have a hefty workload, but also if you want to save money and avoid high-calorie restaurant meals. While we can’t cut your workload, we can offer healthy lunch-hour suggestions that will have you returning to your desk refreshed.

Bring your hobby to work. Find out if any of your coworkers share similar hobbies — reading, knitting or playing cards, for example — and commandeer a conference room or break-room table for a weekly get-together. Block off a full hour and get in the habit of everyone taking every bit of that time. “One of the most common excuses for why people don’t take a lunch break is, ‘No one else in the office does,’” says Pines. “But one person can start the movement.”

Volunteer. Believe it or not, many organizations would be happy to put you to work for even an hour at a time. Call local schools, churches, hospitals or other non-profits, or check out Volunteer Match to see what the needs are near your workplace. You can also use your lunch hour to shop local sales and then drop much-needed (and appreciated!) supplies like canned food, clothing, pet items and home goods to area shelters or missions.

Cook creatively. Is your office full of foodies? Arrange a weekly potluck with healthy themes — “Mediterranean Snacks,” “Vegan Feast” — or assign everyone ingredients and assemble a makeshift salad bar. If you’re feeling adventurous, challenge culinary-minded coworkers to prepare healthy lunches in your office kitchen. Make it an “Iron Chef”-style competition and recruit others to be judges. Just don’t let anyone take their plates back to their desks!

Lunch and learn. Go for a walk or drive, or head to a coffee shop and plug in to an educational podcast.  Radio Lingua offers 20-minute language lessons (choose from more than 20!) that are perfect for a short break in your day. (And a recent study at York University in Toronto found that being bilingual may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.) Or download one of hundreds of lectures available for free at iTunes University. But make sure the lessons are something you are generally interested in, and not a way to let your job creep back into your lunch hour.  “We encourage people to do anything that takes them out of the mindset of work,” says Pines.

Practice mindful eating. On those days when you just can’t get out of the office, at least do yourself the favor of turning away from your computer screen and eating mindfully. Not only is it good for your brain, but researchers at the U.K.’s University of Bristol found that participants who ate lunch while playing online Solitaire consumed twice as many snacks later in the day than those who ate the same lunch with no distractions. For tips on mindful eating, check out “Harness Your Hunger” by Marsha Hudnall.

How do you make your lunch hour healthier? We want to know! Share with us.