(BPT) – If you’re like many Americans, you’ve had days when stress and hunger make you opt for the closest fast food joint for lunch, seeking quick, filling fare you hope will take the edge off.
Even though you’ll feel the error of your ways later via your stomach, wallet and energy level, it probably won’t be enough to stop you the next time you need a midday fix. In fact, Gallup research indicates 80 percent of Americans indulge in fast food at least monthly, while 57 percent of young adults eat it at least weekly.
Ready to break the cycle? In honor of National Healthy Lunch Day on Nov. 15, consider these five tips to produce healthier results during your lunch hour.
* Pack healthy lunches at home. When you plan ahead, you can pay better attention to portion sizes and ingredients because you’re neither ravished nor stressed. ‘If you’re putting your lunch together in the morning, you’re usually doing that right after you eat breakfast so you’re not in that [rushed] state,’ says Cornell University Economist David Just in the Huffington Post. Plus, if you’re buying healthy ingredients, you’ll be more inclined to eat them instead of letting them go to waste. Experts recommend making lunch prep part of an after-dinner or Sunday ritual.
* Be smart about eating out. One survey found 90 percent of American workers dine out for lunch at least once a week. Don’t deny yourself the chance to socialize with coworkers; just opt for healthier menu choices. For example, avoid fried foods, choose sparkling water over soda, request dressings and sauces on the side, choose vegetables or salads as side dishes or split a meal with someone else. ‘It’s a mistake to assume you’ll eat a packed lunch 100 percent of the time,’ notes Jessica Migala on Health.com. ‘Just like everything else in life, your lunch break requires a little flexibility.’
* Snack on protein between meals. Keep a stash of healthy snacks on hand like protein bars, pistachios, or high-protein yogurts to help stabilize blood sugar and counter hunger pangs in between meals. Because protein takes more energy to digest than refined carbohydrates, it can make you feel fuller for longer periods of time. This will help ensure that you’ll be able to make a smart choice when lunchtime rolls around.
* Be fast food particular. If your circumstances really call for a trip to the drive-thru, consider healthier fast food offerings like grilled chicken, salads, low-fat milk, or fruit. And of course, nix the super sizing. Compare the nutritional value of popular fast food sandwiches at Healthyeater.com.
* Take a walk. Get up from your desk and take your lunch with you on a walk. Munch on your food while getting fresh air and relieving stress at the same time. It bears repeating: studies show even a little exercise can improve your mood, confidence, self-esteem and body image. One study even links a temporary change in work environment with improved creativity and innovation.
Know someone who needs support in making healthy lunch choices? Forward these guidelines, or get more information at Diabetes.org/nhld.
* Music video by Deep Blue Something performing Breakfast At Tiffany’s. (C) 1995 Interscope Records
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