It’s four o’clock. Lunch feels like decades ago and dinner won’t be happening until after your cocktail date with clients. As a busy young professional, it’s important to make lunch count in order to sustain your energy and productivity throughout the rest of your day. What energizing foods should young professionals choose when preparing those brown bag lunches? At heavy business lunches, which menu items should you look for that will help keep you going past happy hour?
Nutritional sciences professional, certified personal trainer, and Oxygen magazine fitness model Ainsley McSorley says that when preparing lunches at home, choose items high in fiber, protein, and water. “Foods high in fiber, like spinach, slow down the passage of food through the digestive tract, leaving you fuller, longer,” she says. Protein, McSorley adds, found in easy lunch options like yogurt and hummus, “is shown to be the most satiating of the 3 macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbs).” Throwing in a piece of fruit and some cut up veggies into your lunch bag also offers an easy way to fill up due to their high water content without adding empty calories.
McSorley suggests these easy, tasty lunch bag options:
- Whole wheat wrap with 1/2 tbsp. hummus, 1/2 a chicken breast, topped with your favorite veggies.
- 2 cups of salad greens including spinach, 1/2 cup of strawberries, 1 tbsp. raw almonds, 1 tbsp. olive oil/balsamic vinegar, tossed with a 1/2 chicken breast.
- Homemade smoothie made of 1/3 cup plain yogurt, 1/3 cup non-fat cottage cheese, and 1/3 cup of your favorite berries.
But what about days when work spills over into lunch hour? Dining with colleagues and clients is part of many YPs’ job descriptions. A heavy steak or sushi lunch can often leave you walking back into the office feeling sluggish and demotivated. McSorley says this doesn’t have to be the case, as long as you speak up. “Good old-fashioned protein and vegetable dishes are always a good choice, but be sure to ask for what you want. If not specified, foods are often slathered in butter, oil, and salt, so order your food plain, steamed, with some hot sauce on the side,” she says. When it comes to sushi lunches, look for sashimi items (raw fish), and avoid those with heavy cream cheeses and fried tempura.
Finally, McSorley suggests changing the concept of lunch all together. “In order to maintain regular blood glucose levels, it is actually better to eat every 2-3 hours throughout the day, instead of a large midday meal,” she says. So turn your coffee break into another small meal break to help keep your energy stable and avoid those mid-afternoon energy slumps. By altering your coffee break into time focused on enjoying another energizing meal, you may also avoid what McSorley says is your biggest enemy in the fight against afternoon sluggishness: quick energy fixes such as coffee and energy drinks, which often cause a crash much worse than the slump you originally felt.
If four o’clock rolls around and you catch yourself with a case of the yawns or the stomach grumbles, reach for an apple rather than a coffee and make a plan to fill tomorrow’s lunch with more tasty, energy-sustaining foods.