This guest blog on healthy eating by dietitian Sharon Madigan, Head of Performance Nutrition at Sport Ireland Institute, urges you to see your breaks, lunch, exercise, hydration and regular eating habits all as part of improving your work performance. Enjoy these healthy working from home lunch tips and make small, easy changes.
For most of us the pandemic brought us our first experiences of working from home. No more making or prepping lunches or coffee shop stops. Everything was literally at our own fingertips and in our own kitchens. Most of us would have thought that was bliss pre-pandemic but as the weeks and months passed, there remains one question that was asked and I still fear and that is:
“What’s for lunch? What’s for dinner?”
Now we have settled into routines where we might have a hybrid model or some of us are spending the vast majority of our working week WFH. From a food and nutrition point of view this brings challenges for some, but this is a good opportunity to refocus on achieving some new habits which can have very positive impacts on our health in the short and long term.
The food environment has been shown to have a significant impact on the behaviours of many people and potentially lead to weight gain in the longer term, especially when people are dependent on eating foods prepared outside the home environment. When working outside the home we have easier access to foods that are higher in fats, salts and sugars and fall into the category of processed or ultra processed foods.
Why bother with healthy food?
Regular eating times and habits are crucial for concentration and mood. If we get hungry or go for long periods of time we can experience “hanger” which can spill over into meetings and our ability to work effectively.
It’s crucial that we take a lunch break. It’s very easy to slip from one Zoom to another. Be ruthless with your diary. Get up from the desk, take microbreaks and eat somewhere else.
You need to perform at work just like an athlete performs at competition. Therefore see your breaks, lunch, exercise, hydration and regular eating habits as part of improving your work performance, just like an athlete does. Think of your productivity when working from home.
We need to think about fuelling our brain the same way we do our body. Foods like leafy greens and berries have been shown to reduce the risk of brain health decline over the years. Remember frozen and fresh can be used. Add berries to your porridge in the morning or have a fruit salad at lunchtime or for a mid-afternoon snack. Frozen spinach and berries added to smoothies and veggies in soup are great lunch options.
The MIND diet has been shown to help with brain health. It comprises of berries, green veg, nuts, seeds, grains, fish and poultry. Remember it’s the sum of all the parts rather than individual foods that are key. So variety across the week is essential.
For example, be adventurous with your salads. Green leaves, pomegranate seeds (again they are available frozen which is great to save waste), feta cheese, tomatoes and sprinkled with some crushed mixed nuts. I like to toast the nuts first to add some flavour.
A Spanish Omelette is a great way to use up some boiled potatoes from the previous evening meal. Add some frozen spinach along with peppers, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes with your eggs. Or to be honest it is really what you have in the fridge! Broccoli stems and goat’s cheese are also great additions.
Plan ahead. One pot meals are great and are easy to freeze and reheat at lunch time. Batch cooking at the weekends reduces time during the week and reduces the reliance on sandwiches that can get boring after a while. Soups are a great plan ahead meal and is a great way to add to the variety and colour. They freeze well in bags which takes up less space in the freezer.
Are you struggling with afternoon slumps? It’s crucial to ensure that you’re getting enough exercise. Make time for some short walks or some stretches over lunchtime no matter the weather. Try having a much bigger breakfast followed by a lighter lunch focusing on higher fibre carbohydrate choices.
We may not want to eat at home all the time but this offers us a great opportunity to prep meals from basics, reduce the amount of salt being used and have more control of what we are consuming. As costs of foods increase this is also a great opportunity to reduce costs of our shopping bills and reduce the amount of food that goes to waste.
The key thing to remember is that all habits take a little bit of time to bed in and don’t worry if you have a couple of bumps in the road. Most of us try and make too many changes all at once. The key to success is small changes that you can stick with.
About Sharon Madigan PhD MSc RD SENr FFSEM
Sharon Madigan is founder of www.livewell365.co.uk and Head of Performance Nutrition at Sport Ireland Institute. She has also significant experience as a clinical dietitian for over 25 years in various roles in the NHS and is currently working in respiratory medicine. She has a PhD in Nutrition Education.
She has worked across team sports, individual sports, weight category sports and has supported a number of Olympic medallists and world champions. She has delivered nutrition support to athletes over five Olympic cycles (Athens, Beijing, London, Rio, Tokyo). She is involved in a number of research projects and is Professor in Nutrition at the University of Limerick.
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