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Without fail, as noon approaches so does my rumbling tummy. Working in a busy downtown area, I have many options for lunch from sandwiches to taco trucks. But eating out frequently isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, a story on Health magazine’s website breaks down the financial impact with eye-opening math: “If you buy lunch every workday, at 10 bucks a pop, that’s $200 a month—and a whopping $2,400 a year, enough cash to take yourself and a friend on a Caribbean vacation.”
I like vacations.
I also like bringing my own lunch. It’s good for my wallet — and for my mind, body and soul too. Doing so removes the guesswork of what’s for lunch and freeing me up for other things. Plus, when I plan ahead, I can plan to eat well. (Also startling from the Health article: “92% of restaurant meals have too many calories, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.”
But lunchtime should be special. It should feel special. And when it does, any desire to grab a wrapped something from that nearby spot dissipates.
Step 1: Make Lunchtime an Event
When you work in a busy job where you end up eating at your desk often, lunch can feel like a blip in your day. But it doesn’t have to. You can both have a great, soul-fulfilling lunch and also keep up your busy pace. Start by making lunch an event. Stop what you’re doing. Prepare your space. Take a few minutes and relax. And then dig in, thoughtfully. You don’t have to eat at your desk — in fact, the mental break of eating somewhere else is good for you too — but if you do, lunch should still be a special time in your day.
Step 2: Fancy Up Your Sips
As you prepare for lunch, don’t neglect the little things. For instance, what are you drinking? For me, that is often water from the water cooler. But why should your water be … just water? Bring a lemon or lime slice. Toss some cucumbers in your water bottle. Or make yourself an excellent cuppa tea. A little extra effort with what you drink will make this meal feel more special. Plus it will taste good too.
Step 3: Dine Finely
Storage containers are fine, but when you want to make lunch special, you need to need to make it feel special in every way – like a meal at home. Bring a bowl or a plate. Set up your lunch. A cloth napkin can be a nice touch too. It’s so much nicer to eat off real plates instead of out of storage containers, isn’t it?
Step 4: Now, what are you eating?
What you eat matters. Good-for-you food that tastes delicious and is made with real, natural ingredients (preferably that are sustainably and responsibly sourced) is essential.
That’s why I am pretty excited about EatingWell®’s line of plated meals, now available at Target. These frozen entrees have lots of veggies, whole grains and all-natural chicken, beef and pork (unless vegetarian, of course). And it’s all in their special Fresh-Seal® package, which keeps all the elements of the meal right where they should be. What these meals don’t have is preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, MSG and other undesirable add-ins.
And with 1 cup of veggies in every meal, and gluten-free and vegetarian option available, these meals are so easy to grab on the way out the door and feel good about what you eat.
Step 5: Take a Breath
Whether it’s yoga positions in your office, a walk around the block or something else, before you completely dive back into the grind, take a breath. Step away from everything and just let yourself be. After you’ve cleaned up, of course.
Do you bring your lunches? Do you do things to make them feel more special?
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. Her latest cookbook is The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook, published by Rockridge Press, which focuses on quick, easy, from-scratch cooking for busy people. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.