Lunch

If you’re in a busy, pressured, job, it’s tempting to work through lunch, grabbing a quick sandwich from the nearest shop – or persuading a colleague to pick one up for you. But try making a point of taking a proper break each lunchtime for a week – you’ll find it makes it much easier to focus in the afternoon.

Sandwiches

It’s easy to fall into the habit of buying a sandwich every day, but making a packed lunch only takes a few minutes, and gives you control over the nutritional content of your meal. (It’ll also save you a lot of money, which you could horde up for a few weeks and spend on something special.) It’s useful to have a lunchbox to avoid the disappointment of squished sandwiches. Marks & Spencer do good “keep-cool” ones, which looks a bit more professional than the bright plastic cartoon-character kiddie variety!

It’s good for both your sanity and your health to go with different sandwich breads and fillings. Wafer-thin ham and low-fat cream cheese, with a bit of pickle or chutney, is a perennial favourite of mine. If you can pop a sliced tomato, some lettuce or cucumber into your sandwich, even better! Prawns with low-fat mayo, lettuce and a squeeze of lemon are lovely for a treat, and work brilliantly on granary bread. Roasted veggies are another easy filling, particularly in wraps or pitta breads.

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Fibre
Ham sandwich: Granary bread (2 slices, 72g), wafer-thin ham (30g), chutney (20g) 230 18.8g 34.6g 2.2g 2.8g
Wholemeal pitta with prawns (50g), light mayo (10g) and lettuce 200 13.4g 25.5g 5.4g 4.5g
Wholemeal pitta with cream cheese and roasted veg (links to recipe) 215 9.4g 34.8g 4.4g 6.5g

Extras

However, eating just a sandwich will inevitably lead to scoffing the contents of the office biscuit tin half-way through the afternoon. (My office is cruel enough to keep the chocolate biccies in the desk right next to mine…) Go for a couple of pieces of fruit – apples, pears, bananas and satsumas all work well – and a handful of chopped veggies, such as carrot sticks. It’ll make lunch seem more of a meal, and will fill you up at a very modest calorie cost.

I feel deprived if I don’t have after a meal, and fruit is great for that. Though I must admit I sometimes want something a bit more biscuity – I’ve found cereal bars a great substitute. A cup of tea or low-cal hot chocolate can also round off lunch nicely.

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Fibre
Apple (medium), satsuma (medium), carrot sticks (handful) 100 1.5g 22.5g 0.4g 4.5g

Shop-bought lunches

There’ll always be times when it’s impractical to take lunch into work. Perhaps you’re going to be dashing off to meetings with clients, or maybe there’s nowhere to keep your food. (Though, a cool lunchbox should be fine in a desk drawer for the morning, unless you work right next to the office kettle.)

There are plenty of good shop-bought options for lunch: almost every major supermarket chain does their own low-fat range. (Sainsbury’s is Be Good to Yourself, Marks and Spencer’s is Count on Us, Asda is Good for You! and so on.) I’m personally like Sainsbury’s Egg Mayo & Cress, Marks & Spencer’s BLT, and Boot’s cheese ploughman. Shop around until you find your own favourites!

Even McDonald’s and Burger King do a range of diet-friendly salads and subs – though if you know you can’t resist the smell of salty fries and greasy burgers, don’t even think about walking in the doors. (One of my colleagues regularly buys a McDonald’s for lunch, and the maddeningly tempting smell pervades the office.) Subway is a safer option, and does a range of seven subs with fewer than six grams of fat; one of which is the “sub of the day” each day of the week. They’ll add as much free salad to your sub as you want – I go for “everything”! Their bread is moist enough that you won’t need mayo or salad dressings.

Food Calories Protein Carbs Fat Fibre
Sainsbury BGTY egg mayo sandwich 325 16.9g 42.4g 9.6g 5.2g
Subway chicken teriyaki sandwich 365 25.0g 54.0g 5.0g 4.0g
Marks & Spencer COU BLT sandwich 280 16.5g 44.5g 4.7g 4.4g
McDonald’s chicken salad & mayo sandwich 390 25.0g 59.1g 7.9g 4.9g
KFC zinger chicken salad (no dressing) 300 22.5g 27.1g 15.1g n/a

When lunch is provided

There will inevitably be work-related occasions when you have to eat out, whether it’s a meal with clients, food provided at a conference, or the annual office party. All of these throw up challenges to the most determined of dieters, and can floor those like me who grab shamelessly at free food. My tips are to go with whatever you really want to eat and enjoy it! Leave the extras which you’re less fussed about and don’t worry about food going to waste – you didn’t pay for it, and it’s better it goes to waste than goes to your waist…

Curious colleagues

You might worry what colleagues will think if you bring in packed lunches, particularly if they’re used to you joining them in a sandwich run, or in the pub. Your diet is your business – don’t feel obliged to tell every nosy passer-by in the office. You’ll probably find that most people show a dismaying lack of interest in your lunch, but have a response ready if you do get questions. If, like me, you can’t bring yourself to say “I’m on a diet” try “We’ve got a lot of leftovers at the moment” or “I’m cutting down on lunches out.”Don’t be put off taking positive actions towards your health by the fear of what other people might think or say – their opinion has no effect on you unless you let it. And be prepared for “Oh, you don’t need to lose weight!” – it is your body and if you know you’re three stone overweight, there’s no point listening to white lies from others or from yourself.