Are you tired of buying high-calorie, expensive lunches? Do you find it difficult to resist co-workers’ candy jars, the workplace vending machines or treats brought in?

Are you tired of buying high-calorie, expensive lunches? Do you find it difficult to resist co-workers’ candy jars, the workplace vending machines or treats brought in?

Or, maybe you are one of the estimated 70 percent of Americans who eat lunch at their desk several days a week? As we try to do more in less time, many of us give up a lunch break or work through lunch.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be affecting your health.

People eat more when they are not thinking about what they are eating. We can mindlessly and quickly stuff ourselves with too many unhealthy calories while working through lunch. Also, long work hours can increase our stress levels and increase the risks for depression, substance abuse, overeating, heart disease and diabetes. Unhealthy employees cost employers billions in health costs related to these issues. Meanwhile, healthier employees have better morale, better retention and use fewer sick days.

With a little planning and preparation, you can pack a power lunch that will be cheaper than eating out, will provide you with good nutrition and help control your calories. When planning a healthy lunch, start with the basics. Try to include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Get creative with leftovers from dinner the night before. Cook an extra portion of meat and use it in a sandwich or salad the next day. Or, make it into a wrap with some veggies and cheese.

Keep snacks on hand so you can avoid trips to the vending machine or break room. Snacks should be less than 200 calories and have 6-8 grams of protein and less than 10 grams of sugar. Good items to keep in a desk might be nuts, baked or popped chips, granola bars, pretzels, whole grain crackers, dried fruit, peanut butter, trial mix or instant oatmeal.

Try to avoid candy jars; if you keep one, place it out of reach and in a dark container so you aren’t constantly looking at the candy inside. Set a limit of one or two pieces a day, and stick to it. If your office has frequent celebrations or food is routinely brought in, try to keep the portions small if you can’t say no. Suggest that healthier food, like fruit or vegetable trays be brought in, instead of sweets.

Another consideration when desktop dining is food safety. Your desk has about 100 times more bacteria than your kitchen table, and likely more bacteria than the average toilet seat. Phones, keyboards and desks tend not to get more than a quick swipe when cleaned. If you eat at your desk, be sure to clean it frequently with a disinfecting solution. Make sure drawer snacks are well wrapped and packages are kept closed to avoid attracting pests. If you bring your lunch, make sure to refrigerate it or keep it on ice to lessen the chance of a food borne illness.

If you find yourself too busy to pack a lunch in the morning or even the night before, consider doing a little preparation on the weekend. You can portion things like carrots, celery, crackers, pretzels or other snacks in baggies so they are ready to grab. You can chop up 3 or 4 days worth of salad at one time and put it in containers. Make soup and portion leftovers in small covered containers to take to work.

Try making salad-in-a-jar. Purchase some pint or quart size Mason jars (wide mouth works best). Start with about 2 tablespoons of dressing in the bottom of the jar then start layering ingredients. Push spongy vegetables like cucumbers or mushrooms next to the dressing and continue layering with tomatoes, peppers, onions, other raw veggies. Next add some protein—beans, quinoa, meat or seafood, or cheese. Pack in the chopped spinach or salad greens and top with nuts or dried fruit. Pack the lettuce firmly, without a lot of room at the top. Screw on the cap, and this will keep fresh in the fridge for a week. When ready to eat, either dump onto a plate or shake and eat directly from the jar.


Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.