There are times when it can be challenging to eat healthy at work. Between co-worker birthday parties, catered lunch meetings, breaks at the local coffee shop or bakery, vending machine temptations and a time crunch to get out the door in the morning, healthy eating at work can fall by the wayside. During the workday, it’s important to stay fueled, energetic and focused so you can produce quality work – and there are plenty of ways that you can make this happen with our tips, ideas and recipes to help you eat healthy at work.
1. Meal Prep for the Week
We can’t stress this point enough: meal prepping is absolutely essential to keeping your health goals on track, instead of gobbling 3 slices of cake at an office birthday party because you didn’t eat lunch. Meal prep takes a few hours at the beginning of the week and pays off, as you’ll have plenty of food to nourish you and you’ll spend less time cooking or prepping food during the week. One of the first skills we teach our students in the Culinary Nutrition Expert program is how to best prep and strategize for the week.
There are a few ways that you could meal prep for a healthy week of eating at work. You can:
- Make a huge batch of one or two meals (a stew, a one-pot meal, dairy-free soup, something in the slow cooker, a casserole, a quinoa salad, etc.) and have it as your main dish throughout the workweek.
- Cook separate elements (a pot of grains, a tray of mixed roasted vegetables, a vegan protein, an animal protein) and mix and match them during the week with your favourite condiments or sauces. Once you get the hang of recipe-free meal bowls, you will love them – and they are easily transportable to the workplace.
- If you’re not a fan of leftovers, simply wash and prep your produce at the beginning of the week. Then, you can pull meals and snacks together the night before work with ease.
2. Choose Simple Recipes
Whipping up an elaborate meal at 10:00pm to eat the next day just isn’t practical (and sometimes the more complicated meals don’t always travel or reheat well). Stick to the simple things, like:
- Recipe-free dinner bowls
- Mason jar salads and mason jar soups
- Wraps or burritos (try these gluten-free alternatives to bread for wrapping up the goodness)
- Bean + veggie salads or egg/chicken salad
- Homemade sushi
- Egg or tofu quiche baked in muffin tins for easy portioning and packing
For more allergen-friendly lunch inspiration, check out these 25 Nut-Free Lunch Ideas.
3. Make Healthy Snacks
As part of your meal prep for the week, ensure you have healthy snacks on hand. This will help satisfy hunger during the day, and you can even make a full lunch of snacks if you’d like to. It’s easy to whip up a batch of hummus for the week, or bake homemade bread. Some of our favourite snacks that will help you eat healthy at work are:
- Dips or spreads with veggies or crackers
- Gluten-free bread
- Muffins – you can go either sweet or savory
- Granola or granola bars
- Energy bites
- A mix of nuts and seeds
- Dairy-free yogurt
- Chocolate hemp spread and fruit
- Roasted chickpeas
- Baked apple chips or fruit leather
- Nut or seed butter
- Fruit crumble (we like this grain-free version)
We find it’s helpful to have a stockpile of shelf-stable snacks you can keep at your desk throughout the week, like nuts, seeds, dried fruit or granola, along with a stash of snack items you can leave in the fridge so you don’t need to bring them with you every day.
4. Have Breakfast for Lunch
Throw the idea of having certain foods only at specific times of the day out the window! Why not have breakfast items for lunch? Often, breakfast recipes are very easy to make with minimal effort and many of them travel well, too. Some breakfast-for-lunch ideas to consider:
- Chia pudding
- Quinoa porridge
- Overnight oats
- Dairy-Free Smoothies (check out this free smoothie tutorial)
- Avocado toast
- Scrambled eggs + greens
- Tofu scramble or veggie scrambles
- Breakfast patties (meat or vegan) and veggies
- Homemade granola + fruit
- Dairy-free yogurt parfaits
For more breakfast recipes, check out these 12 Vegan Breakfast Ideas (that aren’t cereal or toast).
5. Store Lunch Items for Optimal Freshness
If you’re going to do the work of meal prepping and planning, you want to make sure your lunch stays delicious – not soggy or wilted. Store your food carefully in air-tight containers. We like using glass or stainless steel instead of plastic. If you are prepping your produce, learn how to store it to keep it fresher for longer. Depending on your lunch item, you may want to purchase a thermos to keep things hot (and avoid the microwave), or re-usable beeswax wraps to package sandwiches, granola bars or muffins. It’s also handy to have a sturdy re-usable lunch bag so you can get your lunch to work safely and in tact!
6. Start a Lunch Club
What if you could cook one lunch, yet eat a new home-cooked meal every day? It’s possible to lighten your lunch load by assembling a lunch club with your co-workers. Here’s how it works: collaborate with four of your colleagues who are interested in eating healthy at work. Each day, someone takes a turn making lunch for everyone else. So, for example, if your day is Monday, you make five lunch servings and bring them for the rest of the group, then someone else is in charge of Tuesday, another colleague on Wednesday, etc.
This is a wonderful way to experience different homemade recipes and flavours, with less work. Additional tips to help make your lunch club successful:
- Try to find co-workers who have similar dietary philosophies. If half of the group are vegans and the other half are Paleo, it may be tricky to find common ground every single time you make a lunch recipe.
- Portion the lunch meals into five separate containers. While it would be nice if the five of you could sit down and eat together all at once, work schedules or meetings may not allow for that, especially in a large company. Having five portions allows each club member to eat their lunch when it is most convenient. (Though you are more than welcome to also schedule for eating together!)
- Use your own containers when you make your lunch, and have co-workers return them to you at the end of the lunch day so you can wash and re-use them.
- Brainstorm as a group what kind of lunches you’d like to eat, and to get a sense of what everyone’s preferences are. If half of the group hates mushrooms or can’t tolerate spicy food, that is something everyone needs to know.
- Be open to feedback. It’s fun to try new recipes, but it’s also OK if you return to the old favourites that everyone loved.
7. Say No to Food That Doesn’t Match Your Health Goals
In a work environment, it’s likely that you will confront situations with food that don’t meet your health goals and your co-workers may give you a hard time about not participating. However, it’s OK to say no to food that you know won’t make you feel good. A simple ‘no thank you’ will suffice. If the pressure continues, you can let colleagues know that you are working on your health right now ,and you hope they enjoy a slice of cake/cookie/cupcake for you instead.
Recipe Inspiration to Help You Eat Healthy At Work
Harvest Squash + Millet
Harvest Squash + Millet by Karen Littlefield, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2015
Veggie Burrito Bowls
Veggie Burrito Bowls by Sheena Scott, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2014
Roasted Sweet Potato + Brussels Sprouts Salad
Roasted Sweet Potato + Brussels Sprouts Salad by Abigail Hopkins, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2014
Wild Rice Protein Power Salad
Wild Rice Protein Power Salad by Meghan Telpner, ACN Founder + Director
Creamy Pumpkin Gluten-Free Noodles
Creamy Pumpkin Gluten-Free Noodles by Sondi Bruner, ACN Head Program Coach
Dairy-Free Parsnip Cumin Soup
Dairy-Free Parsnip Cumin Soup by Jessica Mitton, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2015
Gluten-Free Orange Almond Cake
Gluten-Free Orange Almond Cake by Maya Henry, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2016
Chocolate Cherry Chia Bread
Chocolate Cherry Chia Bread by Laura Olson, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2013
Spiced Carrot Cake Energy Bites
Spiced Carrot Cake Energy Bites by Valerie Piccitto, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2014
Grain-Free Almond Flour Cookies
Grain-Free Almond Flour Cookies by Jenni Beharry, Culinary Nutrition Expert Class of 2014