Long gone are the days of school lunch, that designated time to put down your pencil and head over to the cafeteria for a meal with friends.
We've grown up, gotten busier, and, unfortunately, sacrificed sit-down eating for the lunchtime grab-and-go.
Somewhere in the course of multitasking through piles of work, we've forgotten (or, more likely, chosen to ignore) the basic nutritional building blocks our teachers and parents tried so hard to instill.
With our desks as the new lunchroom table, it's often hard to eat right. Even if we can't get away, though, we do have the power to rethink two of the most important lunchtime fundamentals: how we eat and what.
When it comes to the how, slowing down is paramount. "Noshing quickly on leftovers while glancing at your computer makes it tough to be mindful," says Kathy McManus, M.S., R.D., director of the nutrition department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
This can lead to overeating (and possible weight gain), since the brain doesn't have enough time to register that the stomach's full. If you find you fall into that trap, McManus offers this advice: In between each bite, put down your utensils or sandwich, take a sip of water, and savor every morsel.
As for what you're eating, if the midday fare amounts to junk food, it won't matter how mindfully you eat it. Many refined carbs (such as white bread and white rice), processed goods (like french fries), sweets (doughnuts, cookies, etc.), and soda have a high glycemic index, wreaking havoc on your blood sugar levels and increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes -- not to mention leaving you out of gas by late afternoon.
But even a less egregious meal, nutritionally speaking, is a missed opportunity to get the nutrients you need. A Greek salad sounds healthy, for instance, but if it's made from iceberg lettuce and served with a side of white pita bread, it really won't do much for you.
The same is true of a sodium-loaded can of soup or a deli-meat sub, which (thanks to toppings like salami) brings some saturated fat and (courtesy of the sub roll) refined carbs to the table.
So what constitutes a healthy lunch? Just like breakfast or dinner, your midday meal should feature three essential elements: quality, lean protein (chicken, salmon, eggs, tofu); healthy fats, including monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids (from sources like nuts, avocado, olive oil); and fiber-rich carbohydrates that break down slowly (whole-grain breads or tortillas, brown rice).
Dr. Andrew Weil suggests sticking to 20 to 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 40 to 50 percent carbs whenever possible. Finish off the meal with fruit for an extra dose of fiber.
The final ingredient to a healthy lunch, even one eaten at your desk, is planning. If you're starving and have no food at the ready, that quick slice of pizza -- or even something from the vending machine -- starts to look awfully appealing.
By taking a few minutes the night before to pack a nutritious meal, you'll have an all-star lunch the next day. Try these five flavorful recipes to keep your taste buds completely satisfied -- and your midday hunger in check.
Text by Alisa Blackwood; recipes by Kristen Evans
© 2013 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. All rights reserved.