By Heather Chapman (New York City)
It’s all too easy to skip eating a proper meal these days; the long hours at our desks, on the phone, or in meetings leave us promising ourselves that tomorrow will be different. We’ll make time to go to the grocery store tonight, get up just a bit earlier to buy something, or will actually take time for lunch. Too often though, that plan gets pushed off until ‘tomorrow’ and we’re left without anything healthy to eat and several more hours ahead of us. It’s a worrying habit – one that can leave you tired, stressed, irritable, and hungry.
The whole cycle becomes worse when you factor in that many people don’t make the time for breakfast either. Not only does breakfast give us the fuel to start a new day, it also helps us maintain our weight. When we skip a meal, our body switches to starvation mode and slows down our metabolism as a means to compensate. Then, when we try and catch up at the next meal, we tend to overeat in an attempt to ingest enough calories to make up for the missing meal. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t work like that and by trying to catch-up we end up making things worse.
Looking for ideas, I spoke with Janel Ovrut, a Registered Dietitian in the Boston area, and Nicole Ferring, a Registered Dietitian in the D.C. area, who offered their suggestions and tips on ways to make sure that there is always something healthy to eat on those too-frequent days when you don’t have the opportunity to get something to eat.
Both women started out by suggesting things like nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars, yogurt, and vegetables like carrots and sugar snap peas as snacks that are easy to keep stocked at your desk or in the office fridge. In addition to being tasty and portable, they are also items that can be eaten with one hand, leaving the other free to dial the phone or reply to e-mails. Janel also suggested keeping a box of dry cereal for snacking on, as long as “it is a nutritious cereal with five or more grams of fiber per serving.” Most adults only get eleven grams of fiber a day, which is much lower than the recommended daily allowance of twenty to thirty grams.
One of Nicole’s tips for making sure that there is a quick meal ready at all times is to freeze things. “One big thing that helps me is that I freeze everything. I cook on Sunday and some weeknights, [throwing] a few Tupperware bowls in the fridge and a few in the freezer. Soups and stews freeze well, and by portioning the meals out into individual containers ahead of time, it allows you to just grab a dish and leave, letting the meal thaw while you’re at work.”Nicole added that her own idea saved her when she arrived “home at 7:30 p.m. and didn’t feel like cooking. I had some frozen potato and kale soup ready in three minutes and had a hearty, filling, homemade meal.”
Nicole also recommended making dishes from grains like whole-wheat pasta and couscous, as they are a great base for fast, healthy meals that can be prepared ahead of time, or even at the last minute. Both grains will cook in less than ten minutes and by adding half a bag of frozen vegetables or a can of diced tomatoes and some protein and you have a healthy dinner in minutes. “My favorite quick protein sources are canned wild salmon and canned beans. Including one of either of those make the dish different every time.”
Janel suggested making quick meals like whole-wheat tortilla wraps with hummus, or bringing in pre-made items that just need to be warmed up. “It only takes a minute to put a veggie burger in the microwave and warm it up. Putting it in a pita afterwards keeps the meal contained and makes it easy to eat one-handed.”She also recommended stockpiling items like whole-wheat crackers and single-serving cans of tuna fish for quick, protein-filled meals. A napkin and plastic utensils—in this case, a fork, knife, or spoon would work ideally—are all you need for this quick, healthy meal.
And both women also mentioned that keeping a couple cans of low-sodium soups in a drawer would be a great idea for emergencies. Whichever option you choose, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you can’t be at your best when you’re constantly skipping meals or eating a candy bar and calling it lunch.
To stay at the top of your game, stock up on these quick snacks and easily-prepared meals. By ensuring you always have a healthy option available, you’ll be set for those days when you just can’t get away from your desk.