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7 tips for buying a healthy work lunch

Man and woman ordering food at a cafe counter

Back to the 9–5 slog and forgotten what a healthy lunch looks like? Or perhaps you just want to buy a nutritious takeaway a few times a week. HFG shows you how.

As consumer demand for healthier eating options increases, many restaurants and cafes are offering more health-oriented menus. But choosing nutritious food that you’ll also enjoy and that sustains you until dinner is not always easy. Follow these steps and it can be!

1 Learn how to structure a meal

A healthy mix of three key components will prevent you feeling hungry and fatigued:

Slow-release (low GI) carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread or pasta, brown rice, quinoa, legumes or sweet potatoes, will fuel your brain to keep it focused throughout the afternoon.

Add some lean hunger-busting protein like chicken, fish, egg, tofu or legumes (chickpeas, beans or lentils) to help keep your blood sugar levels stable as the afternoon wears on.

Add a splash of colour by including veggies or salad to give you those crucial minerals, vitamins and gut-friendly filling fibre that will help prevent 3.30-itis.

The great news is that the guidelines above easily transform into many meal options — sandwiches, soups, salads, stir-fries, dhals, curry or burritos!

2 Consider your options

Investigate the menu at your local eating venues to see how far each achieves the nutritional balance set out in 1 opposite. You can check out the menus in person, or do the research online, since most food outlets have a copy of their menu, along with nutrition guides, on their website. That way you can plan ahead. Cafes and casual restaurants, while sometimes a little more expensive, usually offer much healthier options than fast-food outlets, where the majority of your meal is often deep-fried.

3 Ask for what you want

Don’t be afraid to ask for changes to your order. For example, if you know they are heavy-handed with margarine or mayo, ask for less of it — or none, or healthier options such as avocado or hoummos.

If it’s a salad, ask for the dressing on the side, and if the meal comes with hot chips, avoid that temptation by asking for roasted veggies or salad instead. And don’t be tempted by combos where for a little bit more money you get a whole lot of ‘extras’ that you don’t really want or need!

6 Is the meal size right for you?

Food outlets love to upsize, so often portion sizes are a lot bigger than you want or need. Problem is, many people eat what they’re given and become over-full. To lose this habit, divide larger portions in half, and put one half aside.

If you want more, have it later — but just making the cut helps you think about it. If you’re eating at the venue, ask to put the leftovers in a take-away container, or leave it behind. Sure, you may feel it’s a waste — but it’s better than feeling bloated.

7 Mix it up

Go for variety — mix up your eating and try different things to keep the interest factor high. Don’t eat the same ‘safe’ thing every day, as this can cause you to get bored and more likely to opt for, or crave for, less healthy options.

And while less healthy options are okay occasionally, keeping things varied helps stop unhealthy work lunches becoming a daily habit.

Discover the most nutritious and delicious items that deserve a place in Aussie lunchboxes with the Healthy Food Guide Lunchbox Awards!

Date modified: February 9 2023
First published: May 2021

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