From burnout to balance: The benefits of a tasty work lunch

Here’s my rule about living in Auckland. I go to one film festival movie and one arts festival show (and visit the museum and art gallery) every year. Otherwise, the only way I know I’m living here is the traffic congestion, the sprawl, and – lately – the near impossibility of finding teaching staff.

I was skimming through the film festival catalogue, and I got to thinking that many directors like to make movies about women who find their perfectly normal lives unsatisfying and seek out wild – often sexual – adventures to compensate. Directors pay a lot of attention to this topic, rather than, say, women who just feel overwhelmed by all the tasks they have to get through in a day, without even getting around to eating, exercising and sleeping right. You see far fewer movies about their problems.

This is the kind of thing I am talking about. I was referred to a dietitian last year because inflammatory bowel disease made it difficult for me to eat whole grains, legumes, vegetables and raw fruit. I just couldn’t cope with fibre, and even after I had healed, I was in a lot of pain when I tried to eat these foods again. Week by week, I worked with the dietitian to introduce them back into my diet. One week she suggested I try taking pumpkin soup to work.

I asked her if she was joking. There was no way I could chat to a few students at the end of a lesson, get my soup, walk to the staffroom, wait in line for the microwave (remember, in a school, most of us take our breaks at the same time) heat it, eat it, walk back to the classroom and set up for the next lesson in the half hour we get for lunch.

Instead, I had taken to piling things like vegetables and boiled eggs into five bowls on a Sunday night, dumping them in the work fridge on Monday morning, and grabbing one every lunchtime. I couldn’t be bothered making dressings or doing anything else to make the food more tasty or appealing. I tried calling them ‘abundance bowls’ and then I tried telling myself not to care about the taste, because work lunches were for fuel, not enjoyment. As the weather got colder, it became harder and harder to get the hastily prepared food out of the fridge and gulp it down. I ended up eating a few bites, then heading to the vending machine.

I noticed that I became a bit like one of the women in the movies I’ve mentioned. Unsatisfied by my nutritious but unappealing lunches, I started seeking out wild encounters with doughnuts, burgers, chocolate and cake in the evenings. I became the Belle du Jour of work lunches. (It’s a French film playing at the festival. Don’t look it up at work.)

I can’t remember where I got the idea to go out and buy a proper thermos, (one that can keep soup hot for about seven hours) but I’m glad I tried it. It’s no wonder the experts keep suggesting we take soup to work. You can pack it full of vegetables and beans, it’s cheap and easy and freezes well. It hydrates you. In winter, it’s way more appealing and satisfying than the stuff I’d been trying to eat.

Full disclosure: I still eat my soup in a bit of a hurry, or outside, on lunch duty in the school grounds sometimes. I still hook up with fast food occasionally. But for me, this is one tiny, tiny step in the right direction.


Lynne Glen is a guest blogger and reader of Healthy Food Guide. Last month she wrote about her experience of burnout as an Auckland teacher, and decided to try out the tips in the Healthy Food Guide July supplement on mental wellness and resilience. This month she discovers the benefits of having a tasty, nutritious work lunch.

First published: Aug 2017

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