When growing up in Germany, lunch was always the most substantial meal of the day. Dinner consisted of salads made from vegetables and herbs that grew in my grandmother’s garden and open sandwiches, sometimes leftovers. These were simple salads such as lettuce with olive oil and lemon juice and chives. Or she would grate carrots, add some raisins and there was another side salad. Bread, usually rye, from the local baker was cut thinly and was topped with butter and lunch meat such as salami or cheese. But again, single layers, not over the top 10 slices of ham like here. I remember I would love to sometimes just add sliced cucumber and salt. And still today, I enjoy simple, filling meals. I keep weeknight dinners very light since I usually don’t get to sit down until 7.30pm. And yes, the common advice on nutrition is not to eat late at night. I agree, but everyone needs to adjust their eating habits to their lifestyle. I run in the mornings, fairly early, 4.30am most days. Without some food in my stomach I will not have the energy or strength for a 6 mile run. I recommend always considering your daily routine and adjusting your meals to that instead of following some pre-cut diet plan. These never work for me. The key word when it comes to nutrition is healthy. I choose wholesome ingredients that I know my body will love and digest easily.
During my work week, the key meal for me is lunch. After my morning run, my body is busy trying to recover, build muscle, use stored energy and does not require much food. My hunger kicks in at lunch time. My advice is to always be prepared for lunch so as not to become a victim of junk food from machines or cheap restaurants. Even though my dinners are light and require minimal preparation, I do stand in the kitchen at night cooking – my lunches. The simplest lunch is soup. I can prepare a big pot that will cover three weekdays. I look for filling ingredients, because a summer vegetable soup in light broth will leave me hungry. I use lentils, beans, sometimes chicken or pasta in my soups. If I do fancy a light soup, then some other item goes on the side, maybe leftover grilled chicken from the weekend. You see, I like control over my food. Restaurants, as healthy as they appear, don’t give me the warm and fuzzy when it comes to nutrition. Even if I just eat salad, I don’t know what they added to the dressing or what types of spices or condiments they used. I often find myself with an aftertaste in my mouth, a bloated belly or some type of indigestion. I am also not as strong when it comes to selecting. After all, here I am paying for the lunch, so why not get
something hearty. So, I truly try not to go out for lunch when at work. Here is a list of easy-to-prepare types of meals that make a filling and healthy weekday lunch:
- Raw Salads. Any combination of veggies works, depending on your preference. You can cut them the night before and combine them quickly in the morning. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice and add salt and pepper and a fresh herb such as parsley, dill, mint or chives. Top with a filler such as tuna, boiled chicken, even grilled sirloin.
- Salads with cooked ingredients such as rice, orzo, quinoa, pasta or beans. These I usually prepare completely the night before and divide up into containers that I just grab from the fridge on my way out in the morning. They are usually more filling because of the carbohydrate-rich ingredients. I may eat some fruit following the salad to finish with a fresh note.
- Sandwiches, filled pitas or tortillas.Great option for a healthy lunch. Even here I try to incorporate some type of legume,such as a garbanzo or bean spread that can be prepared the night before. I am not a big fan of processed meats anymore, so I try to add other items such as grilled tofu or boiled eggs. Avocado is a healthy alternative to processed spreads like mayo.
- Simple meals. This could be a piece of salmon or halibut prepared the night before. Fish cooks so quickly, 5-10 minutes in olive oil and white wine, with salt and pepper. Steam some veggies and add rice or mashed potatoes and there you have a great meal that your coworkers will admire when they unwrap their greasy and sad-looking burger next to you.
I also always keep a stash of almonds and protein bars at work for the afternoon snack attack.
The great news is that after lunch, you still have half a day to move around and allow your body to use the meal you just consumed instead of storing it. If you exercise at night, the lunch you ate 4-5 hours ago will provide you with the energy you need to perform well. If you are trying to cut down on heavy dinners, a useful tip is eat lunch later, 12.30pm instead of 11 or 11.30. That way you won’t be hungry by 6pm and a small snack will usually do.
So, no matter your goals, whether weight loss, or simply healthy nutrition, it’s about control. I find that this country has made it so easy to access food that we stop to think about and plan our meals. In
communist Germany, stores closed at 6pm and only few opened on Saturday. Fast food joints did not exist so a family had to think ahead and plan the provisions for the weekend and holidays. Maybe that upbringing makes it easier for me, but I also always find that my meals taste so much better than the mass-produced stuff sold outside.