There’s an interesting diversity directly linked to geography that I’ve noticed while coaching clients around lifestyle issues in different parts of the country.
My New York clients ate well at breakfast and lunch because the range of healthy options available to discerning Type A personalities was plentiful. Dinners were most difficult for them because I trained a lot of people in finance and law, industries in which late nights, after work drinks, and sometimes gluttonous dinners were actually part of the job description.
My Washington, D.C. clients had a harder time with breakfast, I think in large part because of the long commute times in a notoriously terrible city for traffic. These clients often were government workers or lawyers who were trying hard to get a jump on their day and skipped breakfast as a result.
Perhaps counterintuitively, my sense of the nutrition picture for my Los Angeles clients was actually pretty good. The slower pace and less formal atmosphere among my many entertainment industry clients meant that people took the time to eat a healthy breakfast while sitting on their deck or taking a walk in the sunshine to grab lunch at a local, fresh eatery (where your waiter is probably the best looking person you’ve ever seen in person).
In Dayton I’ve noticed a trend both in my personal life and among my clients: eating well at lunch is difficult. If you have the time to go out with colleagues and sit at a restaurant, you’re probably in luck because there are some really good, local options. But what if you want something quick? That’s where things get more difficult, and that’s where I’m a strong advocate–at least for now–of almost always packing your lunch.
I’ve written before about “fast food” chains like Sweetgreen, where for around $10 you can grab a locally sourced salad with a fantastic balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat). I’ve struggled in our city to identify the equivalent, where you can eat a veggie-centric meal that also contains protein and healthy fats. (If you know of any–please comment on Facebook!) For the most part, your “fast” lunch options in Dayton generally aren’t going to do you much good.
That leaves you with two options. First, you can still go out for lunch but make the best of the situation. Try eating mostly vegetables and make sure you’re getting protein and a healthy fat (like olive oil or avocado) as well. The protein and fat combination is important because that’s what’s going to help you feel both full and satisfied–avoiding the M&M bowl that Debbie keeps at her desk.
The second and preferable option is for you to bring lunch from home. Now, some people object to this by saying that they “don’t have time” to pack a lunch every day. My answer to that in recent months has been the big batch, one pot meal. Think soups, stews, and Crockpot dishes. This turkey chili recipe from the New York Times has been getting a lot of run in my house recently, and I’ve recommended it to several clients. I like the recipe because of the great combination of tasting great as a leftover, not taking very much time to prepare, and being easily divided and saved for lunchtime meals. Make it on a Sunday and eat it for lunch throughout the week.
What about the boredom factor? People tire of eating the same thing every single day, but if you’re one of those people who are going out for lunch five days a week, then having turkey chili twice a week probably isn’t going to get old too fast–and you’ve reduced the amount of times you’re eating out by 40 percent. So if the one pot meal can get you to two times a week of packing your lunch, and you can make enough dinner one night to have leftovers for lunch another day, you’re up to cooking 60 percent of your lunch meals at home. Not bad, right?
The takeaway here is that I’ve talked to a number of people in Dayton over the last few months who want to bring their lunch more, both from a health standpoint and from a financial standpoint. Given that we don’t have a lot of great, quick, healthy options for lunch to begin with, you have some incentives to brown bag it. But the key in implementing this behavioral change is not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t make your goal 100 percent compliance with packing your lunch. Start off with two days a week. If you can do that, then you’re well on your way to saving money and eating well during your work days. Better for the body and the wallet.