Did you know that Canadians spend almost 2,000 hours on the job each year? For many people, work is literally a “home away from home.” Worker eating a sandwich

Given all this time that we spend at work, and commuting back and forth, the food and physical activity choices we make during work time can have a huge impact on our health and wellness.

The good news is that healthy, active living can easily become part of your work day.

This article will help you shop for and prepare healthy meals at work and give you some ideas on ways to be more active during your workday.

Planning is the Key
By making advance plans for healthy eating and active living during work hours, you can improve your fitness and health. Plan to:

  • Stock up on healthy snack foods
  • Bring brown bag meals that pack a nutritional punch
  • Make healthy eating and active living a priority at home and at work

Stock Up on Healthy Foods
At work, keep a small, regular supply of non-perishable, healthy food on hand in a convenient location, such as a staff kitchen, at your desk or work station, in your locker, or in a cupboard in a lunch room.

Use this supply of nutritious food at snack times or to round out the meals you eat during work time and while on the go. You can also use this supply of food on days when you forget your lunch.

For example, stock up on:

  • Dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, apples or apricots)
  • Whole-grain crackers, mini-boxes of whole-grain cereal or trail mix
  • Single serving cans of tuna, salmon or baked beans
  • Hot or cold cereals (look for cereals that provide at least four grams of fibre per serving)
  • Peanut butter or pea butter
  • Single serving canned fruit or applesauce (look for fruits that are packed in water or fruit juice and contain no added sugar)

Replenish your supply at least once a month to ensure you always have a fresh supply of healthy foods on hand.

And don’t forget to drink water! Water is nature’s health food. Before work, pack a water bottle that you can refill as needed throughout the day. A lack of water can make it harder to concentrate and can affect your work performance. Avoid specialty coffees and teas and soft drinks. Instead, enjoy water with your workplace snacks and meals.

Brown Bag Meals Should Be Healthy Meals
Lunch is a welcome break in the middle of a busy workday. Make the most of it!

Instead of spending your lunch break in a restaurant lineup, enjoy your own lunch from home. Not only will you save time and money, but research shows that meals prepared at home tend to be lower in fat, sugar, salt and calories.

A healthy brown bag meal should include choices from all four food groups in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.

For example, for lunch you could bring a whole-wheat pita (grain product group) stuffed with shaved turkey (meat and alternative group), plus raw vegetables (vegetable and fruit group) and a container of low-fat yogurt (milk product group).

Here are some tips on how to make tasty, nutritional lunches with minimal fuss.

  • Planning is the secret to making homemade lunches quick and easy. Dedicate a few minutes each weekend to planning what your lunches for the coming week will include.
  • Do it yourself. Avoid buying commercially made, pre-packed lunches and snacks. While convenient, these items are expensive and can contain large amounts of fat, calories, salt and sugar.
  • Know where you’re going. Find out what’s available in your workplace in terms of refrigerator space for lunches, microwave access, stove and kettle use, and storage space for your non-perishable food items. Knowing what is possible in terms of storing and reheating your lunch will help you know what foods you should put in your lunch.
  • Make the most of leftovers from home meals. Keep lunch preparation as simple as possible by bringing leftovers to work. To avoid repetition, consider freezing various types of leftovers in portable containers. Choose the food that fits your mood and reheat it at lunch time.
  • Plan to keep your lunch foods safe and tasty by packing them in a reusable, insulated lunch bag. Use frozen containers of juice, water or milk to help keep foods cold. Use insulated containers to keep foods like soup or stew piping hot. Purchase a supply of inexpensive, reusable containers to carry cut-up fruit, sandwiches and salads.

Think Outside the Lunch Box!
Overcome the boredom that is sometimes associated with homemade lunches by varying your choices each day. Keep in mind that lunch does not have to be limited to sandwiches.

Here are some ideas for varying your food choices and keeping lunch tasty and enjoyable:

  • Spice it up. Top a leftover baked potato with salsa, kidney beans and grated cheese for lunch with a Mexican flare.
  • Dice leftover cooked chicken and mix with curry powder, celery, raisins and plain yogurt. Serve in a whole grain pita. 
  • Have breakfast for lunch. Pack your favourite cereal and a container of milk. Round out this lunch with a piece of fruit and a hard-boiled egg.
  • Go green. Salads are wonderful homemade lunch items. Save time by washing your salad ingredients in advance and preparing enough salad greens to last you several days. Pack vegetables such as cucumbers or sliced tomatoes in portable containers, and add them to your salad just before eating. Use leftover meats, canned fish, hard-boiled eggs, grated cheese or beans to top things off.
  • Brainstorm alternatives. Tired of bread? Why not serve your sandwich as a wrap or a pita? Enjoy tuna or salmon salad on whole-grain crackers. Add leftover chunks of ham to canned, baked beans for a hearty alternative to a ham sandwich. 

Food Safety
Food safety is important. Remember to use insulated containers and ice packs to keep foods at safe temperatures. Put food that’s meant to be hot in containers that lock the heat in. Use ice packs to keep cold food icy cool.

If possible, avoid eating at your desk. Desktops have been shown to harbour high levels of bacteria, which can pose a health risk. Enjoy lunch in the staff lunchroom or, weather permitting, head outside and have a picnic.

Take Activity Breaks During the Workday
Make you move! It’s good for every worker to take frequent activity breaks during the work day. The breaks can help to increase productivity and promote overall health and wellness.

For example:

  • Take frequent, short stretch breaks. Step away from your desk, and take a minute or two to get the kinks out.
  • Replace your coffee break with a walking break. Invite your co-workers to join you.
  • Sign up for a cause. Form a team in your office and participate in a charity fun run or walk. By training for the event ahead of time, your schedule will include more physical activity.
  • Recruit a leader. Bring a fitness leader into your office to lead an aerobics, yoga or resistance training class. Share the costs among the participants.

Healthy eating at work is a great idea! When combined with regular physical activity, including active breaks at work, it’s even better for you.

Learn More
Healthy Eating at Work
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers practical advice on making healthy eating happen in the workplace.

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide
Canada’s Food Guide is a quick, easy map of what you should eat and how much.

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