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For the love of waffles, could you please ease off on your claim that you’re the most important meal of the day? That’s about as debatable as calling a Pop-Tart a ravioli. In truth, I’m also essential to productivity, happiness, good health, learning, and a bright smile. I can be packed in cute little bento boxes and be beautifully colorful, nutritious, and delicious. Without me, both toddlers and CEOs would have meltdowns on a regular basis — and that’s just bad mojo. Breakfast, please stop grabbing all the headlines with your questionable claims.
With love, whole grains, and good energy,
Now seriously, let’s talk about lunch. Only 1 in 5 people break for the midday meal, opting instead to eat a lonely, sad desk lunch, often comprised of highly processed foods. But as best-selling author and human-behavior expert Tom Rath told Fast Company: “You don’t have time to skip your lunch break. What you do at lunch can either make or break the rest of the day.” Taking time to truly renourish your body and connect with others boosts innovation and satisfaction at work, but it’s also essential for long-term health. Here’s why lunch is a midday must-have:
Choosing the right bites can boost brain power and productivity up to 20 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Another study backs this up: In a 2012 survey of nearly 20,000 U.S. employees, workers with an unhealthy diet were 66 percent more likely to report a loss in productivity.
To keep plugging away, you need a lunch that steadily fuels your brain with its primary food: glucose. While soda, candy, and white bread quickly spike blood-sugar levels, the crash that follows can leave you processing as slowly as a 1980s computer. Instead choose complex carbohydrates — found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains — that gradually break down in your body, providing a non-stop stream of energy to your brilliant mind.
Take a list of healthy foods to the grocery store when you shop to make it easier to make good choices. Pin up another list in your kitchen to help you remember which foods deserve most of your attention. By the way, it's also OK to eat the same lunch every day — like CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and fashion designer Victoria Beckham — as long as it’s healthy and part of a varied diet overall.
Feeling blue? Try adding more greens to your lunch. A 2019 study with 40,000 participants showed a link between fruit and vegetable consumption and a sense of mental well-being and life satisfaction over five years. It didn’t take a lot to lighten one’s mood either: just one portion equal to a cup of raw veggies or one whole piece of fruit.
As the study’s authors relate, this could be connected how “vitamins C and E have been shown to lower inflammatory markers linked to depressive mood.” Another study in the British Journal of Health Psychology showed that the more produce young adults ate, the more they felt more engaged, curious, and creative.Orange you glad you had that banana? 🍊🍌😜 (No studies show whether bad jokes are correlated to a poor diet.)
Fill your brown bag with a rainbow by including veggies and fruits in as many colors as you can. Think red tomatoes, orange slices, yellow peppers, green edamame, blueberries, and purple eggplant. The pot of gold? A giant dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
Hmmm … Cheetos or chopped salad? The choice gets harder to make the hungrier you are. That’s why skipping lunch to lose weight actually backfires, causing people to overeat or make lousy decisions about snacks. To keep your metabolism humming, your energy levels high, and your weight on track, you’ve gotta eat at least three meals a day.
For sustained energy all afternoon, look for lunch options that combine a low-fat protein with a complex carbohydrate, plus a healthy fat. For example, try a roasted chicken and avocado sandwich on whole-grain bread or spicy vegan lentil soup with toasted whole-wheat pita and olive oil. Get inspired with ideas for healthy lunches online.
See ya later tater tots! Filling up kiddos with first-rate food at lunch also helps them to be more productive, happy, creative, and healthy, plus it improves their academic achievement. As reported in The Atlantic, a 2017 study on school lunch quality and academic performance shows that “students at schools that contract with a healthier school-lunch vendor perform somewhat better on state tests — and this option appears highly cost-effective compared to policy interventions that typically are more expensive, like class-size reduction.”
To earn your child’s lunch an A+, whether it’s home-packed or school-bought, follow Harvard’s simple formula for a healthy meal: “Fill half your plate (or lunch box) with colorful fruits or vegetables (aim for two to three different types), one-quarter with whole grains, and the remaining quarter with healthy proteins.”
Take a nutritious note from the Japanese and use leak-proof bento boxes to pack bright, balanced lunches for your child (and you, too). YumBox makes it easy for tired parents to get portions right with sections pre-labeled “fruit,” “veggies” “protein,” “grains,” and “dairy.” There’s also an optional tiny spot for a sweet — or a love note.
Use mini Japanese cookie-cutters to turn slices of cantaloupe, watermelon, or even carrots into a parade of animals so adorable even picky eaters might be tempted to try them.
It’s no secret that staying away from sweets leads to healthier teeth. But you can also supercharge your smile by including high-fiber, water-packed produce in your noon meal. Celery, watermelon, and strawberries all help scrub bacteria and plaque away, plus strawbs contain malic acid, a natural stain-fighter. Dairy products that are high in calcium, including greek yogurt and milk, help protect and rebuild your tooth’s enamel. Kale and collard greens are also high in calcium and bone-protecting vitamin K. How ’bout them apples? They’re dentist-approved, too, since theyboost saliva production, which helps rinse away food particles and stinky bacteria while also neutralizing acid.
For dessert, how about a little dark chocolate? The American Dental Association states that chocolate washes off teeth more easily and has less sugar than other candy. While we’re not suggesting you start swishing with hot chocolate, recent studies on cocoa show that it may be more effective than flouride in fighting cavities due to its antibacterial properties.
Look for a dark chocolate bar with high cocoa content (70 percent or more) and less than 6 to 8 grams of sugar per serving. (P.S. Don’t forget to brush and break out the Cocofloss after your sweet treat!)