Healthy team lunch ideas for the office.
Having a healthy lunch in the office isn’t always the easiest thing, often it feels like pizza is the only way – especially when organising food for you and your team. Here’s some ideas on how to encourage your office to make better food choices, including some practical tips on what foods you should eat to stop you from feeling hungry and making poor lunch decisions. We’ll also give you some examples of tasty, fun and nutritious team lunches, to show you that it can be done.
So, we know that it’s good to eat a healthy and nutritionally-balanced diet, but why?
A study from the International Labour Association found that inadequate nutrition can reduce productivity by up to 20%. Most of us see food just as a source of energy during the workday. In fact, proper nutrition can directly enhance brain function. Glucose and carbohydrates give us what we need to keep going, but the brain and body still require sufficient amounts of zinc, calcium, magnesium and omega 3 in order to operate at an optimum level.
Also, many people that work in office environments suffer from stress. Stress is clinically proven to alter eating habits; people experiencing stress are more likely to want to consume foods high in carbohydrates, fat and sugars. In a 2015 study by the British Journal of Health Psychology, participants with a higher fruit and veg intake reported significantly greater feelings of creativity, well-being and life-satisfaction.
Take away the temptation of bad choices.
As we’ve already said, the stress of a long to-do list causes us to physically crave more sugar and carbohydrates. Not that carbs and sugars should be demonised altogether: Studies show that small amounts of carbohydrates in a diet high in fruits and vegetables provides a sustained source of energy released throughout the day. That being said, excessive consumption of carbs and sugars is proven to create feelings of sluggishness and tiredness.
A study was recently conducted on this subject, featured in Food, Culture & Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research’. It suggested that the the office culture of grabbing something quickly during a busy day at work was responsible for making what it considered to be ‘wrong’ dietary choices. The main culprit was ‘unplanned cake offerings’ and most interestingly the rise of ‘food altars’. These are the areas of your office where leftovers from meetings, birthdays, and breakfast buffets provide your office with a never-ending parade of carb and sugar-filled food choices.
The unplanned presence of unhealthy food choices are likely to derail even the best-intentioned members of your team, with the study suggesting that not being able to control the kinds of food you come into contact with can be an unmanageable risk.
We don’t believe that a celebratory birthday cake should be forbidden as an occasional indulgence. However, when someone has cooked and brought in a nutritionally well-balanced meal and at lunchtime is met with an unforeseen birthday candy buffet, that is a different story. A participant of the study admitted that the decision of whether or not to indulge in an unexpected sweet treat commonly occupied two hours of her morning meeting.
Replace with healthier options
A great first step is to encourage hydration among your team. Most of us know that we need to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day and that if we don’t, we get headaches and feel lethargic. Research shows that even mild dehydration can negatively affect mood, energy level and ability to think clearly. Unfortunately, many of us only think about how much water we drink when we are in hot climates or when doing intense exercise.
A study from the University of Connecticut concluded that we don’t feel feel thirsty until we are already dehydrated, and by this time our mind and body is already suffering the ill effects. Staying properly hydrated is just as important for those who work all day at a computer as it for marathon runners.
Also, 2-3 pints of cold water can burn an extra 50 calories each day, because of the added energy needed to bring the water to body temperature. This can have great benefits in aiding effortless weight loss. Especially considering you’ll likely be drinking less fizzy drinks and sugary juices. Also, hunger is stronger than the feeling of thirst so keeping hydrated can eliminate a false feeling of hunger.
A great way to promote hydration in the office is to put a selection of fruit in a communal water dispenser, turning regular drinking water into something much more delicious. A fun way to go about this is to rotate the fruit used to add variety, our favourites are limes, lemons, cucumbers, berries and mint. Simply buy or use an existing water dispenser, cut up fresh fruit, and let the water sit for a couple of hours to give the flavours a chance to diffuse. Then, enjoy the refreshing taste of the natural fruit juices mixed with the water.
Preparing healthy snacks in advance is a great way to avoid the temptation of whatever happens to be in the office. Here’s some examples of easy-to-prepare office snacks that will keep you feeling full until lunch rolls around.
Almonds are a great source of healthy fat, and have the highest amount of protein and fiber of any nut. They are also uniquely rich in Vitamin E and contain monounsaturated fats that helps increase high-density lipoproteins cholesterol (also known as ‘the good cholesterol’). These are great to snack on throughout the day and help maintain a healthy heart when eaten regularly. A small jar of these on your desk or in the office cupboard are sure to provide enough flavour and energy to stop you straying towards unhealthy snack options.
What’s great about popcorn is that most of us associate it with going to the cinema, not with being healthy. However, popcorn without added sugar and a little salt is actually low-calorie and full of fibre. Let the crunchiness keep your mouth busy as you work, keeping you full until lunch. It’s also cheap and easy to make: simply put 1/4 of popcorn kernels in a microwavable bowl, cover it with a plate and let the popcorn do its thing for 2-3 minutes. Natural seasonings like cinnamon, red pepper flakes or cumin can also add some flavour, depending on your preference.
Hummus with Veggies
A bowl of hummus with carrot, celery, or cucumber makes a simple and tasty snack that is fun to eat. Perfect to enjoy on a short morning break (or as a great addition or alternative to the normal crisps at a work function!), this satisfying crunchy snack boasts a surprisingly well-balanced nutrient content. The chickpeas in hummus are source of calcium, iron, protein and fiber, leaving you feeling full and helping to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Sometimes the craving for decadence is a bit too much, and we just need something sweet. There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself to a few squares of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate with a cacao content of 70% or higher is best, and it is a good source of magnesium, which is proven to reduce feelings of stress. Some sources even recommend eating a little bit every day, because it contains antioxidants, lowers LDL cholesterol and increases blood flow.
Arrange a healthy lunch for your office
Another way to encourage your office to choose healthy food options is to arrange a healthy lunch for everyone in your office to enjoy together. Communal eating creates an atmosphere of togetherness, solidifying the members of your office as a team. Kevin Kniffin of Cornell University said ‘from an evolutionary anthropology perspective, eating together has a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue. That seems to continue in today’s workplace.’
In his study, Kniffin found that eating together at work facilitated collaboration that otherwise would not have taken place had people not had the opportunity to eat together. It also increased productivity in the workplace because it prevented people wasting time and energy travelling to get food from outside. Also, he found that members of a team were encouraged to eat healthier when they have influence over the menus.
Team lunches are also a great way to get members of your team who wouldn’t normally interact to spend time with one another. This can encourage the sharing of ideas without a need for an outcome and without the stress of a deadline. Eating communal meals is also proven to improve employee retention, because staff feel valued and most importantly, that they are among friends. A simple way to facilitate this is to have new and exciting food delivered to your office. This inspires conversation and a sharing of opinion amongst the team.
Here’s some examples of fun and delicious meals to enjoy as a team, courtesy of some of our amazing vendors:
This sharing buffet from Hummus Bros. makes for a fun and interactive eating experience, complete with pita, corn chip and enough hummus for even the hungriest bunch.
This feast from We Grill is a perfect for a fun team lunch. Healthy marinated meat skewers give a dose of protein, with the slow-release carbohydrates in the wholegrain couscous and roasted sweet potato providing a delicious way to maintain energy for the remainder of the day.
You could also encourage people in your office to have a recipe-swap, sharing healthy recipes and bringing in the results to share and compare. Sometimes even getting out of the office can be rewarding, going out for a walk to collect a healthy meal to bring back and eat in the office to eat together. This is particularly nice in the summer, when the team can take a trip to a local park, enjoy the sun and soak up some Vitamin D.