Lake Norman Magazine

How to make lunch healthy

Jennifer Lee Dean, Principal of Bailey Middle School.
Jennifer Lee Dean, Principal of Bailey Middle School. Courtesy of Jennifer Lee Dean

For most people, lunch is the hardest meal of the day. After grabbing a quick breakfast, or making sure other family members eat breakfast before leaving the house, and then making sure something is planned for dinner, and perhaps packing a healthy lunch for others, it can be hard to muster up the same energy for your own mid-day meal. We invited some local leaders to track their lunches for us, and then shared their logs with Amanda Downs, a clinical dietician with Lake Norman Regional Medical Center. She weighed in with insights and tips all of us can use to make lunch less of a second thought and more of the power meal we need to get through our day.

Greg Lowe, Chief Executive Officer of Lake Norman Regional Medical Center His Reality: With a busy work and family life, Lowe’s schedule consists of many business lunches.One Sample Lunch: Reuben sandwich and gazpacho soup with a half portion of banana cream pie and a Diet Coke. What He’s Doing Right: Lowe’s soup choice, gazpacho, is tomato-based and full of vegetables. Avoiding cream-based soups helps him avoid fat and cholesterol. Recommendations: Reubens are high in calories and sodium because of the corned beef, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and the butter used to crisp the bread. Instead, choose turkey breast or grilled chicken on whole grain bread, wrap, or pita and load it with onion, lettuce, tomatoes and other veggies. Request lighter condiments such as mustard or ask for the condiments on the side so you can control the portion. If you are having dessert, plan accordingly. Eat a smaller lunch, then share a rich dessert, or order a lighter dessert for yourself.

Erika Arnold, Executive Director of the Lake Norman YMCAHer Reality: With two sons and a busy work life, business meetings, convenience and lack of time dictate Arnold’s lunch choices.One Sample Lunch: A grilled chicken salad with lettuce, green peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and ranch dressing, and a Diet Pepsi. What She’s Doing Right: On the day of her sample lunch, Arnold had a late breakfast meeting so she chose a light lunch. Looking at the bigger picture to plan a meal can help inform your choices about diversity, calories and nutrients. Choosing grilled chicken over fried is also a wise choice. Recommendations: Restaurant salads are often less healthy than a home-prepared version. To make your restaurant salad healthier, ask for less cheese, no croutons and a low fat or light vinaigrette dressing placed on the side, and take half the salad home for a later meal.

Jill Swain, Marketing Consultant and Mayor of Huntersville Her Reality: Swain usually does not have time to sit down and eat. Her goal for lunch is something quick and easy.One Sample Lunch: A tortellini salad with cheese tortellini, lettuce, cauliflower, carrots and mustard vinaigrette with a piece of bread and a Diet Coke. What She’s Doing Right: Loading her pasta salad with veggies and using a vinaigrette dressing were good choices.

Jennifer Lee Dean, Principal of Bailey Middle School Her Reality: While knowledgeable about healthy food choices, Dean doesn’t always plan for lunch, which can lead to less-healthy choices or skipping meals. One Sample Lunch: The Spud Max baked potato and half of the Savannah Chopped Salad with sweet tea from McAlister’s. What She’s Doing Right: A varied salad provides nutrients and diversity. Tip: A deli can be a good choice for lunch out. A simple sandwich, when well made, can provide many of the major food groups - lean protein, whole grains, dairy, vegetables and even a bit of heart-healthy fat. Try adding some hummus or avocado to your sandwich for added taste and texture and to replace some of the high-calorie condiments.

Rev. Ernest Jeffries, Assistant Dean of Students at Davidson College and Pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church in DavidsonHis Reality: With his busy work commitments, Jeffries often eats out for lunch. If he does eat at home, he generally doesn’t have a lot of time to think about what to prepare.One Sample Lunch: A chicken salad sandwich with a half cup of chicken salad on wheat bread, 15 Special K baked chips, a peach and water. What He’s Doing Right: Jeffries made healthy choices with wheat bread and baked chips and then carefully monitored his portions.

Easy options from home

--Marinate sliced cucumber, broccoli, sliced onion, diced tomato, and sliced green or red peppers in a light honey mustard. Serve in a whole grain pita pocket.--Mix a can of chicken with low fat mayonnaise, a diced Granny Smith apple, a small handful of raisins, and a dash of black pepper. Serve on a small ciabatta roll.--Mix cooked long-grain rice, drained and rinsed canned black beans and salsa together; serve chilled. --Mix cooked whole wheat pasta with canned salmon and baby tomatoes. Drizzle with a basic vinaigrette or low-fat Italian dressing.--Sauté sliced mushrooms and onions in canola or olive oil. Sprinkle with dried rosemary and basil. Place mushroom mixture onto half of a toasted whole wheat bagel. Top with fresh spinach and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

More tips for healthy meals

--Prepare meals the night before so you have a healthy lunch option ready to go the next day. All you need is a refrigerator or an insulated lunch box to keep the food cool.--Choose calories you can chew. Downs recommends drinking water or zero calorie beverages instead of sweet tea, juice, sports drinks, regular soda, alcohol and specialty coffees. --Don’t eat snacks or meals at the computer or television or while reading. People tend to eat larger portions and less healthy options when they’re distracted and come to associate eating with those particular activities. --Focus on eating slowly, putting the fork down between bites, and chewing food well. Eating quickly can cause that overstuffed, uncomfortable feeling that makes you feel sluggish through the afternoon.--Snack on fiber bars, high fiber cereal, oatmeal, reduced fat popcorn, nuts, low fat yogurt, reduced fat cheese, raw fruits and vegetables, no-salt-added canned vegetables or steamable frozen vegetables.