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Lunch Ideas for the Shrinking Lunch "Hour"

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Working through LunchMore and more Americans are finding that they don't have the luxury of a 60-minute lunch. Some people have more than one job or they are working while attending school, which creates a chaotic schedule that has them rushing from one obligation to the next.

Lunches also are being voluntarily sacrificed by employees who worry about staying ahead, while other employees don't have a choice, as some companies don't grant workers enough of a lunch break. A 2006 study conducted by Impulse Research and Kentucky Fried Chicken found that more than 50 percent of workers surveyed take 30 minutes or less at lunchtime. The survey also found the following:

  • More than 60 percent of office workers think the hour-long lunch is "the biggest myth in office life"
  • Of those surveyed, 58 percent eat lunch at their desk while continuing to work
  • More than half of workers surveyed multitask while eating lunch--running personal errands, surfing the Internet, or checking their e-mail

It seems the diminishing lunch hour is here to stay. If you can't take a break to recharge, it's even more important to make good food choices. Eating healthfully boosts brain activity, fights fatigue, and combats anxiety and stress.

Fitting in a Lunch

The problem is that a lunch can be time-consuming. Soups and salads take time to eat and are impossible if you are eating on the go. While it may be tempting to hit the fast food drive-through, there are options for better lunches. The busier you are, the more important it is to eat well.

The first thing to do is to take stock of what is available. If you have access to a refrigerator or a freezer, bring some of the following foods to last through the work or school week:

  • deli meats
  • sliced cheeses
  • low-fat condiments
  • prepared, sliced veggies (think carrot and celery sticks)
  • yogurt
  • healthy frozen meals by brands like Amy's Kitchen or Kashi

Add some bread and crackers, and you'll always have a healthy, time saving lunch. No fridge access? Stash some of the following food items at your desk:

  • bread
  • whole-grain pita
  • whole-wheat crackers
  • peanut butter
  • tuna salad kits
  • oatmeal (if you have a microwave)
  • walnuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • dried fruit, such as blueberries and raisins
  • trail mix
  • granola bars

Replace Lunch with Snacks

Some people do better with smaller, more frequent meals. If you don't have 30 minutes to spare, have little meals throughout your day. The key is that the meals must be smaller than a full lunch, or you might overeat without realizing it.

It works like this: the overall amount of calories you eat stays the same, but you break up your lunch into smaller parts. Slice up your sandwich into quarters, pack a handful of nuts, yogurt, and a piece of fruit. When you have a spare moment, snack on your lunch. While having an hour to relax and enjoy a meal is ideal, the best brown bag lunches are the ones you actually have time to eat!

Stay Hydrated

If your schedule is so hectic that you can barely make time to eat, you might not be taking time to drink enough water, either. Dehydration can cause fatigue, so keep energy levels up with a reusable stainless steel water bottle that you can sip from throughout the day. If you don't like plain water, add some fresh mint or a twist of lemon to give it some flavor.

No matter how pressed for time you find yourself, planning ahead for nutritious meals is the best way to keep up your focus and stamina.