Whether you’re working a paycheckaholic-type job or starting your own business, you need to be at your best throughout the day. The lunchtime break is a critical time to nourish your body with a healthy lunch and nurture your mental and emotional well-being. What you eat plays a critical role in your brain function and energy level, and how you use the lunch break can impact your performance and your future. To help you get the most out of your workday, follow these tips on what to eat for lunch and how to eat it.

  1. First, it’s important to take a break for lunch. Multitasking is not good for digestion. No matter how busy your day is, find at least 10-15 minutes (preferably more) to step away from your desk. This will give you a much-needed change of scenery and will give your brain a rest. Getting away from your desk can be hard to do in the US, where people often work through lunch, but you’ll find that taking a break makes you more effective during your afternoon activities. Block out time in your calendar so that meetings don’t get scheduled at lunchtime.
  2. If possible, sit for at least 5 minutes after you’ve finished eating so that digestion can begin. Avoid jumping up from your meal and immediately returning to other tasks.  If you’re sitting alone, it can help to have a newspaper or magazine handy; after you’ve finished eating, read an article or two before you return to work.
  3. As often as you can, pack a lunch and bring it from home.  This will not only save you money and time but will also give you the greatest control over what you are consuming. There are few—if any—affordable lunchtime take-out places that offer truly healthful options. Most to-go food is laden with additives, refined salt, refined carbohydrates and damaged fats. Bringing your own food will ensure that you’re providing your body with the nutrients it needs.
  4. Ensure that your meal contains some protein. Protein will help to keep your blood sugar steady throughout the afternoon, and it’s beneficial for brain function. Chicken, turkey and grass-fed beef are good choices. Be careful with tuna, as it tends to be high in mercury. If you’re a vegetarian, try some raw milk cheese.
  5. Eat cooked vegetables, not raw ones. Having heard or read that raw foods are more nutritious, many people choose a salad for lunch. Like a lot of what we read, however, the notion that raw vegetables are better is simply not accurate. Cooked vegetables contain many more minerals than raw ones, and the minerals are more easily digested.
  6. Avoid sugar. Sugar will you a short-term boost, but you’ll soon crash again and find yourself craving some coffee or a mid-afternoon snack. Skip the cookies, candy bars and sugary Starbucks drinks, too.
  7. Avoid drinking water or any other beverage with your meal. Drinking liquids will dilute the digestive juices, and many people have weak digestion. Ideally, give your digestive system an hour to begin digestion of your lunch before drinking water.
  8. Avoid too many carbs. Too many carbs—especially rice, bread, and potatoes—will be digested quickly and cause blood sugar issues. You’re likely to end up feeling sleepy sometime during the afternoon. My personal nutritional consultant recommends no more than 72 grams of carbs per day.
  9. Be sure that your meal includes some good fat. This could be butter, olive oil, avocado or other fats that come from whole foods. Fat will help to stabilize your blood sugar and give you sustained energy throughout the afternoon. Your brain is made of fat, most of which is saturated, so for your brain to function well, you need to consume adequate amount of fat.
  10. Use your lunch hour to build relationships, whether in your current organization or outside of it. Take the time to get to know new people in the office, or step out of the office to meet up with people who’ve left. You never know which relationships may unlock doors for you in your future business opportunities.

For my own lunch, I usually bring food from home. My lunch is simple and usually consists of 2-3 items. I’ll have a piece of chicken or roast beef, perhaps with a small amount of some leftover rice or potatoes thrown in. Along with this, I’ll eat a good-sized portion of vegetables that I’ve cooked at home that morning or the night before.  I use a mini Crock-Pot to reheat my cooked vegetables. Once they’re hot, I top them with plenty of butter and sea salt.  For dessert, I may have some raw cheese or a homemade almond-flour muffin.  I enjoy sitting at the lunch table with my colleagues and getting to know them better.

Think about what changes you can make in your lunchtime routine. It doesn’t have to all or nothing.  Eat lunch away from your desk, and notice your reaction. Try bringing your lunch from home a few days per week and see how you feel. Experiment with different foods and see how your body reacts to them. Which foods provide you with sustained energy over the afternoon? Which foods make you sleepy?

Do you have other lunchtime tips? If so, share them in the comments section below.