Join the lunch bunch.
Ideally, you should eat when you are hungry, not by the clock. Hunger is simply your body's request for more fuel. When your body has processed breakfast, hunger tells you it needs more food to continue functioning well. If you've eaten too little in the early morning, you can easily be ready for lunch at 10:00 a.m.
The question then arises: If you eat lunch before noon, what is left to eat the rest of the day? The solution is simple: A second lunch at 2:00 p.m. Two lunches may seem a novel idea to a population of lunch minimalists. However, adequate midday fueling contributes to an afternoon with more energy.
In general, try to divide your calories evenly when planning your daily menu, allotting 25% each for breakfast, lunch one, lunch two and dinner. Or, try consuming 30% for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus 10% of the day's calories for an afternoon snack. By experimenting with these patterns, you'll reduce afternoon cravings for sweets, pre-dinner hunger horrors and post-dinner dietary disasters.
Despite its importance, the logistics of a proper lunch can be difficult. Most brown-baggers quickly tire of the what-to-pack-for-lunch dilemma, and end up packing the same food everyday. If you're tired of the same menu, consider these suggestions for planning a power lunch:
--Using a calorie guide or the nutrition information on food labels, assemble a lunch with at least three types of food totaling 500 calories (if you are on a reducing diet) to 800 calories or more. This means, for example, a combination of a bagel, yogurt and a banana, or a salad, turkey and pita. Just a bagel (300 calories) or a salad (200 calories) is too little fuel. You'll end up craving sweets.
--Re-acquaint yourself with peanut butter. In this era of fat-free foods, it has become less popular. Peanut butter is a great food for athletes as well as dieters because it "sticks to the ribs," keeping you fueled for the whole afternoon. A peanut butter sandwich may have more calories than a standard turkey sandwich, but it's satisfying and helps nix excessive afternoon snacks that contribute surplus calories to your daily intake. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain about 16 grams of fat, but this can easily fit into your daily fat budget (about 50 grams fat for a dieting female athlete or 70 grams for an active man).
--Pack leftovers from dinner and heat them in a microwave oven. Homemade foods are nutritionally preferable to many instant lunches. When preparing instant lunches, make them healthy. A Cup of Noodles, for example, is little more than two packets of salt, one tablespoon of fat and refined white flour, providing little protein or nutritional value. Knorr's Hearty Lentil Soup or Fantastic Food's Rice and Beans, on the other hand, offer protein, fiber and other nutrients.
Fast Food Lunches
When you're grabbing lunch at a fast food restaurant, look for the lower fat options, such as Burger King's BK Broiler chicken sandwich without mayonnaise plus milk (450 calories, 11 grams of fat), Taco Bell's chicken fajita wrap plus a diet soda (460 calories, 12 grams of fat), or two slices of Domino's pizza (500 calories, 18 grams of fat). For dessert, eat a piece of fruit.
If you have a cafeteria at work or are involved in a business lunch, take advantage of the hot meal option. A nice dinner for lunch stokes your fire for an energetic late-afternoon workout and, since you'll feel less hungry, simplifies the dinner menu.
Lunches for Dieters
A nutritious lunch (a sandwich, yogurt and fruit, for example) will make you more effective at work, less hungry in the afternoon and less likely to experience hunger that results in a raid on the refrigerator. You will be able to lose weight and have more energy to exercise. Many weight-conscious people deem meals as "fattening" and commonly skip or skimp on lunch. As one overweight walker commented, "I'm fat, so I don't deserve to eat lunch." It's a sad statement, but nevertheless common in our society. Give yourself permission to appropriately fuel your body.
Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., offers private nutrition consultations at SportsMedicine Brookline in the Boston area. Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook ($18) and NYC Marathon Cookbook and Nutrition Guide ($23) are available at your local bookstore or by contacting SportsMedicine Brookline, 830 Boylston St., Brookline, MA 02167; (617) 739-2003.