Packing a Punch at Lunch


Did you know that for the Romans, the mid-day meal was the most important – and often the only meal of the day? With schedules catered to daylight hours rather than the clock, most working-class people had already put in a long day’s work by the time noon rolled around. This midday “dinner” would replenish their energy and keep them going until the same time the next day.

As the industrial revolution drove labourers into cities and into less physically demanding jobs, breakfast was introduced and emphasized as the meal that would get you through the working day, and with a little marketing help by favourite “breakfast foods” like cereal and bacon, breakfast stole the spotlight from dinner as the working man’s fuel!

While breakfast took on the heavy lifting of getting most people through the work day, the advent of electricity and artificial lighting pushed dinner time further into the evening. This large family meal became known as the biggest meal of the day, and our noon-time meal was unfortunately downgraded to a quick snack.

Today, many people spend their lunch time sitting and working away at their desks – some with a sandwich in one hand while others may be neglecting food entirely. Even our children have adopted some unfit lunchtime habits, such as trading their healthy lunches for more sugary snacks; neglecting to eat lunch in favour of playing with friends instead; or downright refusing to eat a healthy meal unless a parent or caregiver is present to supervise the situation.

With all the stressors of our fast-paced 21st century-life, how can we make sure that we prioritize being a little more active and eating a healthy lunch every day? Well, that’s where Nikki Gushue and Lisa Dooley come in!

Meet the Experts

Nikki is a therapeutic recreation specialist and Lisa a registered dietitian, both working with the Janeway Lifestyle Program. These ladies are experts who understand the consequences of skipping out on the essential midday break.

(l -r ) Lisa Dooley, registered dietitian, and Nikki Gushue, therapeutic recreation specialist, enjoying the outdoors at lunch time.

Using your lunch-hour as an escape from the grind will fuel your body and mind, and it will help you concentrate on tasks that you face in the afternoon.” ~ Lisa Dooley, registered dietician, Janeway Lifestyle Program, Eastern Health

As clinicians, Nikki and Lisa receive A LOT of questions from parents about finding ways to get the most out of lunch breaks at work and for their school-aged children. Nikki and Lisa understand that busy schedules and looming deadlines can contribute to unhealthy habits like working through your lunch break – but these habits can also keep people from taking the first steps toward incorporating physical activity into their day. If you want to learn how to pack a punch at lunch, check out this Q&A from Nikki and Lisa!

I want to be more active, but how do I get started?

Nikki believes that setting goals can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that even the smallest steps can lead to big results for you and your family.  Some of Nikki’s tips for setting goals and sticking to them include keeping goals realistic and obtainable. On top of that, Nikki stresses the importance of staying flexible.

“Your work day can change unexpectedly, but that’s no reason to abandon your fitness plan. Build in some wiggle room and you should be able to reach your goals every day, no matter what surprises come up,” says Nikki.

Prioritizing fitness in your schedule is one of the first steps toward living a healthy lifestyle.

I want to be a good role-model for my kids, but have a hard time finding the motivation to make and eat a healthy lunch every day.  How can I better encourage myself to maintain these habits?

It can be hard to prioritize making a nutritious lunch for tomorrow when you are just starting to relax after a busy work day. However, Lisa recommends one trick for staying motivated – and that is to make a list of all the lunches you’d like to make ahead before Monday rolls around! This way you have plenty of time to pick up any groceries you need to make the most out of your meals. If that doesn’t work, remind yourself of how much money you’ll save by making a lunch at home rather than choosing to eat out at a restaurant or going through the drive-thru.

Being a working parent means I don’t get a lot of free time – how can I make the most of my lunch break every day?

Don’t forget that your lunch break isn’t just for eating – it’s the perfect opportunity to get up from your desk and get some exercise! Go for a walk around the office or around the block, practice yoga or meditate. If you can, get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Even enjoying a change of scenery and reading a book, listening to music or writing in a journal can be a refreshing change of pace from sitting at a desk.

Research has demonstrated that if you sit for an extended period, you are at greater risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain cancers. Health Canada recommends that adults accumulate at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. So, do whatever you can do to get your blood pumping – it will help you feel more energized and help reduce your chances of getting sick!

Incorporate a little exercise in your lunch routine by going for a walk around the block.

That sounds good, but does it really make a difference?

Nikki and Lisa have both seen success with clients and their families when introducing routine activity and healthy eating during lunch time. It becomes part of a family’s overall healthy lifestyle, and when people of all ages achieve their healthy lifestyle goals, then the health of the community is much better. This is because the environment in which an individual decides to pursue their goals is key to their success. A great example that a little activity and healthy eating habits do make a difference involves the treatment of those who live with insulin resistance.

“We have had great success with families who have been identified with a diagnosis of insulin resistance” says Nikki and Lisa.  Insulin resistance is a medical condition where a person’s body is unable to use insulin effectively.  In these cases, your body has to make more insulin to handle the sugars from the foods that you eat.  Nikki says that “physical activity has shown great benefits in encouraging the cells to use the insulin in a proper way.”

In terms of foods that can help with this issue, Lisa says that “carbohydrates are used by your muscles when you exercise. The faster a carbohydrate is digested, the faster it enters the blood stream as sugar. A spike in blood sugar levels requires a lot of insulin all at once, so including food that has fibre and/or healthy fat and protein can slow down the digestion and release of sugar, which makes it easier for your body to handle.”

Lisa and Nikki sharing advice on how to incorporate healthy eating and fitness into a lunch break.

What does “healthy living” look like over the next 10 years?

Newfoundland and Labrador has some of the highest incidences of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure in the world. If more people ate well and were active throughout the day, it would likely improve their overall health.  If Nikki and Lisa were asked to make three wishes to make people healthier, they would wish for: sitting times at work and school be reduced; more time allotted for activity and eating during each lunch period; and more access to healthy foods at school and work!

Get started today!

When you’re a working parent, those first steps toward a healthier lifestyle can be intimidating, but by setting goals and incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you might be surprised at how easy it can be! Getting active on your lunch break is only one of many ways you can reach your health and fitness goals though. Building a plan that works for you is the key to achieving results.

For more information about living a healthy lifestyle, visit Eastern Health’s Healthy Living A-Z page. You can also check out the Janeway Lifestyle Program page for resources about healthy living for the whole family!

This story was written by Maegan Marshall, a communications student with Eastern Health, working in conjunction with Lisa Dooley, registered dietician and Nikki Gushue, recreation specialist with the Janeway Lifestyle Program. 

2 responses to “Packing a Punch at Lunch

  1. Interesting and informative— just got to get moving and easting the proper fuel for our bodies. I am going to make time to walk each lunch time. Feel my diet is OK– Always room for improvement, thanks ladies.

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