Get Packed – how to organise your healthy lunch

Regardless of how old you are, it only takes a moment to remember what it was like to go through the routine of getting ready for school. A big part of that process was packing your lunchbox because if you accidently forgot that (which I did on occasion) then your day was definitely below par. As a kid it was pretty tough to maintain those energy levels on little or no food and it’s really no different as an adult. Quite often when I am educating workplaces and their teams on how to choose healthy food and give them tips on managing their energy levels, organisation and thinking ahead are some of the key components. For this to happen like a well-oiled machine, there are a couple of logistical steps to take the night before.

  • Have one or several containers that you can use to store your lunch and snacks. You will also need a bag that is big enough to carry your food to work. It doesn’t need to be huge.
  • When you are choosing a meal to cook for dinner, double the recipe and instantly you have lunch for the next day plus some extra to store in the freezer for later. Everyone loves leftovers!
  • When you are preparing your salad or vegetables for your evening meal, have a container at the ready and just make an extra serve for the next day.
  • Pack your workbag before you go to bed leaving minimal preparation for the morning when you are rushing around getting ready and dramatically reduce your stress levels. The same thing you used to do for school right?

Simple Lunch Ideas to Bring to Work

  1. The Simple Sandwich – No-one likes a soggy sandwich! To avoid an unappetising lunch, simply store the sandwich ingredients in a separate container to the bread and assemble when you are ready.Use a mixture of breads such as sliced, rolls or wraps and choose wholegrain, wholemeal or chia seed enriched for a boost of fibre. No need to spread with butter or margarine. Tasty healthy fillings include: lean ham, sliced tomato and reduced fat cheese, smoked salmon and low fat cream cheese, sliced chicken with salad leaves and a light spread of low fat mayonnaise, grated reduced fat cheese topped with baby spinach leaves, sliced turkey breast topped with avocado, tuna mixed with low fat mayonnaise, finely diced red onion and flat leaf parsley.
  1. If a sandwich doesn’t appeal, try a big colourful salad with leaves, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, crunchy sprouts and sliced red capsicum topped with an egg or a small tin of tuna or tin of 4 bean mix and a slice of grainy bread. Make the salad the night before and add the protein and bread at lunchtime.
  2. Anything left? – If you loved your dinner the night before there is nothing better than enjoying it again the next day. Just make sure that you have some protein in the form of meat, chicken or fish, some carbohydrate like rice or pasta and some vegetables or salad. Cooking an extra portion the night before is an easy and cost effective way of ensuring your lunch is organised.
  3. Something hot – Enjoy soup or a hot lunch that can be quickly whipped up in the office kitchen. Why not try:
  • Home-made or prepared soups (without added cream or salt) plus a wholegrain roll
  • A small tin of baked beans (or any other tinned legume) or small tin of tuna combined with a single serve pouch of brown rice or noodles (90 seconds in the microwave) and your favourite frozen vegetable.
  • A couple of slices of wholegrain toast topped with a handful of baby spinach leaves and a small tin of baked beans

If you start to think about getting ready for your workday just like a school day way back when, your food and energy levels will be on track for the day and you save money and precious time.

This blog was first published for Healthier Workplace WA

Meetings Matter

Businessman asleep at his desk on white backgroundAt the very mention of a meeting, any meeting at all, I can feel myself getting twitchy and anxious.  The thought of sitting and using up precious time that I will never, ever get back fills me with dread. And, I know I am not alone as there are many cynics out there who describe meetings as ‘the most frustrating exercises in pointlessness ever invented.’ Amen to them. These meetings frequent both our work calendars and our home lives through all kinds of places like P and C and sporting associations.  The time wasting nature of these gatherings do not discriminate. The good news is, there are ways in which we can make any type of meeting productive and worthwhile.  Both David Price and Sean Blanda who writes for 99U suggests there are three critical factors that can make meetings matter:

  1. All meetings must have a stated purpose or agenda – if not, the meeting is just an aimless gathering or opportunity for a social chit-chat
  2. Attendees should walk away with concrete next steps or action items
  3. The meeting should have an end time so that attendees don’t go rambling off topic and get diverted into useless conversation

These three points are integral but not the only things that dictate a productive meeting.  How often have you spent your day rushing from one meeting to the next with barely a moment to dash into the restrooms?  Managing energy and engagement should go hand in hand with the logistical structure of meetings and some useful strategies include:

  • Give me a break! – Any meeting that extends longer than 90 minutes should have a scheduled physical break.  Research on the way we manage our physical and mental energy shows that we work best when we cycle between using and renewing energy. Asking attendees to sit for longer than 90 minutes means that it is much more likely they are thinking about other things or switched off and thinking about nothing at all. Taking a 5 minute stretch or refreshment break increases blood circulation to the brain and body and acts as a pattern interrupt allowing you to refocus and re-engage.
  • Can everyone please stand-up? – With prolonged sitting being a major risk factor for all kinds of lifestyle diseases, why not make your next meeting a stand-up.  It’s a bit like a pop-up shop, you don’t need to have all your meetings like this but it is good to mix it up and spend some time away from the chair, plus it does shift the energy in the group.
  • Don’t do distraction – How often do you attend a meeting where everyone is busy looking at a device?  Now sure, sometimes the presentation is being streamed through laptops and tablets but would bringing the presentation back to a main screen enhance the engagement of your group? This could eliminate device distraction.  Your minute taker should be recording all action items for each attendee anyway.
  • Mint mentality – There are few meetings that do not feature the ubiquitous bowl of mints in the centre of the table.  These little sugary distractions disappear in the blink of an eye simply because  they are there and often more exciting than the meeting.  Every time you mindlessly eat one, visualise 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar entering your blood stream. They can really add up can’t they? If you are the meeting organiser ask for the bowl to be removed and don’t forget  to have water, tea, coffee and fresh fruit on hand instead.

Sprint Finish

running sprint vs marathonA few nights ago I came to the end of my first month back at interval run training.  I say back, because prior to this, the last time I graced the springy grass track was over 10 years ago before I had kids.  It has hurt me big time, because for many years I have just been running. Training for 10, 21 and 42km events that have seen my pace pretty much stay the same.  Flatline. This year, I wanted to shake it up a bit and see if my legs could turn over a little faster. It seems they can. Going to intervals makes me anxious. I know its going to be hard and competitive. My heart and lungs will feel like they are about to jump out and run their own race.  But what gets me to the end of each gritty set, is the finish line and a short breather. These days we run our lives like a marathon event with no rest and no finish line in sight.  We just keep going without regularly stopping to recover and regroup, which dramatically impacts our quality of life and ability to stay at the top of our game. Research shows that our bodies work best with 90 minute cycles of work, followed by a brief break.  This means focusing on whatever your task may be for 90 minutes, reaching the finish line and then taking a 5 minute breather.  Your focus will be hugely improved, your energy levels will be stable and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.  It cuts down on distraction when you know there is a finish line just around the corner. Start thinking about your life as a sprint event not a marathon.  Sprinters give 100% because they can see the finish line.    

Warning: Energy Speed Bump Ahead

making biscuits

In Italy, the snack or Il spuntino is reserved solely for children.  Adults simply do not snack here, unless one is enjoying an aperitif and a few morsels of potato chips fall into ones mouth. In stark opposition, the Australian snack movement is alive and kicking and research revealed this week by Roy Morgan Research shows that the potato chip is still the most popular snack in the land down under. In the year up to March 2013,  over a third of Australians 14+ years had purchased the product in an average four week period.  Sweet biscuits slid into second place and nuts rounded out the Top Three! From a nutritionists perspective this news is somewhat gloomy, although not surprising. However, this data is somewhat misleading as basic foods such as fruit, dairy products and bread are not considered to be in the snack food category for these types of surveys but are very often used as everyday snacks.

For some of us, snacking is an essential part of keeping energy levels high, while for others, it doesn’t even rate a mention. Snacking can be great for keeping hunger pangs at bay, controlling weight, satisfying small appetites and providing important nutrients. However, in our current climate of upsizing, snacks can contribute significantly more kilojoules (calories) to our diets than are required. Larger portions have more kilojoules and more kilojoules mean weight gain.

Your lifestyle and routine will probably dictate whether you are a three-meal-per-day person or a “grazer.” The term grazing is so called because cows like to do the same thing. You may not like to think of yourself out in the field chomping down on grass but grazing usually means snacking or having five to six smaller meals spread out over the day. It doesn’t matter if you have three large meals or three smaller meals and three snacks each day. Weight maintenance is achieved when your food intake matches your expenditure (exercise), regardless of when you consume them.

Snacking can be a great way of keeping your blood sugar and energy levels stable but keep a check on what and how much you are actually eating over the day. It can be easy to exceed your daily energy requirements through regular snacking, so make sure that you don’t fill up on biscuits, cakes, lollies, chocolate and chips or whatever is handy from the vending machine. These types of foods are high in sugar, fat and salt but low in fibre and are certainly not good for your health.

To be a healthy snacker, planning is important. Shopping regularly and having healthy snacks on hand makes it less likely that you will reach for fatty and sugary foods containing massive amounts of kilojoules. It will also save you money as items purchased from vending machines and convenience stores are often priced at a premium. Regardless of whether you are at work, school, university or at home, planning and packing your food intake the night before is a strategy employed by many healthy snackers. The routine of packing a lunch bag for school works just as well when heading off to work although your lunchbox may not be quite as colourful as it used to be!

A problem time for many people is the third quarter of the day, kicking off after lunch and finishing around 3 p.m. This is often when you feel least energetic – and you try to ward off the desire to lie down on the desk or carpet. A snack is often required to boost blood sugar levels but can be a nutrition trap. It is tempting to grab something quick and easy, but pre-packaged convenience snacks will not give you the long-lasting energy you need to get through the day.

When choosing snacks, the following guide may be useful. Look at their size and energy value to ensure snacks don’t totally eclipse your daily food intake:

For Weight Loss                      Choose 420 kJ/100 calories at each snack

For Weight Maintenance   Choose 840 kJ/200 calories at each snack

For Weight Gain                      Choose 1260 kJ/300 calories or more at each snack


Some quick and easy snacks include:

  •   1 slice of fruit or raisin toast with thinly spread jam
  •   Wholegrain toast or crumpet with a light spread of peanut butter or vegemite
  •   Small fruit smoothie
  •   Handful of wholegrain crackers with cheese
  •   1 punnet of strawberries
  •   1 piece of fruit such as an apple, banana or pear
  •   Low fat, regular-sized coffee (latte, cappuccino, flat white)
  •   200 g low fat yoghurt
  •   20 almonds, cashews or pistachios
  •   1 boiled egg
  •   100 g tin tuna in brine or spring water
  •   1 small tin of fruit in natural juice


Renewal and Recovery

antique italian cats
The Masters of Renewal and Recovery

Craig Lowndes could be mistaken as a petrol head or perhaps even an adrenaline junkie.  It’s true that he does spend a vast majority of his time skilfully driving powerful cars around a track at warp speed and there is no doubt he is highly competitive. These traits and skills have led to him achieving excellence , becoming a V8 Supercar champion and one of Australia’s most popular sporting heroes.

V8 Supercar driving requires 100% focus.  Legendary British racing driver Stirling Moss describes competitive high speed driving perfectly, “It is necessary to relax your muscles when you can. Relaxing your brain is fatal.” Many researchers now believe that regardless of your inborn talent, it is possible to achieve excellence in almost any domain through single-minded focus and purposeful practice. The ability of Craig Lowndes and others like him to completely shut out distractions and have 100% focus on driving a high powered car around a racing track for hours on end, is integral not only to his success but also to his life.  A moment of lost concentration and focus can ultimately mean severe injury or death to him and others. For the everyday person, the outcome of losing attention or focus is not usually life-threatening. But it is a reality that many of us juggle several tasks at a time and struggle to focus on any one of them for very long.  Lack of absorbed focus takes it toll on the depth and quality of whatever we do and is an inefficient way of doing things. We often allow ourselves to be distracted by the urgent but not important tasks in our day and become very reactive rather than focusing intensely on our priorities. We get so caught up in the business and logistics of life that we don’t stop to consider what it is we really want or where to invest our time and energy to achieve those goals. Tony Schwartz, author of CEO of The Energy Project, believes that if more of us were able to focus, great performance in almost anything would be much more common than it is. Tony goes on to explain that, “Human beings aren’t meant to operate like computers: at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. Rather, we’re hard-wired to be rhythmic. We’re at our best when we pulse between spending and renewing energy. Unfortunately, the need for rest and renewal gets little respect and the result is that we increasingly find themselves working at a pace that feels unsustainable. We’re in an energy crisis – and this one is personal.” The Energy Project has some great resources which have certainly made me stop and reflect on the way that I (don’t) recover and renew my own internal machinery.  The Energy Project is offering a series of free  Take Back Your Life in Ten Steps webinars, which will help to re-energize, refocus, and reengage you. Each month, Director of Product Development, Emily Pines  shares The Energy Project’s expertise around ten simple practices featured in Tony Schwartz’ blog, “Take Back Your Life in Ten Steps,” that will enable you to achieve more in less time through renewal and recovery. In the first webinar that I recently attended with the Energy Project I immediately picked up a handful of tips that had me wondering why I hadn’t been utilising them earlier. Top tips included:

  • Start thinking about life as a sprint event not a marathon. Sprinters give 100% because they can see the finish line.
  • Take a break every 90 minutes to renew and recover from whatever task you are doing.  The break doesn’t need to be mammoth, it can be as simple as a deep-breathing exercise, getting up from your computer for 5 minutes or taking a fuel stop. We all know how easy it is to work for hours on end without a break, so set a timer if you need to. This tip is crucial to our energy renewal and recovery.
  • Work at increased capacity over shorter periods of time (90 minute cycles)
  • Go to sleep earlier
  • The value you create equals the energy you invest NOT how long you work
  • Vacations fuel productivity

I especially liked the thought that we were left with. “Seize back your life – it belongs to you.”    

Pasta Power

Its time for our Friday taste test of our third $2 meal.  I do love pasta but I really try and avoid the creamy sauces as I know they are not the best for my heart or my hips. The recipe today originates from one of the very first cookbooks designed for athletes, written in 1993 and titled ‘The Taste of Fitness’. The authors  are Helen O’Connor, highly respected Sports Dietitian and Donna Hay, before she became as famous. I have used this book many times whilst teaching people to cook, and the recipes are ideal for the everyday person and athletes.  Easy, quick, tasty and great source of energy. Ticks all my boxes. Continue reading “Pasta Power”