A guide to better desk dining

Some of us treat the vending machine like our refrigerator. And some of us spend as much time parked in the drive-thru as we do in our own driveway. Some of us think of eating as one more task on our to-do list, which means it probably ranks pretty low. Some of us graze, and some of us binge. Some of us eat three squares a day — no more, no less. Some of us eat healthy, but have absolutely no fun doing it. And some of us wouldn't know healthy if it danced itself right onto our plates.

There are those, too, who have great food balance — who pack a healthy lunch every day; who know — and love — quinoa; who have a picture of the USDA plate on the office cube wall; and who eat only a single serving of anything (even if it's chocolaty or cheesy).

If that's not you, we suggest you keep reading.

It's not just about the food (but the food is important)

The food itself is important. It really is. Your body has needs, and when you meet those needs with healthy food, your body loves you back: it works well, feels good and looks good, too. We've got ideas about healthy fare for the work place oh, yes, we do. But there's another piece that's equally important: moving.

Even if you're eating carrots and tomatoes on whole wheat with a spinach-cucumber-soy smoothie, all that sitting is working against you. Research shows that less than 20 percent of jobs today require some level of physical exertion. It also shows that a lot of us sit at work for more hours than we spend sleeping (a crying shame). The bottom line: we're sitting ourselves to death.

Alternatives to desk dining

So, how many of you actually get up and away from your desk each day to eat lunch?

If you are one of the remarkable few who haven't recently crammed a cheese stick, a yogurt, some soup or a sandwich into your mouth in between meetings while typing an email one-handed, we salute you.

And for the rest of you: it's time to take a closer look at how — and where — you eat while working. If you eat salad every day but your rump is glued to the chair for three-hour stretches without a break, then your salad is about as good for you as a meatball hero — with cheese.

It's hard to break the routine, get out of the rut. But making small changes can have a profound effect on how and what you eat — whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks — at work.

Employ these healthier habits

There are a handful of things you can do to feed your body well while on the job. Keep these guidelines in mind as you wend your way through the work day:
  1. Keep healthy snacks handy. If you like to graze throughout your work day which some say is a great way to keep your eating on an even-keel, instead of overeating at meals bring healthful options to work, including low-fat dairy items (yogurt, cheese), healthy nuts (almonds, walnuts), and fresh fruit and vegetable slices. Eating at more regular intervals also can help keep your blood sugar steady and keep your mood from taking a trip to Grumpyville.
  2. Drink more water. Get up and go to the water cooler. Pack a small water bottle so you can get up many times during the day to refill it. Or take a walk to the café for a cup of tea. Do a lap around your office if the water cooler is right by your desk. Do two laps, just because. And drink lots of water; it's good for you, and it keeps you hydrated and feeling more alert. It also fills you up before you reach for another handful of [insert choice of junk food here].
  3. Don't eat at your desk. Even if you take your lunch to the break room a mere 20 feet away, it's still the practice of getting up from your desk that matters. Make a commitment to take your lunch away from your desk (and computer) at least twice a week. When you stay at your desk to eat, you're likely to multitask, which can leave you susceptible to overeating, or mindlessly eating right past your full point. We've become accustomed to eating and doing other things, but when you slow down and pay attention to your senses and to your body's cues, you can learn a lot.
  4. If you must desk dine, use caution. We know you have deadlines, and that sometimes, lunch is spent taking yourself or your child to an appointment. If you must eat lunch at your desk, then bring your disinfecting wipes and a healthy spread. And make sure you get up later. Take a break. Walk the stairs. Do something that gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. Every little bit helps.
  5. Pack your own lunch . We have lots of ideas that will keep you from getting in your car and bringing back a bag of greasy fried whatever to your office.
  6. Have lunch with a friend. Being social is good for your health, too. Pick a restaurant or café you know is healthy, or agree to meet somewhere to enjoy lunches you've packed from home. Taking time to connect with someone you care about, and taking time away from the office, will help bring down your stress level and also help you recharge for the rest of your work day.
  7. Don't subsist on coffee, Tic Tacs and that chocolate bar you found in your desk drawer. We acknowledge that making the healthy choice isn't possible every time. However, you spend the majority of your waking hours at work, which means you need good quality fuel to keep you performing at your best throughout the day. Keep a stash of healthy foods in your desk drawer or file cabinet for those occasions when you are short on time but not on hunger. Some suggestions: dry cereal (high fiber, low sugar), roasted almonds, an apple, peanut butter, a tuna snack pack, a single-serving unsweetened applesauce cup or trail mix.