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Nutrition Tips for the Sedentary Attorney: The Great Lunch Caper

May 29, 2012

Angel’s BBQ in Savannah, Georgia, where I recently had an amazing BBQ lunch. If I lived there, I would eat at Angel’s just about every day. Luckily for my nutritional intake, I live in Philly. (How often is *that* said?)

By Mike Murphy and Carlynn Fitzgerald

When I was in high school, we had an “open campus,” which meant that, because our cafeteria wasn’t big enough to handle all the students eating at once, students could leave school and eat elsewhere.  Problem was, “lunch” was 35 minutes long, and the school was in the suburbs, so the social landscape aligned itself such that those in power were (1) of legal driving age and (2) had a car at school.  But even if you were lucky enough to know such a feudal lord or lady, there weren’t many good options nearby, and by “good,” I mean “good” by the definition of a bunch of 16-year-olds in Michigan, which is to say “deep-fried meat and/or pizza.” The Shangri-La of lunch places was The New McDonalds, which opened during my senior year.  If you knew a kid with a fast car, a general disregard for the personal safety of himself and his passengers, and the organizational precision of Danny Ocean, you could just barely get there, eat and get back for Fifth Period.  It made lunch the most exciting meal of the day.  We would race into Honors English conspicuously draining a 44-ounce pop (remember, this is the Midwest) and everyone would know that we pulled off yet another high-risk caper. 

Nowadays, I usually eat a salad at my desk.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Read on and find out:

Packing a healthy, interesting and (much) cheaper-than-Au-Bon-Pain lunch is simple, even for busy people.  You just need to have a good plan.

Step 1.  Plan ahead.  Pack your lunch at night, before you go to bed, not in the morning when you are trying to rush out the door.  On the nights when you’re up half the night or when there is no “before bed,” take a 10-minute break to make a lunch. 

Step 2.  Plan ahead some more.  When you go to the grocery store or order your groceries on-line buy things that are easy to pack for lunch.  The list is endless, but a very abridged version is below.  When you get home from the grocery store (or the groceries appear on your front step, because we live in the future) take some time to prepare your food for the week: wash and cut fruits and vegetables, make your sandwiches (leave off the condiments until the night before to avoid soggy sandwiches), count out crackers, mix salads.  The more you do in advance, the less time it takes the night before.

Quick lunch ideas:

  • grab and go fruit like grapes, apples, peaches, and cherries
  • vegetables (cut up in advance)
  • sandwich stuff like deli meats and pre-sliced cheese
  • yogurt cups
  • frozen smoothie mixes (use fat-free yogurt and skim milk or 0% greek yogurt instead of ice cream)
  • wheat crackers or pretzels and almond butter
  • nuts
  • pasta salad

Step 3. Beyond Sandwiches.  Dinner leftovers make a great lunch.  You can use leftovers as lunch If you plan your cooking in advance, make extra, and (importantly) don’t eat all of it the night you make it.  If you can, cook a healthy dinner of lean meats, whole grains, and vegetables and eat the leftovers for lunch.  If you don’t have time to cook dinner every day, prepare meals early in the week or use easy to prepare meals.  Beef, poultry, and most casseroles can be prepared and refrigerated 3 – 5 days in advance without fear of food safety issues.  Fish can be safely prepared and refrigerated for 3 days, but the quality decreases much faster than beef and poultry.  If you have less time for dinner, make some frozen vegetables and whole wheat rolls, rice, or quinoa to go with it.  Pack up the leftovers after dinner for lunch the next day.

Will your co-workers tease you as they come back from the local food court conspicuously draining their three-dollar 44-ounce sodas?  Maybe.  But one day you’ll be healthier and richer than them, so vengeance will be yours.

Other Considerations:

Consider a mini-fridge in your office (for vegetables and such).  A mini-fridge is great for keeping snacks, especially fruit, vegetables, reduced-fat cheese and yogurt.  If a mini-fridge isn’t an option, keep what you can in the employee refrigerator.  If you’re concerned about your stash being raided, get creative.  Having a place to keep healthy snacks will keep you from running to the vending machine when you’re hungry.

Why hello, friends. What will it be today?

Which Reminds Us: The Vending Machine is (Usually) Bad:

 The snacks in vending machines are more often than not high in fat, sugar, and calories, and (while getting better) very low in nutrients.  If you have to make a trip to the vending machine choose baked chips, popped chips, pretzels or peanut butter crackers.

So, there you have it.  Again, the trick is to think about what you’re going to eat before you forage, and before you get really hungry.  You won’t like you when you’re hungry. 

Mike Murphy is a Philadelphia-based attorney who most recently blogged about Lawyers Playing Poker and Other Nutrition Stuff.

Guest Contributor Carlynn Fitzgerald, MS, RD is a Denver based Registered Dietitian.  She is the Study Coordinator on a collaborative child nutrition and physical activity study at Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Denver.  She can be reached for questions,  comments, or counseling at

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