Eating healthy at work is doable and delicious

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Jim Dayton
Sunday, October 22, 2017

JANESVILLE—Valeria Rodriguez once loved the lunchtime convenience of running to McDonald's with a few dollars and buying premade fast food kept warm under a heating lamp.

She tried to bring her own food to work, but she estimated 60 percent of her lunches still came from fast food restaurants or quick, packaged meals from a grocery store.

Her diet changed when she became the customer service manager at Basics Co-op in Janesville a few months ago. The natural and organic food store transformed her eating philosophy and made her focus more closely on what she put into her body, she said.

“There definitely was a challenge to it. It's really just convenience,” Rodriguez said. “We live in a world where convenience is better than making healthy choices even though you know it's not healthy. There was definitely kind of a struggle.”

With fast food restaurants minutes away and boxes of doughnuts in company breakrooms, it's easy for workers to choose the quick fix rather than spend time and effort to bring healthy foods.

But preparing and eating healthy foods is doable if it becomes part of a person's routine, said Jessica Bryan, a dietician at Edgerton Hospital.

The first step is packing your own lunch. Forgetting to bring food to work can lead people to hit the vending machine or grab some takeout, she said.

It's best to pack a lunch the night before in case the morning rush leaves little time to prepare a meal. Whether that's dinner leftovers, a sandwich or salad, there are plenty of simple options people can consider, Bryan said.

But whatever someone chooses, picking the right ingredients is just as important. For a sandwich, Bryan recommends using whole grain bread, reduced fat cheese and lean deli meats such as turkey or chicken.

Lunches should have a good balance of protein and complex carbohydrates. That combination will keep people feeling full and energized throughout the day, she said.

The same thinking applies to snacks. People can turn to carrots and hummus or apple slices and almond butter for a nutritious boost between meals.

Storing fruit, trail mix or a bag of baby carrots at the office can offer a backup option in case someone forgets to bring enough food to work. Those foods will provide a person with more energy than chocolate or soda, Bryan said.

“When you do eat that chocolate bar or soda or highly concentrated sugar item, you're going to get this rush of energy. It feels like you're going to get this boost from it,” she said. “But the feeling is not going to last very long. You'll experience low energy later on.”

Besides eating the right foods, people can eat smaller portions and eat slower. Taking more time will make the meal more enjoyable and allow the brain to recognize when the body is full, she said.

And indulging in an office dessert is fine as long as it doesn't become part of each workday, Bryan said.

For Rodriguez, healthy eating doesn't have to be boring or bland. She learned she has allergies to gluten and dairy products, but she's gotten creative with recipes and still enjoys delicious meals, she said.

Her new diet seems to be working.

“I have more energy. I feel like I want to go out more. I want to go out and go biking or go for a run or something,” Rodriguez said. “Just overall I feel like my body is thanking me for putting good fuel into it. I get a lot more out than I used to.”

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