When I used to work in a busy office, I was exposed to a variety of foods on a daily basis that were sabotaging my health, weight and looks. Because I wanted to fit in and focus on work, I ate whatever everyone else around me was eating, and boy was that a mistake. Thankfully, I broke free from this mentality, started thinking for myself and taking back control of my food and health. Not only did I lose weight when I did this, my entire body changed.
One of the first commitments I made was to start taking my lunch to work. Not only was it less expensive to do this, my health soared as a result.
It all comes down to being prepared. Only you can control what you eat on a daily basis, and it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. I compiled a list here of 20 of my favorite foods to dine and munch on at the office. But first, I’m going to warn you about some of the most common office foods that you should stay far, far away from – as they are no good for your health. These are the foods I would eat because they were there. Sitting there in the office break room or on a co-worker’s desk calling my name! Eventually giving up additive-filled food helped me finally say “no thanks”.
Don’t let your office be a breeding ground for food industry toxins! Get these foods out of your office for good:
1. Microwave Popcorn
When it comes to microwave popcorn, everything from the bag, the oil, and the corn, is bad news! Don’t believe for a second that the delicious popcorn smell wafting into your office is a good thing! Food companies might not want to publicize all the details about “artificial flavors,” but some emit possibly toxic fumes. “Artificial flavors” are a secret concoction of ingredients that are not required to be disclosed, so you don’t know what’s really in them. The flavoring ingredient diacetyl, which some major manufacturers eliminated from their artificial flavors, has been linked to lung disease among employees at popcorn and flavoring production facilities. We don’t know what these manufacturers have substituted diacetyl with and there’s the possibility that some brands still use it because it hasn’t been banned. A possible substitute for diacetyl is “2,3-pentanedione”, which is linked to lung damage in animal studies. The bottom line is, you don’t know what you are ingesting when it comes to “artificial flavors” – so it’s a good idea to avoid them.
Some brands (like Jolly Time Healthy Pop and Pop Secret) still use partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a major source of artificial trans fat which is associated with up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths per year according to the CDC. To top it all off – some popcorn bags may be lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical linked to cancer, and the popcorn itself may contain harmful pesticide residues.
No one thinks donuts are healthy, but this treat is super popular at meetings and I used to get excited when someone plopped a box of these on the table. That was until I found out that commercially made donuts contain a lot more than just carbs and fat – they’re loaded with harmful additives too. A single frosted strawberry donut from Dunkin Donuts is slathered with high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils – an ingredient the FDA is considering to ban – and contains a slew of preservatives, emulsifiers, fake flavors and artificial color. Some commercially bought donuts even contain butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a preservative linked to cancer. It’s not worth risking your health with these ingredients.
Most sodas contain high fructose corn syrup, natural flavors, and caramel coloring. When it comes to diet (low-calorie) soda, you’re still not doing your body any favors. A calorie isn’t a calorie when it’s made up of additives that affect how much you eat and the way your body metabolizes those chemicals. Low calorie beverages will not fight obesity,and if anything, the reliance on chemical-filled drinks just perpetuates the problem. Despite what you might have heard, artificial sweeteners have been shown to stimulate your appetite, increase sugar cravings, and thereby promote fat storage and weight gain. Recent research links it to nearly tripling abdominal fat!
4. Supermarket Birthday Cakes
How many times have you celebrated a co-workers birthday with a supermarket cake? The ingredient list on most store-bought cakes is so long I literally have trouble keeping count – but I’ve seen close to 80 ingredients! The majority of them are fake chemical fillers and food-like substances that are obviously not real food, and it’s nearly impossible to find one without artificial colors and partially hydrogenated oils. Most cake manufacturers use no real cane sugar at all and the whole cake is sweetened with genetically modified sugar beets (which will just say “sugar” in the ingredients) or high fructose corn syrup. Some cakes also contain paraben ingredients, like propyl paraben, which is believed to be an endocrine disruptor linked to cancer.
5. Frozen Processed Lunches
I am so guilty of this. I used to think “calorie-controlled” frozen meals were actually a good way to stay slim. I was wrong. Just because they’re quick and low-calorie doesn’t mean you should eat it. I’ve never been in an office where someone doesn’t pop a Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice entree in the microwave for lunch. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these meals contain a shocking number of harmful additives. A single Weight Watchers Smart Ones Salisbury Steak meal contains sodium phosphate, partially hydrogenated oil, caramel coloring and lots of hidden MSG. None of the ingredients are organic or non-GMO verified and it’s full of sugar and corn-derived ingredients.
Stock up with these Top 20 Office Eats instead:
1. Veggie sticks: This seems so obvious and simple – because it is! Even when working at home, this is my daily go-to snack. It’s easy to make some matchsticks of carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers or whatever raw veggies are your favorite. Pick veggies that are local, seasonal and organic.
2. Hummus: This goes great with those raw veggie sticks, or you can also use this as a dip for crackers. I recommend making your own, as most store-bought versions contain preservatives and soybean or canola oil. Plus – it’s super easy to make! (Hummus Recipe & Beet Hummus Recipe).
3. Homemade “Superfood Popcorn”: I make this easy and delicious popcorn with 3 amazing ingredients: coconut oil, hemp seeds, red palm oil. All popcorn is non-GMO, but choose organic to minimize exposure to pesticides. Get the recipe here and put it in a reusable bag like this to bring to the office. Also you can buy some ready-made store bought organic popcorn like the one from Trader Joe’s that is made with olive oil.
4. Trail mix: Mix up your own with personal favorites like raw almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, and dried fruit. Walnuts in particular have been shown to enhance critical thinking skills which is essential to performing your best in the office. If you buy each of the ingredients separately in bulk bins at the grocery store (instead of pre-mixed packaged versions) you can save some serious cash.
5. Fresh fruit: This is nature’s convenience food. Bring along grapes, bananas, apples, peaches, pears, berries, ect. Stick with seasonal, local and organic. I also love to snack on cherry tomatoes at my desk because they are convenient and not messy.
6. Oatmeal: Make your own little packets of oatmeal with rolled oats, quick oats, cinnamon, and chia seeds. This is how I make oatmeal when I’m not at home.
7. Dates: These are full of fiber and nutrients, but they are super sweet like nature’s candy! Just one of these will satisfy your sweet tooth, and they’re super delicious stuffed with a walnut or almond butter. I also use dates to sweeten my oatmeal (dice it up and add it to the water before cooking the oats).
8. Parfait Porridge: This tastes like a berry parfait, minus the yogurt. The best part of this breakfast is the raw oat groats – as they contain more vitamins, minerals and nutrients than processed steel cut, rolled or instant oats. They are available in most health food stores inexpensively in the bulk section. It only takes a few minutes to put together the night before work and you’ll be super happy to have one in the morning for breakfast (I promise). I like to make enough to last about 3 days and keep them in the fridge for busy mornings. Get the recipe here.
9. Almond butter: This is great with apples, bananas, crackers, or stuffed into a date. You can buy individual packets here, if you don’t want to keep an entire jar at the office.
10: Green tea and herbal teas: I’m always carrying around tea with me, wherever I go, because I drink it every day. Stick with organic teas that don’t contain artificial and natural flavors and unnecessary additives (my favorite brand is Numi). I used this Breville kettle regularly when I worked outside of the home in an office to heat up water for my tea. Yes, I kept my kettle plugged in at my cubicle! (My cube mates loved using it too!) When you add up the cost of unhealthy and expensive alternatives (sodas and lattes), the cost of a good tea kettle is a no brainer and it pays for itself pretty quickly. This kettle can also heat up water for cooking oatmeal.
11. Kombucha: This naturally fermented drink made from tea is slightly sweet, tangy and refreshing. It also helps populate your gut with good bacteria, which can improve your digestion, strengthen your immune system, and may help you stay lean. You can also make your own kombucha soda at home on the cheap.
12. Homemade Ginger Ale (or Seltzer Water with Fruit Slices): There’s no reason to ever hit up the soda machine in the break room anymore. If you crave the fizz, try packing some of my Homemade REAL Ginger Ale (recipe here), or simply marinate slices of lemons, limes, oranges (or other fruits) in some seltzer water for a refreshing drink.
13. Salads: It’s super easy to pack salads in a glass container, just keep the dressing on the side (or at the bottom of the container) to keep the greens from wilting. You can keep a few in ready-to-go containers in the fridge. Add in some beans, lentils, hemp seeds and quinoa for extra protein and try my Melt in Your Mouth Kale Salad, Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad, or Carrot Blueberry Sprout Salad recipes. One of my all-time fave salad dressing recipes is this Tahini Dressing (it will make a salad lover out of anyone).
14. Sandwich Wraps: You don’t even need a recipe necessarily, as I often just spread some hummus on a sprouted grain tortilla and wrap up some greens, chickpeas or lentils, bell peppers, shredded carrots, and whatever fresh veggies are in my fridge. Adding some pickles or kimchi adds some spicy saltiness. Recipes to try: Chickpea Curry Wrap and Chicken (or chickpea) Salad Sandwich.
15. Homemade Cookies: Yes – I said cookies! These are great for those times when you want to treat your office mates with something sweet and avoid the dreaded donuts and supermarket birthday cakes. The best part about making them yourself is that you can reduce the amount of sugar and control exactly what you put into them. Try baking some homemade Low Sugar Cookies or Forever Cookies.
15. Golden Berries: These are nature’s little Sour Patch Kid, aren’t loaded with sugar and have 5 grams of fiber per ounce. You can buy them in most grocery stores and online here.
16. Plain Yogurt: Before you leave for work toss in some fresh or frozen berries, banana slices, and if you like it a bit sweeter mix in some raw honey or maple syrup. Other great stir-ins are granola, chopped nuts or chia seeds. Just pack those separately and add them to the yogurt when you’re ready to eat. Always choose plain organic yogurt – here’s why. It’s also super easy to make your own yogurt, check out my mom’s recipe here.
17. Brad’s Raw Chips: For those times when you really want a crunchy chip, this is one of the best “good for you” chips on the market. Brad’s Raw Chips are made from raw and all whole foods – no gluten, sugar or added chemicals.
18. Avocados: You can pop one open, and keep some salt and cayenne at your desk for sprinkling.
19. Mary’s Gone Crackers or Pretzels: Stack these with avocado slices, bananas, almond butter or hummus – they’re very versatile and crunchy. Also great served alongside a salad for lunch.
20. Green Smoothie: There’s a reason that this smoothie made the news – it’s both healthy and delicious! To make it quickly in the morning, wash and cut all of the veggies and fruit that you will be using the night before and store it in the fridge. That way in the morning you just pop it in the blender and pour it into a glass jar (like this one) to bring to work. You can even make smoothies the night before too and have them ready to grab and go. If you want added protein, blend in some hemp protein powder, hemp seeds, chia seeds or nut butters. Check out my favorite blenders here.
No matter how busy you are, it’s possible to make a healthy lunchtime part of your daily routine.
I hear from so many of you that you lack the time in the morning to pack a healthy lunch for work, and don’t know where to start to make it simple enough to fit into your busy schedule. You find yourself hungry at lunchtime, with vending machines and fast food restaurants at every corner waiting to sabotage your goals. That’s why I created the Food Babe Eating Guide for you – check it out here.
Do you know a co-worker or friend that could use this info? Please share it with them.