Brown-bagging lunch erases noontime surprises

September 27, 1995|By JeanMarie Brownson | JeanMarie Brownson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"Let's do lunch." A phrase that typified the multiple-hour power lunches of the booming 1980s has all but disappeared from today's corporate lingo.

In the lean and mean '90s, more workers eat lunch in the office. One recent survey shows that 49 percent of American workers lunch at their desks, for economic reasons and to clock more "face time" with their bosses.

Others opt for a quickie food fix in their cubicle to leave time for personal errands. Some short-circuit the lunch hour simply to get their work done so they can leave on time.

Dave Jenkins, a vice president of the National Eating Trends division of the NPD Group market research firm, says 58 percent of all workers carry something from home for a meal at work at least once every two weeks. Adult males are the biggest group of people who carry their meals. But the numbers for all adults are rising.

"People are carrying more things out of the house -- whether it is breakfast, snacks, lunch or dinner -- but mostly we carry lunch. We carry things that are portable for an easier, cheaper and less time-consuming way to deal with meals."

Dr. Theresa Rosecrans, 51, has been doing just that for most of the 15 years she has owned her temporary placement service for medical personnel.

"I always carry my lunch to work," she says, "unless my staff insists we go out for lunch or for the occasional business meeting."

Her decision to dine at her desk has little to do with money or lack of choices.

Instead, time is the No. 1 reason Dr. Rosecrans packs a lunch.

"Eating out just takes too much time. By the time you decide where to go, order the food and then eat, more than an hour has passed. I don't feel I should be gone that long. I firmly believe that you should work during the prime time.

"I also eat more when I go out. If I eat at my desk I will eat something much lighter, like a salad. Then I can keep working because I'm not too full. When I do go out I don't plan on doing much when I get back -- maybe just clean my desk -- because it's hard to regroup and start up again."

Sharon Cartalino, a receptionist at a public accounting firm, doesn't worry about time as much as Dr. Rosecrans, although she, too, spends only about 20 minutes eating lunch. Her concerns have more to do with nutrition.

"I don't like to eat all the junk food available outside the office, like McDonald's and Burger King," she says.

From the night before

Ms. Cartalino packs sandwiches made from cooked turkey or chicken and other things her family had for dinner the night before.

"Occasionally I will bring lasagna, spaghetti and leftover stir-fries that I reheat in the microwave oven in the office kitchen."

Dr. Rosecrans likewise totes food, some homemade and some store-bought, to zap at work when time is really short.

When she does have time in the morning, Dr. Rosecrans packs a mid-morning snack of yogurt and, for lunch, a salad or simple sandwich such as grilled chicken on pita bread.

"I will stop working to eat," Dr. Rosencrans says, "maybe meditate, read a little bit and then spend about 15 minutes eating, but I do not work while I eat. It's not good to work and eat."

But eating an adequate midday meal allows you to work better. The average office worker, fueled by a skimpy breakfast and caffeine, shortchanges the body's nutrition needs, says Jodie Shield, a registered dietitian.

A well-balanced lunch can avert the afternoon blahs and keep you from loading up on calories at night. "It's probably better to get the bulk of your calories earlier in the day," Ms. Shield says.

She has found that these days, workers who don't eat at their desks tend to skip lunch altogether. Ravenous by quitting time, they eat whatever they can find once they get home.

"If you're trying to get more grains and fruits and vegetables in your diet, it's difficult to accomplish if you skip lunch," Ms. Shield says.

Sandwiches remain the most popular item for adults and children, and peanut butter and jelly ranks No. 1. Mr. Jenkins says the average person totes six pb&j sandwiches and eight apples over the course of a year.

"People might not call them their favorite foods, but they are the most popular to carry," says Mr. Jenkins. Ham sandwiches, bananas and potato chips also are top lunch-box items.

"Old habits die hard," Mr. Jenkins says, "especially if you prepare lunch in the morning when you are looking for the easiest thing to make."

With a bit of planning (and discipline), brown baggers can save money and time and not settle for the mundane. Here are some recipes aimed at the briefcase crowd looking for quick, sophisticated, low-fat desk-top dining.

(Of course, the pasta with pesto and the rice salad could be served for dinner -- just be sure to save some for lunch.)

Pasta with gusto

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