Even in these harried times, nobody is too busy to eat a good lunch

Eating Well

April 15, 1997|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Lately I've been meeting people so wickedly busy they can't eat lunch.

Some are noon exercisers who can't seem to justify both a lunch hour and an exercise hour. Some are in the crunch phase of a project. Others are wound up with mothering tasks that have them running in all directions at noon.

These demanding situations lead to the notion that eating lunch is an indulgence. A weakness. Unnecessary.

But running on empty takes its toll.

What feels like afternoon stress -- headache, fatigue, short temper, inability to concentrate, even lack of physical coordination -- may really be hunger. Fueling up can decrease errors, increase productivity, improve your mood and prevent binge eating later on.

Ideally, you'd take a break and enjoy a relaxed lunch, then return to work refreshed and enthusiastic. But, if you're one of those people, and you're jammed up, you know a leisurely lunch is not going to happen.

So try a "pocket lunch."

Custom-mix a handful of calorie-concentrated, bite-size foods that fits comfortably in a zip-top bag, then slips discreetly into your pocket:

Start with a whole grain food. Choose about 200 calories worth of easy-to-eat cereal (about one cup) like plain or frosted mini shredded wheats or any flavor of Chex. Or choose pretzel nuggets, mini rice cakes, tiny whole wheat pita pockets, or reduced-fat whole grain crackers to equal 200 calories. Change your choice from day to day to assure a nice mix of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Add some dried fruit. A combination of one whole apricot (17 calories), one date (23 calories), one fig (47 calories) and one prune (20 calories) provides 107 calories, no fat, some fiber and a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to keep you healthy and protect you from disease. To increase calories, double up, but be careful. Too much dried fruit at one time can cause stomach cramps, gas and even diarrhea. Be sure to drink lots of water, too.

Finish by adding one ounce (a scant one-fourth cup) of nuts. That's about 15 whole cashews or walnut halves or 18 almonds. They'll add about 180 calories and 17 grams of fat. If that sounds like a lot of fat, don't fret. It's only one-third the fat allowed on a 1,600-calorie weight-loss diet. And the fat from nuts is the heart-healthiest kind. If possible, choose unsalted nuts to keep sodium low. To improve the flavor of raw nuts, spread them on some aluminum foil, pop them into your toaster oven, then toast on "light" so they won't burn. When cool, add to your mix.

That adds up to about 500 calories, enough for many women. Men can double up on all three groups.

The beauty here is reasonable fat and calories from convenient, easy-to-eat foods (no spills on your blouse, no crumbs on your jacket). Yet it's all close to natural, low in sodium and high in fiber. It can be packaged the night before, and requires no refrigeration to keep it wholesome and safe. Perfect! And you can eat it at your desk between phone calls, walking down the hall to a meeting or waiting at a traffic light.

If you like, include individually wrapped, reduced-fat string cheese for calcium or substitute fruit juice for the dried fruit.

So plan ahead. Mix and match your favorite combo, and enjoy. There's no reason to miss lunch when it is so close at hand.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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