Lunch Ideas for Work: Heart-Healthy Options

business woman eating lunch at her desk while working

While at work it can be tempting to reach for a sweet snack around lunchtime, there are plenty of easy lunch alternatives that can benefit your heart. Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., Chairperson of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and Bickford Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont, offers the following tips to help you plan your heart-healthy workday lunch.

Packing Your Lunch

Wake up 15 minutes early to pack your lunch. Johnson recommends the following heart-healthy choices:

  • Low-sodium canned tuna or low-sodium canned salmon (try it in a salad or on a sandwich with whole-wheat bread)
  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Fresh fruits
  • Non-fat yogurt
  • Veggie sticks
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereal, such as the American Heart Association’s recipe for Overnight No-Cook Banana Oatmeal

For salad dressings, Johnson suggests you keep it natural with ingredients such as canola oil, olive oil or grape seed oil and balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar. She is also a fan of breakfast options for lunch. “One of my favorites is whole grain breakfast cereal with skim milk or non-fat yogurt topped with fresh fruit. I love cereal for lunch.”

Eating Out

When heading out to a restaurant for lunch, Johnson says to watch out for three things:

  1. Sweetened beverages
  2. High-calorie salad toppings (e.g. bacon, croutons, packaged or pre-made dressings)
  3. Unhealthy sandwiches (e.g. those made with deli meat due to excess sodium)

“Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages,” suggests Johnson. “And, although salads can seem healthy, you need to watch out for high-calorie extras like croutons, bits of bacon and fatty cheeses.”

Instead, she recommends:

  1. Water or skim milk to drink
  2. Salads with vegetables and natural dressing (try asking for olive oil and vinegar)
  3. Tuna or vegetarian sandwiches made with whole-wheat bread

Be aware of your portion size, too. Johnson suggests cutting meals in half before you begin eating.

“Just ask for a takeout box when your meal is delivered and put half away for the next day,” she recommends. “That will help fight your tendency to over eat.”