Originally created 08/24/04

On-the-job dining

There's no midday trek to the drive-through for Eric Dunn.

For the Augusta painter, a cooler filled with a sandwich, chips, a sports drink and fruit is lunch, and he's happy with it.

"I don't like eating out for lunch," he said, explaining that with his 30-minute break it's impractical to go far for food. "This is good."

Mr. Dunn isn't the only worker packing lunch these days. According to a workplace food survey conducted by Impulse Research Group in 2003, 58 percent of workers surveyed pack or prepare their lunch at home about three times a week on average.

The reasons are simple, said Valerie James, the human resources manager at Standard Textile in Augusta, who, along with many of her co-workers and relatives, brown-bag it most days.

"Who has the time to eat out?" she said. "I know in my family situation, my husband only gets 30 minutes (for lunch) so I send him with leftovers two to three times a week. And me, even though I get an hour, oftentimes, by lunch you're already involved. You don't want to break your train, your momentum. It's just easier to stay."

Dennis Myers said he also runs into the problem of time to eat.

"You don't have time to eat out. If you get 30 minutes for lunch, it takes 20 minutes to get your food; that leaves you about 10 minutes to swallow and the rest of the day with indigestion," he said.

If you're looking for something healthy, the best way to get it is to pack your own, Mrs. James said.

"I mean, fast food it's not good for you," she said. "They just don't have a variety of a healthy selections. And the vending machines: There's never anything good in there."

Taking meals to work is a good way to have control over what employees eat, said Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"As far as bringing food from home, it's a good idea, especially for someone trying to watch their weight. They know where it came from, what's in it, and that can save an awful lot of calories. It is also a portion-size thing. What they bring is easily more manageable."

Despite taking a little more time and forethought, Mrs. Taub-Dix said, going with a packed lunch is good for workers because with leftovers, sandwiches and fruit or even frozen entrees, the options are nearly endless for preparing nutritious and tasty meals.

"If you don't eat, then you get all the things that go with not eating - feeling impatient, feeling tired - that's not the way you want to feel at work," she said. "It's important to make sure they are bringing something well-balanced: a fruit, a salad, some sort of vegetable; it doesn't have to be fancy. Get something that is green and crunchy and colorful."

For those considering packing a frozen entree, Mrs. Taub-Dix warns that although the meals are quick and easy they do have their drawbacks.

"The good thing is that they are portion-controlled, so maybe they are perfect for the person who doesn't have time for lunch or the person who would have nothing," she said. "But with those kind of all-in-one meals, some are very high in sodium, very high in fat content. If you can vary it, by all means. Make them one day. But on some other days have some things that are leaner."

That's not to say those who pack a sandwich or leftovers have nothing to worry about.

"Sometimes people take leftovers from home, and they don't reheat them properly, they leave them out. That can be dangerous since it's real important to reheat foods to the proper temperature. And you always want to wash your hands first," she said.

Mrs. Taub-Dix said it is important for workers who pack lunches not to get caught up in desktop dining.

"For a lot of people who work at a desk the only time they will get up is for lunch," she said. "If they eat at their desk then you're sitting at your desk all day long not being active. In terms of digestion, it's good to take a walk. I'm not saying go jogging, but it will help you digest your food and be stimulated to face the rest."

Lunch, either packed or purchased, is a good investment of time for workers, Mrs. Taub-Dix said.

"Lunch is what I call critical," she said. "The last thing you want to do is not eat lunch and expect to come home and be sane and watch your kids and cook a dinner. It's just not going to happen."

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.

Got lunch?

Preparing a midday meal isn't as easy as it looks. Here are some tips:

  • Store food properly: If there is no refrigerator, consider putting items in a cooler or in a bag with frozen water or juice.

  • Heat food thoroughly: Leftovers are good but can be dangerous if not reheated to the proper temperatures.

  • Remember good hygiene: Always wash your hands before meals or use a hand sanitizer.

  • Change it up: Eating a peanut butter sandwich every day is OK, but it can get boring. Try a salad or a fruit cup, too.

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