Habit forming: optimizing lunch

Create a lunch-specific grocery list.

The most surefire way to have control over your lunch is to make it. But, for those who are used to buying pre-made food, having to plan, shop, and cook ahead can feel overwhelming. Establish the healthy habit slowly.

“Start with the absolute smallest possible change that you can,” says Bethany Snodgrass, holistic health coach and operations manager at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in New York City. “If the goal is, ‘five days a week, I’m going to bring lunch,’ that’s a huge goal—a lot of steps, a lot of days. Start with, ‘I’m going to create the grocery list for the lunches I want to make.’”

Aim to bring lunch two or three days a week.

Gradually work your way toward five homemade lunches a week to make the habit more attainable, Snodgrass says.

Schedule lunch like a meeting. 

If you're often reduced to half a protein bar or a few bites of salad, consider scheduling lunch on your calendar ahead of time, preferably three to five hours after breakfast. That way, you can fully commit to eating and plan around it.

Pair your meal with a 20-minute activity.

Dick suggests pacing yourself so that the meal takes at least 20 minutes. Finish too quickly and you may be inclined to overeat, because it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to alert your brain that you’re satiated. To be sure you're spacing out the time, consider listening to a podcast at your desk or setting a timer and allotting a certain number of articles to read while you eat.

Follow the rule of three and seven.

“Try to have at least three different colors of lunch fruits and vegetables,” Snodgrass says. “If there’s an opportunity to have different colors on different days, [do it]. Try to get all seven colors of the rainbow through the week.” By starting with just three, it feels easier to accomplish, and you can then work your way up to more. To combine vegetables with lean protein, Snodgrass recommends soups, stews, or chilis with ground chicken or turkey and lots of spices.