This expert says lunch is the most important meal now and here’s why

The popular phrase was always, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But now, between popular eating choices like intermittent fasting and the coronavirus pandemic upending people’s daily schedules, it’s time to take a look at each meal and reevaluate the roles they play within our days.

Ladders spoke to Dr. Brooke Scheller, the Director of Nutrition at Freshly, to find out how the role of lunch has changed since remote work began, the importance of prioritizing lunch, and options for healthy lunches for those currently working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How lunch and dinner switched places when remote work started

At the beginning of March, you were probably leading your “normal” life, which may or may not have included eating your $16 customized salad at your desk every day for lunch. When your company unexpectedly told you that you will be working remotely until further notice, it’s likely that your schedule changed a bit, and with that, came changes to your daily eating habits.

Maybe you are the person that didn’t stop snacking as you worked at your kitchen table from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or maybe you’re the person who looks at the clock at 4 p.m. and realizes they haven’t ate a single thing all day.

Regardless of which person you are, there’s one thing we all have in common: meals look different during the coronavirus pandemic.

When we say “lunch and dinner switched places”, what we mean is that, while you once may have taken an hour to get away from your desk and get lunch in order to give yourself a break, you may now forget that this mid-day meal even exists. On the other hand, dinner may be your main event. Thanks to having a 4-second commute from their work spot to their kitchen, many people have now have the time to make themselves dinner instead of being too tired to do so after returning from work.

“Everyone’s work from home schedule looks really different right now, but for most people, cooking is just not feasible in the middle of the day,” said Shara Seigel, the Director of Public Relations at Freshly. “People are transitioning to using our Freshly meals for lunch instead because dinner is easier. You have the time now…you’ve won back possibly two hours in your day depending on where you were commuting from.”

Why prioritizing lunch is important for your productivity

Prioritizing lunch is important for a few reasons. Lunch is most like the only meal that you eat while you are completing your work, so it makes sense that it can have a large impact on your ability to focus, and therefore the quality of your work.

1.Breaks from work are important

Aside from physical benefits of taking breaks from work, like giving your eyes a break and your back a stretch, frequent breaks are important for your mental health and focus, too. What’s even better is that while you’re benefitting from your break, so is the quality of your work.

Studies have shown that people are able to be more productive for longer when they take breaks. Some experts recommend working in 75 to 90 minute increments and taking a break between each one.

“I am really a big advocate for stopping and taking proper breaks, not only to take time to eat and make the right choices when eating, but also to give myself a little bit of that mental reset to kind of step away and disconnect for a while,” Scheller said.

Since you aren’t in the office, your lunch break probably looks different. If you don’t have that one coworker coming over to your desk to remind you that it’s lunch time, you may forget to take a break altogether. Scheller recommends blocking off a time period on your calendar that will give you a break and allow you to focus on your lunch.

“It is an important thing for us to consider and start to think about how we fit that into our day,” Scheller said.

2. Avoid the afternoon crash by eating a healthier lunch

Most anyone who has had a “9 to 5” office job is familiar with afternoon fatigue. If you’re not, it’s that sleepy feeling that overwhelms you around 2 or 3 p.m. The feeling makes you want to curl up and take a nap right at your desk.

What most people don’t know is that your lunch may have a lot to do with this afternoon fatigue. If you’re not making very conscious lunch decisions, your mid-day meal could definitely be one of the reasons you feel so tired in the afternoon.

If you choose something high in carbohydrates, like a slice of pizza or a deli sandwich, you may be setting yourself up for a less productive afternoon. Instead, check out the “right lunch” section below to see what you should be eating for lunch to maximize productivity in your afternoons.

3. Your blood sugar is directly tied to your stress levels

Your blood sugar and stress levels are directly related, which means that if you are highly stressed, you are more likely to have cravings for unhealthy foods because the stress triggers a fluctuation in your blood sugar levels.

Keeping this fact in mind is important as you find yourself getting stressed with big meetings, projects, or responsibilities. When you find yourself having cravings, think about if they are coming from a place of stress, and see if you can satisfy them with a healthier option as to not send yourself into the whole loop of cravings discussed below.

The wrong lunch to have

If you don’t give lunch the time and attention it deserves, you might opt for something quick and unhealthy like a slice of pizza, a deli sandwich, or maybe even something like a donut. This is the wrong lunch to have.

What happens when you reach for these high-sugar or high-carb foods and don’t balance them out with protein, fiber, healthy fats, or any nutrient-dense foods, is it triggers a spike in your blood sugar levels, which causes you to get short bursts of energy. Shortly after, you will have a drop off when your blood sugar crashes. When this happens, you’ll start to feel foggy, fatigued and your productivity will definitely start to dip.

When your productivity stars to slow, you’ll most likely start to crave something that picks your blood sugar levels back up, thus throwing you into a loop of rising and crashing blood sugar levels.

“Essentially what happens is our blood sugar goes up, it drops back down, and because our blood sugar is low, we’re looking for that quick fix in order to have that pick me up,” Scheller said. “So this is how we get caught in that cycle of, maybe it’s a bagel for breakfast and a little while later, you need another cup of coffee. Lunch looks something like a sandwich with bread…and then by 2 p.m., we’re craving sweets or more coffee.”

This loop is why eating a healthy lunch is so important. With more nutrient-dense foods, you don’t see quite a drastic drop in blood sugar levels.

The right lunch to have

As noted, you want to stay away from foods that have a lot of sugar or carbohydrates. Instead, you want to lean more towards nutrient-dense foods that will provide you with protein, vitamins, and, hopefully, a ton of energy that will allow you to be productive and less stressed through the end of the day.

So what does a lunch like that look like?

Obviously a healthy lunch will look different for everyone depending on your taste in foods and how much time you want to spend preparing your food.

As discussed before, premade meal delivery services like Freshly provide plenty of healthy options that don’t require much preparation on your part.

If you’re looking to be a little more active in the preparation of your meal, but don’t have much time during the day to create an elaborate lunch, meal prep is a great place to start.

How to make meal prep actually work for you

Meal prep can sound tedious and boring, but it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to making meal prep work for you, it’s all about finding meals that excite you. We all know it’s not fun to eat the same thing every day, especially if you don’t like it.

So, the question is, how can you take the same healthy foods that you enjoy and make them in different ways? This might look like making grilled chicken and one day putting it on top of a salad while the next day you have it as the main dish with roasted vegetables on the side. It’s important to have options available so you don’t burn yourself out on the same foods.

Another aspect of meal prep is that people can get overwhelmed, but taking it step by step can make the process a lot less intimidating.

At home, your meal prep can even simply be grocery shopping on Sunday, cutting and washing all the vegetables or meats, and then taking 20 minutes each day to prepare your meal. If you already know what you are going to eat that day, your walk to the fridge will be a whole lot less daunting.

Some people may even have the motivation and time to cook a whole meal for lunch while they work from home and be able to do so for the very first time.

“Everybody’s a little bit different and it depends on how much you even like to cook or don’t like to cook,” Scheller said. “It doesn’t need to be anything crazy, it’s just a matter of focusing on some of those core principles like ensuring that you’re getting enough protein, that you’re getting some sort of healthy fats, and that you’re getting some fiber rich veggies.”

Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.