By Jing Zeng and Janelle Williams, Dietetic Interns, Alberta Health Services
For many of us, the thought of planning school-day lunches doesn’t ignite the same feelings of excitement as getting back into the classroom or seeing the smiles of students on the first day of class. But with September quickly approaching, we’ve got some quick and easy tips—based on the ‘4 Ps’—to help you ease back into a healthy workday lunch routine.
So, what are the 4 Ps? Quite simply, the 4 Ps stand for Plan, Purchase, Prepare and Pack. When you’re consistent, the 4 Ps can help you stay fueled throughout your workday, remove uncertainty around meal planning and avoid defaulting to takeout for busy mid-week dinners.
- Plan: Set time aside to make a meal plan.
- Purchase: Use your grocery list and shop for healthy foods and ingredients.
- Prepare: Cook healthy meals that fuel your day.
- Pack: Bring your meals, snacks and drinks to work.
Planning can help you make healthy choices even during the busiest times in your week. Meal planning may seem intimidating at first. Try planning for 1─3 meals at a time, instead of deciding what to eat for an entire week at once. Making a little extra so you have leftovers can help save time and put a quick-and-easy meal on the table when you’re short on time and rushing to get the kids off to their music lesson or soccer practice.
Tips for meal planning:
- Look at the upcoming week’s activities. If you have scheduled activities or commitments after work, plan a slow cooker meal or plan to use leftovers. Evenings with fewer or no activities may be a great time to cook and prepare extra food for busier nights.
- Involve your family or others by asking for input for new recipes to try or old favourites to include.
- Use a calendar or your favourite app to select recipes to plan for meals.
Use your meal plan and make your shopping list based on what you need. Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer for foods you already have. Following a grocery list can help you save money and make it less tempting for last minute, less nutritious food items. Ordering groceries online (if this option is available where you live) may also help you save time and stick to your grocery list.
Here are some timesaving tips to help with meal prep:
- Prepare enough vegetables and fruit ahead of time to store in the fridge so that you can use them for several days.
- Tip: Vegetables without seeds (e.g. carrots, broccoli, celery, cauliflower) last longer after chopped. Store them in an airtight container with a little water on the bottom.
- Use leftover foods (such as poultry, beef, and fish) in sandwiches, wraps, or salads.
- Store leftovers in labelled single servings in the fridge or freezer to use later.
Here are some delicious and nutritious recipes to help you include a variety of vegetables and fruit, protein foods, and whole grains in your meals:
- Grab-and-go breakfasts and snacks
- Smoothie with frozen fruit and vegetables (e.g. banana, berries, spinach, milk or plain yogurt)
- Yogurt parfait with oats and fruit
- Hummus with veggies and whole grain crackers
- Meals for batch cooking
- More simple meal ideas
To make it easy to pack your food for the day, put your leftover supper in individual serving-sized containers right after you finish cooking. You can do the same for snacks too! For example, make on-the-go yogurt parfaits by stacking portions of yogurt with fruit in your fridge and portion out cereal for the topping.
Even if you plan, you may not pack enough food to fuel you on a long or busy day. Having some healthy choices available at work may help. Consider keeping some snacks at your desk:
- granola bars
- trail mix
- oatmeal packs
- rice cakes
- whole grain crackers
- air-popped popcorn
- single-serving canned tuna
- roasted chickpeas
- canned fruit in juice
- unsweetened applesauce
Water and hydration
Most adults need 9─12 cups (2.25─3 L) of fluids a day. Choose water, milk, or unsweetened fortified soy beverage as your drink of choice.
- Carrying a reusable bottle with you to sip water throughout the day
- Flavouring your water with fruit, cucumber, or herbs like mint
- Drinking unsweetened coffee or tea with milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices
See the Choose Healthy Drinks handout for more information about drink choices.
Making change one meal at a time
If you would like to work towards new habits for healthy eating, making small changes are often the most successful. Visit Healthy Eating Starts Here or check out What’s For Lunch? for even more great tips for using the 4 P’s!
If you’re looking for support to make a healthy lifestyle change, speak with your family physician or call Health Link at 811 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist. You might also contact your Employee and Family Assistance Program to inquire about setting up a nutritional counselling session.
Janelle and Jing are completing dietetic internship placements with Alberta Health Services (AHS), Nutrition Services, and worked with AHS’ Population and Public Health Registered Dietitians in the child and youth area on this blog post. This team works to support healthy eating in communities across Alberta, and is passionate about health, cooking and finding simple ways to incorporate healthy eating into everyday life. Visit ahs.ca/nutrition for more info or to find a dietitian near you.
Co-blogger, Jing Zeng is in her final year at the a University of Alberta, completing a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Food Science with a dietetics specialization. She’s also an avid hiker and adventurous foodie with a taste for travel and tucking into incredible dishes from around the world. Um, can we come over to dinner at your house?!