| 23.6°C Dublin

How to pick a nutritious lunch when time is your enemy


Fill your salad bowl to the max.

Fill your salad bowl to the max.

Fill your salad bowl to the max.

Mornings are an extremely busy time for everyone. It can be hard enough to have a proper, balanced breakfast, never mind be prepared enough to make and bring a packed lunch for the day ahead. So what can we do?

When I retired from my life as a professional athlete, I started working full time and my job included time in the office and also a lot of time spent in the car. This was a big change for me; I was busy and wasn't best prepared. I was eating as I went, grabbing what was available rather than what was the best and for the most part I was eating out of shops and delis.

I quickly grew frustrated with the high price of buying lunch every day, the lack of control over my diet, the poor food I was putting into my body and the effect it was having on my energy levels. I decided to make an effort to eat better and I found that a big part of this came in eating a better lunch.

Two weeks ago I spoke about how to build a balanced dish. This article focuses on lunch and will give you a few more nuggets of information to help you appreciate the meal a lot of us might neglect as the days get busier.

As you increase your training over the weeks ahead it is important your nutrition follows suit.

If you are training after work it is even more important that your lunch is substantial, providing you with the energy needed to get out there and put in a good session later in the day.

The big question is, if you usually buy a sandwich from the deli, or skip lunch entirely, can we improve it? I'm glad to say "Of course we can", and the following guide should help you choose simple, tasty and nutritious meals and alternatives that will make all the difference to your busy day.

What are the options?


The objective is to eat slow release carbohydrates that will help provide energy throughout the afternoon.

The glycemic index (GI index) is a measure of sugar in foods. The higher the GI the more fast release sugar contained in the food.

To give an example of the spectrum, sweets have a very high GI, and sweet potatoes have a low GI - even if they're called sweet! The aim is to eat low GI in order to manage hunger and energy levels throughout the day.

On training days you can add a little more low GI carbohydrates and you should lessen unnecessary carbohydrate intake on days you are not training - a salad bowl over a sandwich, for example.

Examples of Low GI Carbohydrates

Brown/Wholegrain bread

Wholegrain wrap

Wholegrain pasta

Brown rice

Sweet potato

Cous cous



As described in the 'Balanced Plate', protein in every meal is important to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients you need.

Always make sure when at a deli that you order a high quality source of protein.

What you may not know is that many deli meats are high in salt and other preservatives.

Always aim for the chunky options of pulled chicken breast and turkey or if they happen to roast their own chickens on site, go for that.

While it may appear a great source of protein, stay away from the tuna mayonnaise, for example, as it will be very high in saturated fat.

The chilled aisle also houses many healthy protein sources, and don't forget to look out for eggs, yoghurts and some cheese as a meat alternative.

Examples of Protein

Real chicken breast

Real turkey







Fat is an essential macronutrient but has gotten a bad rep in the media and is now something a lot of people don't include in their diet.

Fat is essential as an energy store and provides an important insulation for vital organs. I always aim to include a natural fat source in my lunch.


Feta cheese


Goat's cheese




Real butter

Extra virgin olive oil


The more colour and variety you can eat the better; and lots of it. When it comes to leaves ask for mixed and try to avoid iceberg lettuce as it's of no nutritional value.

Vegetables are something we can eat lots of so fill that wrap, sandwich or salad bowl to the max.

When it comes to dressing, it is best to ask for it on the side. This way you have full control over how much you have.

Online Editors