Tips for OTs Eating Lunch on the Go
I hate making my lunch.
Perhaps I’m burned out after almost 13 years of folding lunch meat into bread through grade school and high school?
Now as home health occupational therapist, there is a small, wise voice in me that challenges me to explore the health and financial benefits of taking ownership of that perviously begrudged task... of my own “simple meal prep.”
It's sometime between 11am and 2pm and I, like many other home health workers, am sitting in my car, feeling a bit guilty about buying a fast food lunch... again.
I wonder if it's really possible to make a lunch that can be both nutritious and delicious, that requires no microwave AND that would not make a huge mess to assemble in my car.
Enter Steph Bell, an entrepreneur and Health and Fitness Coach from Omaha, NE, with her expert insights as I pose my honest questions.
Monika: What are at least 3 lunch ideas for OTs who are on the go?
Steph: Stamina, baby. That’s what these lunches are all about. It is vital as an occupational to ensure you have mental clarity and physical energy to provide the best care for your patients.
Mid-afternoon slumps cannot be on the menu.
It’s food wrapped in an edible blanket—what could be better?! Start with your wrap; collard greens or a sprouted grain tortilla such as the Ezekiel brand are great choices. Then, get creative and have fun playing with your food.
You might try one of these options:
BLT wrap (nitrate-free bacon, arugula, tomatoes and guacamole)
Greek wrap (shredded chicken breast, kalamata olives, cucumbers, hummus, tomatoes, red onion and feta cheese).
Possibilities are endlessly tasty and if you make it fresh in the morning, the wrap won’t be soggy from the guacamole or hummus. Serve with a side of fruit or extra veggies.
Fill a large container with the following:
2 handfuls of greens (spinach, arugula, kale, whatever your inner green god or goddess chooses),
a handful of chopped veggies (carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli),
some fruit (strawberries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds)
a palm-sized piece of protein (chicken, salmon, hard boiled eggs),
and a thumb-length of fat (olives, goat or feta cheese, walnuts, sunflower seeds).
In a separate container place salsa, 2 tsp red pepper-infused olive oil or homemade dressing to spice up your salad.
Fill your thermos with chili, beef stew or Mexican chicken soup and pack a side of chopped veggies such as carrots, celery or bell peppers and ¼ cup of hummus.
Monika: What, if any, types of supplies might you recommend for transporting the lunch and keeping it hot or cool?
Steph: Practically speaking, here's the supplies I recommend:
a water bottle
a lunch tote
various sized glass storage containers with lids (such as Pyrex)
an insulated thermos
Note: Practical does not mean boring—get funky and have fun with these items because it adds to the enjoyment of eating! I use a custom-designed insulated lunch tote my sister-in-law gave me from the company thirty-one and a bright blue glass drinking bottle. Instant happiness.
Monika: Often times, a home health worker eats solo due to being in different locations and on the road every day. What, if any, tips do you have for making the solo meal enjoyable vs. lonely?
Steph: It’s all about mindset. You make the choice to enjoy this quiet time or not. Choose to view this time as an opportunity to do what you love completely uninterrupted.
Do you enjoy listening to podcasts or books? Great, pop in your earbuds, enjoy your food and listen away.
Or maybe you can’t wait to bust out the June issue of your favorite magazine.
Or maybe it is the perfect day to sit outdoors, breath fresh air, soak up the sun and view the beauty around you.
Think of things you like to do alone and how you can incorporate it into your lunchtime. And just as you choose to enjoy the quiet time, choose to relish the meals and activities you are able to share with others when you are not at work. Isn’t life grand?
Monika: What are at least 3 exercises that are good to do when stepping out of the car or on a lunch break? And why?
Steph: No need to preach to the choir that movement is key to our health—stress relief, increased energy, better mood… the list goes on and on. The better you care for your own health, the better you can care for others.
1. Standing Figure 4 Hip Stretch. Using your vehicle for balance, bend your left knee and place your left ankle above the right knee. Now bend the right knee so you are in a seated position. You will feel a stretch through your glutes, piriformis and hips. Hold for 20-30 seconds then switch to the other side. This is an excellent stretch to open up the hips and increase blood flow.
2. Breathing Squats. It is amazing how much we hold our breath throughout the day. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and inhale as you lower into the squat, keeping your core engaged, sternum lifted and 70% of your weight in your heels. Hold for one count. Exhale, push through your heels, squeezing your butt and return to your starting position. Perform 15-20 reps at a slow breath-rate. This exercise is basically a standing meditation that also strengthens your entire lower body.
3. Modified Push Up. Place both hands on the hood of your vehicle, wrists underneath the shoulders. Engage your core so your body is in one straight line (plank position). Inhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower yourself down to the hood of the car. Exhale, straighten the elbows and push away returning to the start position. Perform 15-20 reps. This is an excellent exercise to work the core, pecs and triceps.
Ideas From Your Fellow Therapists!
As this post has been shared around social media, I've been gathering a list of what your fellow OTs are eating. Hopefully, this list will give you even more concrete ideas!
My go to lately is lettuce with leftovers on top. Like anything, chicken salad, fajitas, etc. I've put enchiladas on top of lettuce. This way I'm eating greens and not having to deal with dressing. I usually eat this and document
Apple and peanut butter
Hummus and veggies
Banana and Birdy bar (basically seeds and honey) (sold at local Co-op)
I make protein shake with fruit and almond milk. For snacks- veggies,nuts, jerky.
P3 protein packs
I bring veggies with dip, fruits, granola bars, yogurt, etc. On Wednesday we have staff meeting so I bring leftovers from dinner usually!
I pack an RX bar, baby carrots, a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts of some variety, and water every day. Healthy choices that satiate, satisfy chewy, crunchy, savory and sweet, and hits all the food groups.
I've been doing drinkable yogurts, cheese stick and a granola bar.
Sandwiches and veggies then fruit for later in the day. I do try to stop for at least 15-20 min to eat but it doesn’t always work.
Fruit and cheese
Lots of protein! Quality lunch meats (applegate is my favorite brand), hard cheeses, nuts, fruit, pita and hummus, carrots. Sometimes a salad.
I use powdered peanut butter... No fat, low calorie. Make up some in the morning before I leave, then nice low calorie dip for carrots etc. I also find a few prunes can hit the spot... If you eat them daily, they don't affect your body, ehem, and they have good micronutrients.
Leftover pizza, nut butter and honey, banana or jelly sandwich (mash the banana so it doesn't fall out), leftovers in a wrap, raw veggies, hand fruit, yogurt, salads of all kinds.
Cheese sticks, almonds, protein bars and shakes. I try to keep Ice in my yeti- like mug so I can have ice water with me always.
All my food I prep night before: cut avocado up the night before w salt & lemon juice, easy to eat while documenting. Scrambled eggs w thyme or other seasonings, might have veggies cooked into it or top w tomatoes. Cut jicama, sprinkle w cinnamon & stevia (taste like apples). Cheese. Nuts. Mason jar salads with chicken breast. Mix Kerrygold butter together w pecans. Spread cream cheese or PB on bell peppers & sprinkle w chipotle powder or cinnamon & stevia. Eat leftovers. I also make egg cups in muffin tins w/ veggies & cheese that I often keep in freezer and set in fridge night before for when I accidentally don't have good to eat. Veggies plus hummus. Often take hamburgers, cut them up and add burger toppings plus dressing for burger salad (easier to document). Chia pudding or avocado chocolate pudding quick dessert if you need sweet.
Cheese, crackers, ham slices, grapes and Trader Joes Chewy Grain Bars.
Sandwhich, carrot sticks, fruit, nuts, or siggis with dried fruit or a nooza yogurt, water, and yup- caffeine
Smoothie or yogurt for breakfast. Peanut butter sandwich and fruit for lunch. Granola bar and prepackaged nuts or cheese for snacks.
My favorite is what I call my old man thermos...those green ones that keep food hot all day. I warm up food before I leave and still hot at lunch. Although it is hard to eat soup and drive at the same time. At least sometimes I get a hot lunch!
We make bbq chicken every sat with leftovers for week..ill make salad, wraps, chicken and veggies or sometimes I'll just take a drumstick which is easier when driving. Most days I'm in office for lunch so that's nice. Avocados and cheese sticks are my go to snacks! When I was on road all day id eat smaller snacks every 2ish hours instead of typical meals.
Monika Lukasiewicz, OTR/L lives and serves as a home health occupational therapist and freelance writer in Eugene, OR. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Stephanie Bell is a health coach, body confidence motivator and a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.