As a summer intern with long hours and short lunch breaks, you’re likely to be reaching for lots of junk food with scant nutritional value during the day. Luckily, there are tons of tasty, healthy, and quick ways to kick those nasty snacking habits and avoid the nemesis that is an expanding waistline. If you’re finding yourself about to buy the package of M&M’s in your office’s vending machine for a quick sugar rush to help you finish out your shift, stop right there. Her Campus caught up with certified nutrition specialist Jason Boehm, registered dietitian Brooke Schantz, and certified holistic health coach Carly Lockman, who have the scoop on how to keep your energy levels up and your calorie and sugar intake in check at the office. Read on for some of their suggestions!
1. Plan out your meals in advance
This is a crucial and often forgotten step in getting your workday snacking habits in tip-top shape. By planning out what to eat in advance and bringing your lunch and snacks with you to your internship, you’ll avoid having to resort to junk food from vending machines or unhealthy cafeteria meals. You can also control your portion sizes by pre-packaging your foods of choice instead of having to fight off the urge to eat the entire plate you get at an office cafeteria or nearby restaurant.
Making these simple changes in your routine will allow you to feel more energized at work, Schantz says. “Planning your snacks ahead of time is a wonderful way to keep your blood sugars stable so you don’t crash or feel fatigued during the day,” she says. “Try to have a small snack or meal every two to four hours to keep your energy levels up, but don’t forget to watch those portion sizes!”
2. Instead of candy, fill up with fruit when you crave sugar
If you think you’ll need a sweet midday snack to perk yourself up, pack some fresh fruit to bring to the office. Apple slices, berries, or chopped melon should do the trick! Boehm suggests pairing apple slices with almond butter to make for a nutritious treat that’s packed with nutrients and light on sugar. “Combining the fruit with some protein and fat lowers the sugar load on your body,” he says.
Gabbie Cirelli from UNC-Chapel Hill says she kicks her sugar cravings at her internship by eating frozen grapes. “They’re basically like eating ice cream sorbet in bite-sized pieces, except without any added sugar or preservatives,” she says. “Regular grapes are obviously delicious, too, but there’s nothing like feeling like you’re eating ice cream without any of the guilt.” Cirelli says she has a freezer at work to keep her frozen grapes in shape until she’s in the mood for a snack, but if your office isn’t equipped with one, try freezing them overnight and throwing an ice pack in your lunch box when you head out in the morning.
But even with the advantages of fruit, Schantz says it’s important to track your portion sizes. “One serving of fruit is equivalent to one whole fruit the size of your fist, one cup chopped, ½ canned in its own juice, or ¼ cup dried, unsweetened fruit,” she says. So, if you decide to munch on a fruity treat, keep an eye on how much you’re eating so you don’t eat too much. Schantz suggests doing this by pre-packing servings ahead of time in snack-sized plastic bags.
3. Nix the chips and choose nuts instead
Craving something salty? Steer clear of chips and go for nuts. “Pretty much anything in the vending machine is going to be junk,” Boehm says. “Potato chips… are going to be a disaster.” Boehm suggests eating roasted almonds, a nutritious option that “give you the crunch of chips, but are far healthier.”
Nuts contain much more protein than chips—a serving of dry roasted almonds has 6.3 grams, while a bag of Lay’s Classic potato chips has only 2 grams. Protein will also keep you fuller longer, so nuts will leave you much more satisfied.
Nuts are also healthier when it comes to carbs, too! A serving of dry roasted almonds, or 1 ounce, contains 5.5 grams of carbohydrates, compared with 15 grams of carbs in 1 ounce of Lay's Classic potato chips. Chips are stocked with simple carbs, while almonds contain both simple carbs and complex carbs, a healthier option that, like protein, makes you feel full for more time.
Megan Lawler, a recent graduate of Illinois State University, says for an office snack, she makes a mixture of nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans. She also adds in dark chocolate chips and raisins to satisfy her sweet tooth. Lawler says the mix helps her avoid snacking too much by making her full for a longer period of time.
But in mixes like these, it’s always important to be mindful of portion size. The serving size listed on many packs of nuts, such as the dry roasted almonds, is 1 ounce, which equates to about a handful. You should also look at the number of nuts in a serving to help you decide when enough is enough. For instance, 16 cashews, 28 peanuts, or 45 pistachios comprise a serving.
If you’re really craving the crunch of chips, though, Lockman suggests trying baked kale chips with unrefined sea salt. “Kale contains high levels of folate, which boosts brain function,” she says. “Unrefined sea salt is rich in magnesium, which supports mental acuity and aids in stress management.” You can even make your own!
4. Choose whole grains and put away processed products
When you’re at the grocery store pondering over which loaf of bread to buy for your sandwiches this week, there are a few tips you should follow to make sure you’re purchasing the healthiest option. Schantz says the key words to look for on packaging are “whole grain” or “whole wheat,” as these terms signify that the bread contains nutritious complex carbs. But Schantz says if you encounter the words “refined, enriched, or bleached,” the bread contains simple carbs, and she suggests you “put it back on the shelf and find a healthier option.”
Lawler says she snacks on Ezekiel bread, which has many whole grain options. “It’s an organic, flourless, high-protein, high-fiber, all-natural bread that is great for you,” she says.
Lockman says Ezekiel bread is a healthy option because “it is made up of sprouted grains, which contain enzymes that ease digestion.” She also says the sprouted grains are a good source of nutrients that “increase the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals.”
But don’t be fooled by a loaf of bread’s color—looking for those key words, “whole grain” or “whole wheat,” is a must! “Remember, just because a bread is brown, that doesn’t mean it is whole wheat,” Schantz says. “You always need to check that ingredient list!”
Lockman says there’s an easy way to see if your bread is a nutritious choice. “A simple test to see if your bread is healthy or not is to try and ball it up in your hand,” she says. “If it forms a ball easily, that's a good indication it isn't healthy. “
5. Ditch soft serve and go for Greek yogurt
Are you screaming for ice cream but not so psyched about the guilt you’ll feel after eating it? Then avoid the soft serve ice cream machines many large office buildings have in their cafeterias! The best way to get your dairy fix is to go for something low in fat, Schantz says. She suggests low-fat Greek yogurt as an alternative to other dairy products. For comparison, a half a cup of soft serve ice cream has about 11 grams of fat, while a half a cup of Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt has none. Schantz also recommends Greek yogurt over other yogurt varieties. “They have more protein in them than regular yogurt and protein helps keep you feeling fuller for longer,” she says. Lockman suggests including Greek yogurt in your breakfast to “ensure lasting energy for the morning.”
Boehm even has a tip for making Greek yogurt sweeter: “I like to stir in frozen blueberries, which freeze the yogurt on contact,” he says. “[It’s] like healthy ice cream!” See, it is possible to enjoy the taste of ice cream while avoiding that dreaded bloated feeling!
6. Veg out on veggies
Go green and get that veggie intake up if you want to feel full and energized throughout the workday. Schantz says munching on your favorite vegetable—celery, carrots, or cucumbers, perhaps—alongside a snack such as a granola bar, nuts, or yogurt is a must for keeping your stomach satisfied during the workday. This is important to do if you want to focus on work instead of your hunger pangs!
And there’s more good news about vegetables, too! According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, veggies contain low amounts of fat and calories and an abundance of important nutrients. These include potassium, which may help reduce blood pressure and bone loss and decrease the risk of kidney stones, and folate, which in addition to helping out with brain function, assists in the production of red blood cells. Plus, the crunch of these snacks can ease your cravings for unhealthy potato chips or fries. There’s nothing like a plate of greens to get you lean!
7. Say no to sugary drinks at office happy hours
After a long day at the office, you may be tempted to order a sugary mixed drink at your office happy hour if you’re over 21. But think before you drink! Boehm says to steer clear of those sugar-laden beverages. He says your best bet is a glass of pinot noir, but if you’re not a pinot fan, Boehm tells us the next best choices are other red and white wines, followed by a low-calorie beer or seltzer water containing liquor.
But regardless of what you choose to drink, remember to get some water in your system as well. “The rule is two glasses of water for every drink,” Boehm says. And you should start getting hydrated early; Lockman suggests drinking a big glass of H2O before you head to the bar.
8. Stay hydrated to kick the urge to overeat
Water isn’t just helpful for happy hours, but also for during the workday. If you’re feeling tempted to delve into that batch of freshly baked chocolate cupcakes your co-worker brought into share, then fill up your water bottle and start getting hydrated instead. “When you are dehydrated, cravings increase,” Lockman says. “If you feel like you must have a sugary treat, drink a large glass of water first. This will likely keep you from going back for seconds.”
The Mayo Clinic suggests drinking at least nine cups of water per day, and for good reason! Besides helping you resist those unhealthy cravings, water also has many other benefits. “Drinking water consistently throughout the day is one of the best things a person who works long hours can do,” Lockman says. “Staying hydrated is critical to maintaining energy levels [and] mental clarity and avoiding fatigue and illness.”
Fortunately for all of us busy interns, eating healthy really isn’t too difficult at work. With a little time spent planning out meals, looking at ingredient labels and taking charge of portion sizes, you’ll be sure to make your diet nutritious and delicious, which will benefit you in the long run.