According to historians, the lunch break, as we know it in America today, originated in New York, which makes sense as the Big Apple has been at the forefront of large American manufacturing hubs for decades. The focus of people’s daily lives was work, and lunch was the meal that had to fit conveniently into their work schedules. As the first meal eaten outside the home, lunch led to some new developments in scheduling for it. It had to be fast, so workers could have time to eat before returning to work. It had to be affordable, so they didn’t spend too much of their earnings on it. These changes led to innovations such as the birth of drugstore lunch counters, soda fountains, spreadable peanut butter, and wrapped sliced bread.
These days, lunch has become a less honored tradition, with many employees not even leaving their desk for lunch, and only 29 percent of workers receiving a full hour’s lunch break. But if you are one of the many Americans who tend to skip lunch, read on, because you might be surprised to find out that your munch break is much more important than you realize.
Why your Lunch Breaks are a Crucial Part of your Work Day
If you think you are more productive by skipping lunch, think again. Your brain functions and your capacity to perform complex tasks depend upon the type of food you eat. For example, if you stop for a greasy burger on your lunch break, you will be struggling to concentrate for the rest of the day. The results will be even worse if you decide to skip lunch altogether because you’re weight-watching; those calories you’re depriving yourself of are necessary for proper functioning of your body!
Boost your Brain with Better Food
To power-up your mental energy for the rest of the day, your lunch should be packed with foods that nourish and support your body’s demands. Consider creating lunches that include such fare as oily fish, fruit, and veggies, and a bite or two of dark chocolate. These are the foods that stimulate brain activity, and they will also help you to stay productive until the end of your shift.
Take a Proper Lunch Break
Far too many people are spending their lunch breaks at their desk. That is not a break at all. A proper lunch break is one that takes you out of the environment where you normally work, where you have been sitting all morning and will return to for the afternoon. If you don’t take a proper break, you will come to the inevitable crash fatigue sooner or later. Twenty minutes to an hour away from your workspace will help you maintain energy levels through the afternoon. It will also help you focus on the rest of your tasks. The longer you try to work without taking a break, the longer it’s going to take you to get your work done.
Be Mindful of your Time
By now, most people are aware of the practice of mindfulness. Linked to yoga and meditation, it means giving your mind a break. It has many positive effects including:
- Promoting general well-being
- Improving your working memory
- Lowering your blood pressure
- Destressing your mind and body
- Reducing your risk of depression
- Helping you sleep better
- Boosting your energy
- Helping you concentrate
- How Food Fuels Your Brain
Your brain needs a constant supply of energy to keep it working, so skipping lunch is going to lead to a serious slump in your productivity.
The best thing you can do for your brain is eat a lunch which provides a well-balanced combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Numerous studies have shown that carbs are the brain’s primary source of energy, and these same studies reveal that your memory function improves shortly after eating carbs, particularly slow-release carbohydrates like vegetables and whole grains. But don’t be tempted to skimp on the protein and fat, because they have important roles too. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the optimal brain-boosting lunch must contain all three dietary staples: carbs, protein (preferably in the form of lean meat, soy protein, eggs, beans or nuts), and healthy fats like avocado or olive oil.
Increase Your Workplace Satisfaction
Okay, so you have packed a healthy lunch, but before you eat it “al desko” consider this: eating lunch with your co-workers can increase your workplace satisfaction. This means you will like your colleagues better and enjoy your job more. Socializing with workmates is something like exercising, in that you get the benefits of reduced stress levels and lower blood pressure and you tend to feel happier than before you started.
Power Naps are Your Friends
Power up your lunch break with a power nap. A ten-twenty minute nap in the middle of the day if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep the night before may be the perfect way to maximize your effectiveness through the latter half of the workday. The fact of the matter is, even if you did have a restful night’s sleep, a midday nap can still help because it will reset your body’s internal clock. It also helps to boost your concentration and improve your memory.
Squeeze Some Exercise into Your Lunch Break
Your lunch break is also a good time to take on some exercise. Twenty minutes in your office gym or a brisk walk around town will leave you feeling more alert. It’s also a great way to reduce stress. To save time getting hung up in the locker room, find a way to wear some of your gym clothes, such as sneakers and leggings, to work. If you’re going to a gym, take your lunch hour before or after peak time. During your weekends off, spend some time planning your weekly workouts so you will be prepared in advance.
In spite of the fact that lunch breaks are important for your health and productivity, in the U.S. state laws vary on whether a lunch break is mandatory or not. More and more employers are demanding that workers eat lunch at their desks while continuing to work, which may seem to be a tall order, considering the benefits of taking proper breaks. If this is the case for you, this should not be considered an actual “lunch break,” and your employer should be paying you for this time.