Posted by Kristina Mullahoo, DtP, MSc on April 11, 2022
Kristina Mullahoo, DtP, MSc

Does this sound familiar? You grab a quick coffee on the way to work. You attend back-to-back meetings and eat lunch at your desk. Maybe you even skip it or grab another coffee to get you through the day. Finally, you finish work and realize you feel starved. Instead of a balanced meal, the snacks come out in full swing…

At home or at the office, this is what a typical day looks like for many employees. Skipping meals, being distracted while eating, or not planning meals properly can all lead to poor eating habits, which can have a negative impact on overall health.

Risks to your well-being may include:

  • Brain fog

  • Reduced productivity

  • Increased irritability

  • Increased fatigue

  • Increased stress levels

If we don’t feed our bodies enough during the day, it often leads to greater hunger in the evenings, food cravings, and overeating. It’s no surprise then that dinner tends to be the largest meal of the day, followed by lunch, snacks, and then breakfast1.


Common eating habits in Canada

You might think that others are more organized when it comes to planning and eating meals, but you would be surprised. Here are some eating trends observed in a Canadian Community Health Survey that examined the dietary habits of over 20,000 people2:

  • Only about 60% of adults and teens eat 3 meals and 1 snack a day.

  • About 10% of all Canadians consumed more than half of their calories from snacks.

  • Adults and teens are more likely to skip breakfast or lunch.

  • Those who tend to skip breakfast were also found to be less active.

Distracted eating is also a common habit for many Canadians. Here are some of the top culprits reported in a 2016 study3:

  • Watching television: 70%

  • Browsing the internet: 50%

  • Reading a newspaper or magazine: 32%

  • Consulting or sharing on social media: 26%

  • Sending text messages: 24%

  • Working or studying: 21%

  • Talking on the phone: 14%

The study also reveals that 1/3 of respondents think lunch is a major chore. And when it comes to dinner, 2/3 wait until the day of to decide what to eat, but also want their weeknight meals to be ready in less than 30 minutes.

If any of this resonates, you are clearly not alone. Taking the time to eat properly during our active work schedules can be challenging, but here are some realistic ways to overcome workday nutrition woes. 


Building nutritious eating habits

Plan it out

In the morning, dedicate time for breakfast. Or, if you’re not hungry when you wake up, plan for a quick snack mid-morning when those hunger signals kick in. 

Common signs of hunger include:

  • Stomach grumbling

  • Thinking about food

  • Low energy

  • Drop in concentration

Next, remember that lunch breaks exist for a reason: to eat your lunch! Instead of writing that email or finishing that report, pause to refuel and rehydrate. If you need an extra reminder to commit to your lunch, try blocking off time in your calendar. 

Time management is only one aspect of meal-planning. It also involves knowing what to eat. There are many ways to plan your meals, depending on your preferences and lifestyle:

  • Prep your meals: Dedicate one day a week to cooking and preparing meals for the work week.

  • Cook once, eat twice: Cook enough food at dinner, so you have leftovers for lunch the next day.

  • Create a weekly meal plan: Take 10-15 minutes to write down the meals you will make during the week.

  • Find your frequency: If you do groceries once a week, plan meals for 7 days. If you shop twice a week, plan for a few days at a time.

  • Respect your time: Choose meals and recipes that fit in your schedule. For example, 30-minute recipes might be more achievable for a busy parent, as opposed to a 90-minute recipe. 

  • Stick to what’s familiar: Start with recipes you know how to cook, and explore new recipes gradually. 

  • Embrace kitchen tools: Recipes that use time-saving cooking equipment – like slow cookers or all-in-one pots – can make meal prep more manageable. 

  • Write it down: Stick your meal plan on the fridge or in another visible spot. Refer to it each day to see what meals are coming up, what prep you could do in advance, or if there’s anything you need to take out of the freezer the night before.


Listen to your hunger cues

Our bodies have built-in signals that let us know when to eat and when to stop eating. These are called hunger cues, or feeling hungry and feeling full. When we ignore or can’t feel our bodies' biological signals, it can lead to overeating or undereating. This happens to a lot of people during their busy workdays: we are so focused on our tasks that we often ignore or don’t recognize these cues. 

If you feel them, don’t ignore them. Monitor which times of the day you feel hungry, and plan your meals and snacks at those time. If you don’t feel hunger signals, planning consistent times to eat can help. Pay attention to how your body feels throughout the day and tune in to its cues. Sometimes, we just need to step away from work and take a first bite of food for those signals to kick in.


Eat without distractions

Get away from your desk when it’s time to eat. Sit at a table with no electronics or distractions, other than your plate of food. This will help you focus your attention on the task at hand: nourishing your body! 

By being mindful of what you’re eating and taking your time, you are more likely to eat adequately and feel more satisfied. Why? It takes about 20 minutes for signals of fullness to make it from the stomach to the brain. This means that if you rush to finish your meal or if you aren’t paying attention, you might end up overeating or undereating, which can come back to haunt you later in the day.

One welcome distraction, however, is to eat with other people. This can help you slow down your eating as you enjoy conversations between bites of food. It can help give your body the time it needs to signal that you feel full. Not to mention that it’s an effective way to take a mental break and bond with others.


Easy ways to include nutritious foods in your day


Here are some nutritious and delicious options to start your day:

  • Cold cereal with milk or plant-based beverage and a fruit

  • Toast, bagel, or English muffin with nut butter and banana

  • Oatmeal or kasha made with milk or plant-based beverage topped with frozen berries, nuts, and seeds

    Tip: Try a make-ahead version by mixing the ingredients the night before and leaving it in your fridge.

  • Yogourt, cottage cheese, or quark topped with fruit and granola

  • Beans or other pulses with a whole grain carb (like rice, toast, or bulgar)

  • Pita, chapati, flatbread, or naan stuffed with a protein (egg, tuna, salmon, cheese, meat, tofu, beans) and veggies

  • Beans and rice (or toast)

  • Congee with a protein (egg, chicken, pork, tuna)

  • Dumplings stuffed with protein and vegetables


Lunch and dinner 

Try these simple and quick choices to fuel your body:

  • Leftovers from a previous meal

  • Wraps: tortilla, pita, flatbread, or roti stuffed with veggies, protein (egg, tuna, salmon, cheese, meat, tofu, beans), and your choice of condiments

  • Bowls: bed of quinoa, rice, bulgur, or buckwheat topped with greens (spinach, chopped kale, arugula), assorted veggies (grated carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, onions), and protein (edamame, beans, tofu, chicken, fish, egg), and your choice of vinaigrette

    Tip: You can prep the ingredients in advance in large quantities and assemble your bowl when it’s time to eat!

  • Grilled cheese sandwich with a side salad or chopped veggies

  • Pasta salad: pasta with your choice of veggies, beans or cheese, nuts and seeds, topped with an olive oil and lemon dressing

    Tip: Prepare all the ingredients while the pasta is cooking to save on time. This can be made once and eaten for many meals. It can even be a side dish for another meal!

  • Sheet pan meal: protein (salmon, chicken, sausages, tofu), potatoes or sweet potatoes, and robust veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, brussels sprouts) chopped and seasoned on one pan that goes in the oven



 Mix and match foods from this list :

  • Whole fruits or sliced fruits

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Cheese slices

  • Yogourt, labneh, quark, cottage cheese

  • Fruit and nut granola bar

  • Dips like hummus, babaganoush, tzatziki, guacamole, matbucha 

  • Carrot sticks or other sliced veggies

  • Can of tuna, salmon, or sardines

  • Crackers or breads, like pita, naan, roti, chapati, flatbreads, lamajoun 

  • Hard-boiled egg (made in advance)

  • Muffins, scones, energy balls (made in advance)


How can Dialogue help?

If you would like to learn more about how to prioritize nutrition to fit your unique lifestyle, work schedule, and tastes, we can help. Dialogue has a team of skilled dietitians* who will work with you to create an eating strategy tailored to your needs. Learn how to nourish your body to improve your wellbeing, productivity, and overall health.

*Dietitians: additional service with fees may apply. Insurance receipts are provided.


Visit the Dialogue application and learn more about the services available to you.

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  1. Assessing the Dietary Habits of Canadians by Eating Location and Occasion

  2. What are Canadians eating? Chef Ricardo reveals Canada’s food habits


Topics: Health and Wellness