How to find fast and healthy food court meals (even if you're crazy busy)

Alistair-Clark's picture
Rank: King Kong | 1,102

I learned something crazy the other day: high-level Ironman triathletes pee on their bikes during races.

That's right. In the middle of a 112 mile ride, they'll just let loose all over their $12,000 Cervelo bike.

These people sound insane, but I sort of understand why they do it.

While I've never peed while riding a bike, I've definitely been so committed to achieving a goal that I wouldn't let anything get in the way.

When I was a management consultant, I used to work savage 12 hour marathons where my boss was breathing down my neck and I know I'd be in big shit if my work wasn't perfect.

I wouldn't get up from my desk for anything (except of course, when I had to go to the bathroom...).

On days like this, the last thing we think about is what to eat. We just want something fast that will give us energy, so we run down to the food court and grab a slice of pizza, a pre-made sandwich, or even just an energy bar and get back to work.

But an hour later, you realize that you've made a huge mistake...

  • The sugar high you were riding has now led to a crippling headache and energy crash.
  • You feel heavy and bloated as your stomach wages war with grease and fat.
  • Worst of all, weeks of eating like this is starting to add up and you need to loosen your belt just to sit down...

In this article, I'm going to give you a simple template for finding fast, healthy food court meals--no matter how busy you are.

When you walk into the food court, how do you feel? Overwhelmed?

That's how I feel.

In front of you are 50+ options to choose from, all tempting you with mouthwatering buffets piled high with food.

In the back of your mind, you know you should just get a salad or something healthy, but you're hungry and you want something that actually tastes good. And so you go the the same place you go everyday, grab some Chinese food and get back to work.

I get it. When you're crazy busy, you don't have time to worry about calorie counts and macronutrients.

We convince ourselves that it's ok to eat a little unhealthy because we need the extra energy for work. Or that we've worked hard and deserve to treat ourselves.

I remember a week where I ate a Subway footlong every single day for dinner because I had convinced myself that the vegetables balanced out the negative effects of the fake "ribs", sugary sauces, and bread made out of yoga mats (allegedly...).

But instead of paying for it later with an energy crash, I discovered a better approach.

The 'Anytime Meal': A simple template for finding fast, healthy meals in the food court

Here's the truth about eating healthy that almost no one talks about: it's not that complicated.

If I asked you to summarize what a healthy diet is in three sentences, you could do it. "Don't stuff your face. Eat lots of real food like vegetables and protein. Stay away from sugar, processed food, and deep fried stuff."

Simple, right? But we get distracted by HuffPo articles about the latest breakthrough nutrition study and forget about the basics. Don't eat too much. Eat real food. Don't eat crap.

The hard part about eating healthy isn't the information. It's applying that information in the context of your day-to-day life when work gets crazy and you're short no time. We know we should start eating better, but it's just easier to grab whatever is closest and get back to work.

But when even a 10% drop in energy at work could be the difference between getting promoted and getting fired, it's critical that we get it right. We can't afford to be a zombie for the first 2 hours of the day, or hit a wall mid-afternoon after a heavy lunch.

You can use food as a tool for performing better at work so that you can get rid of that lingering brain fog and feel invincible during late night work marathons.

Here's the solution: 'The Anytime Meal' Template.
Click

This infographic is from a company I came across a few years ago called Precision Nutrition (a.k.a. 'PN').

They're the largest online nutrition coaching company in the world, and specialize in providing simple advice for busy people like us. I'm such a fan that I became a PN Certified Nutrition Coach last year.

The 'Anytime Meal' is made up of three parts:

  1. Lots of vegetables
  2. A solid portion of protein
  3. Some healthy fats.

Forget about everything else. No more calorie counts, no more meal plans, no more superfoods. Seriously... just erase everything you thought you knew about nutrition and focus on applying this simple framework consistently.

And by consistently, I mean 80+% of the time.

That's the reason this template works so well--it makes the consistency part easy. All you need to think about when you walk in the food court is three things: lots of vegetables, a solid portion of protein, and some healthy fats.

If you focus on making your meals look this this, everything else will take care of itself. It's the 80/20 of healthy eating.

My favourite 'Anytime Meal'

When I discovered this simple template, it became easy to find healthy meals in the food court. I'd just look at the menu options and run down the checklist in my mind. Vegetables? Protein? Healthy fat?

For example, Chipotle is my all-time favourite lunch spot. Here's what I order for an 'Anytime Meal'.

  • "Chicken Burrito Bowl, with no rice"
  • Vegetables? From the grilled peppers, onions, lettuce, and salsa.
  • Protein? From the chicken and beans.
  • Healthy fats? From the guacamole.

I used this template for years while working and travelling as a management consultant. I also used it while competing for Canada in international rugby. Whatever your goals, it will work.

It's not to hard too find options that fit this template, but if you need some ideas to get you started then I can help.

I've put together a one-page PDF with my 5 go-to options for creating fast and healthy 'Anytime Meals' in the food court. I used to crush these meals for lunch (and sometimes dinner) everyday when I was working as a management consultant. Just click here to download it right now.

Now I'm looking for advice from you. What are your go-to lunches and dinner when you are grinding at work all-day and all-night?

Region: 

Comments (21)

Jul 20, 2016

Thanks so much for this, super helpful stuff in the article and on your website. Keep it up!

    • 1
Jul 20, 2016

I eat:

2 wake up wraps from DD in the morning.

1 baked potato from Wendy's at lunch
OR
A protein shake.

An orange or other fruit for a snack

Potential grilled chicken for a 4pm snack

Salad for dinner

I am a woman and we do generally eat less than men. Chipotle is a two meal thing for me. I simply can't finish a full burrito in one sitting.

********"Babies don't cost money, they MAKE money." - Jerri Blank********

    • 1
Jul 24, 2016
tropos:

2 wake up wraps from DD in the morning.

No offense, but healthy or not... that's kinda gross

    • 1
Jul 24, 2016
tropos:

I eat:

2 wake up wraps from DD in the morning.

1 baked potato from Wendy's at lunch ORA protein shake.

An orange or other fruit for a snack

Potential grilled chicken for a 4pm snack

Salad for dinner

I am a woman and we do generally eat less than men. Chipotle is a two meal thing for me. I simply can't finish a full burrito in one sitting.

No need to be modest. I can't even pass a full chipotle burrito in one sitting. I'd say you're tougher than you think you are.

Jul 20, 2016

To all Monkeys in the Bay Area who are trying to avoid the banker belly and raging plague of fat face, look into Sprig or Munchery. I use it every night, order directly to the office, and typically have enough in my firm's expense policy to grab 2 meals. They provide all macros for their meals, and have customer support that you can contact to find exact counts for each portion of the meal.

They are generally on the smaller side of things, but most important they taste good and you can keep a full meal easily under 700 calories (and typically under 550). Real easy to keep track of what you're eating, and maintain a healthy mix of meals.

Save the pizza and chinese food until Saturday morning after you've painstakingly forced yourself to go out and be sociable one night a week and can barely move the following morning.

    • 1
Jul 21, 2016

This is great, thank you!

Personally, I find that getting in my vegetables/fruits can be tough, especially if you don't have time to shop, wash, or cut them. But, if you can somehow manage it, celery/carrots/cucumbers are really simple and if you keep hummus/PB at your desk, those can go a long way as snacks.

I have a pretty terrible metabolism, so I try not to eat fulls meals in one sitting. Like your Chipotle bowl, I'd usually eat that over the course of 2 hours or I just eat it for two meals. Otherwise, smoothies/protein shakes are your best friend. Whey powder is definitely an acquired taste, but so worth if if you can get creative. Another thing that's healthy ( I think) is seaweed wrapped sushi. Basically, it's sushi without the rice, and I think it actually tastes a lot more wholesome than normal sushi. Also, grilled chicken is your best friend. Seriously, you'll get sick of it after a couple months, but then you take a break, and you'll go right back. Bless grilled chicken.

Eating healthy sucks sometimes, especially if you work with guys who are over 6ft tall and burgers are like snacks for them, but one day their metabolisms will catch up and on that day I will have the last laugh.

Oh, also oatmeal at any time of day is fantastic, and a lot better than starchy/white grains, especially if you're craving carbs.

    • 1
Jul 21, 2016

Vegetables were also the bane of my existence. They'd just sit in my fridge because I was too lazy to peel / cut / chop, and then I'd inevitably throw them out.

I was sick of wasting my money, so I came up with a better approach and started buying vegetables pre-cut / ready to eat and it made a huge difference. I wrote about my OCD approach here: http://worklifefitness.co/eat-more-vegetables/

Jul 25, 2016

Soylent 2.0

    • 1
Jul 27, 2016

"When I was a management consultant, I used to work savage 12 hour marathons where my boss was breathing down my neck and I know I'd be in big shit if my work wasn't perfect."

Stopped reading there. 12 hour marathons... that's just cute.

    • 1
Jul 29, 2016

MCT oil and coconut oil in your coffee helps. ~125 calories per tablespoon for both. I do about a tablespoon of each in my coffee twice in the morning and once in the afternoon. Keep them in your desk. It has me going 7am-10pm with a avocado and chicken breast for lunch.

    • 1
Jul 29, 2016

Use the vegetables in smoothies if you have difficulties eating them. Green smoothie seems to be popular and I guess it has a lot of "green" vegetables. or try carrot and beetroot for that little bit of iron.

    • 1
Jul 30, 2016

I just bring food from home. Company doesn't give me a food stipend so restaurants are too expensive. If I travel, same thing. Protein powder and oats are easy to bring through carry-on luggage, are dry, non-perishable and can last for months.

Jul 30, 2016

They are on seamless web and will deliver- they have a bunch of locations, but I know there is one around 18th and Park. Yummy, healthy stuff!

Jul 30, 2016

Eat a lot of white meat sandwiches - turkey, grilled chicken etc. I do that all the time and have not gained any weight. If you keep some semblance of a workout routine, you will have a pretty decent body and feel very healthy with that diet

Jul 30, 2016

Energy Kitchen will deliver in Gramm. they are open late I think.

A lot like the Pump. Good food.

Jul 30, 2016
ExGSBanker:

Energy Kitchen will deliver in Gramm. they are open late I think.

A lot like the Pump. Good food.

Energy Kitchen SUCKS!

Jul 30, 2016

All organic stuff, great vegetarian selection. Very expensive though. I wouldn't order there if I couldn't expense it on seamless web.

Jul 30, 2016

McD's salads are pretty good I heard. Plus you get to sit on Ronald McDonald's lap.

Jul 30, 2016
Comment
Jul 30, 2016