22 Ways You're Eating Lunch Wrong

Put. The smoothie. Down.

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Chances are, noon comes a few hours after breakfast—but dinnertime won't come for another six or seven hours at least. In terms of appetite management, this makes zero sense because you teach your body to expect a meal every few hours, then starve it the bulk of the day. It could explain why you feel hangry and unfocused in the afternoon, and why you eat anything and everything in your path the second you get home from work. Instead of eating your second meal of the day so soon after breakfast, start your day with a bigger breakfast that includes a good source of protein, like Greek yogurt or eggs. Then eat a small snack at noon, and have your real lunch a bit later in the day. Bye, hanger!

Common lunch foods—like sandwiches, chips, and leftovers like pasta and rice—tend to be carb-heavy. But filling up on carbs leads to an energy crash and food cravings around mid-afternoon, explains New York-based registered dietitian Katherine Harris, director of integrated nutrition at AdvantageCare Physicians.

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Ideally, Harris says, non-starchy vegetables (like dark leafy greens and colorful vegetables like red cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, and zucchini) should make up 50 percent of your meal. Another 25 percent should be made of lean protein, like fish, poultry, or rice and beans. The remaining 20 percent should be starchy vegetables like butternut squash, yams, sweet potatoes, peas or corn) or whole grains (think quinoa, brown rice, farro, barley), and the last 5 percent should be made up of heart-healthy fats, like sliced avocado, olive oil-based dressing, or nuts.

3. You eat your lunch in T-minus two seconds. 

Slowing down will help you feel more satisfied and prevent indigestion that can make you uncomfortable all afternoon.

4. You drink your lunch. 

You might not even mean to—but when you wash down your sandwich with juice or regular soda, you flood your system with calories from sugar without making you feel full. Instead, sugary drinks just spike your blood sugar temporarily, ultimately leaving you with an XXL appetite shortly after your afternoon meal.

5. You eat yogurt, soup, or a smoothie.

These foods all lack variety in texture. Crunchy foods that require extra time to chew give you a chance to enjoy the mouthfeel and flavors of whatever you're eating. They also stop you from wolfing down your meal, which gives your body a chance to register the calories you've eaten and helps you walk away from lunch feeling especially satisfied.

6. You discount breakfast foods.

Breakfast foods you love can taste just as good at lunchtime—and they often make well-balanced, affordable, and easy-to-pack lunch options. For instance, breakfast sandwiches tend to be the cheapest option at any deli. Try yogurt with granola and nuts, a whole-grain frozen waffle spread with natural peanut butter, or a baked egg muffin sandwich with a side salad or crudités to get some veggies into the mix.

7. You buy your lunch every day.

For about the same cost of a deli sandwich (or two, depending on where you live), you could foreseeably buy an entire loaf of bread, a half-pound of deli meat, a couple tomatoes, and a whole head of lettuce—which amounts to at least a week's worth of sandwiches.

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8. You always pack the same exact sandwich.

While sliced bread works best for the hack above, your go-to toppings will taste completely different on a whole-grain tortilla, pita bread, lettuce wrap, frozen waffle, spring roll rice paper, or chopped up in salad form. Adding a new condiment (like wasabi mustard, garlic hummus, or guac) can help transform your sandwich.

9. You spread condiments on sandwich bread. 

It's the best recipe for a soggy sandwich. Spread them on the protein (so, mustard between two pieces of turkey or turkey and cheese). Then use lettuce as a moisture barrier between the protein and the bread.

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10. You dress your salad before you pack it. 

It's the most classic lunch-packing mistake, and the fastest way to make a crisp salad soggy and unappetizing:

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The easiest way to prevent this mess is to pack your salad vertically in a mason jar and make dressing the first ingredient you pour in. Then layer other salad ingredients like this to keep everything extra crisp:

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When you're ready to eat your salad, shake it up and stick your fork right into the jar, or empty the whole thing into a bowl—the dressing will be the last thing to land on your plate—which is the same way you'd do it if you'd packed your dressing separately. If you're not a mason jar person, use these tricks to pack dressing without fear of messy spillage:

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11. You pack a sandwich in silver foil and a napkin.

Cut down on waste by packing your sandwich in this tear-away paper towel wrapper. It lets you eat your sandwich without soiling your hands, and doubles as a napkin to wipe away any crumbs when you're done.

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Step 1: Place your sandwich on two connected paper towel sheets so the upper fourth of the sandwich hangs over the perforated line. 

Step 2: Fold the bottom of the paper towel up over the sandwich. 

Step 3: Flip the bottom of sandwich away from you to envelop the whole thing inside the paper towel. Rotate the sandwich so the perforated line (and top of the sandwich) faces away from you.  

Step 4: Fold down the bottom edge of the paper towel to down to expose the perforated line. 

Step 5: Fold both paper towel ends underneath the sandwich. 

Step 6: Tear through the perforated line between paper towel sheets to eat your sandwich. 

12. You stack round sandwich meat on square bread. 

This leaves meat hanging off the side of your bread, which is a recipe for many bread-less (and therefor imperfect) bites. Instead, fold four slices of meat into quarters, and align each slice's straight edge with the edge of the bread.

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13. You reuse disposable plastics.

A food takeout container might seem like a perfectly good vessel for your next meal. But most of the time, cheap plastics aren't designed to be reused and will break down with frequent use, ultimately releasing harmful chemicals into your food. 

If you buy any foods that come in glass jars, you don't even need to buy plastic containers. Glass jars are clutch:

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14. You pack dip and dippers separately. 

Stand them up in a short jar with the dip on the bottom:

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15. You use lame lunch-packing excuses like, "I can't pack lunch because I don't have a refrigerator to keep it in."

As long as you're not stowing your sandwich in direct sunlight in the middle of the Sahara, you've got about four hours after taking food out of the fridge before things start to get narsty, Harris says. If room-temperature food really skeeves you out, just pack your lunch with a frozen water bottle to keep everything extra cool.

16. Your lunch includes fruit.

Eating fruit at lunch can spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry an hour or so later—especially if something like a fruit salad is your main course, Harris says. And if you like eating fruit at lunchtime? Just remember fruit is a source of carbohydrates, so eat it instead of bread or starchy vegetables, along with protein, fat, and veggies for a more balanced meal.

17. You don't eat enough at lunch.

Eating a paltry sandwich or a bowl of cereal for lunch could lead to hanger and overeating later in the day. Make your morning, afternoon, and evening meals equal in size to steady your appetite throughout the day.

18. You eat way too much at lunch. 

Your go-to Chipotle burrito could contain more than a day's worth of calories. (If Chipotle is one of your regular lunch spots, just order like a registered dietitian.)

19. You microwave your lunch in a plastic container.

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Heating up food in a plastic container also heats said plastic, which makes plastic chemicals more likely to leech into your food. Use a glass container, microwave-safe dish, or paper goods to heat up your meal.

20. You use plastic utensils to eat hot food.

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Hot foods like soup can heat up a plastic spoon and cause it to release harmful chemicals. Use real silverware whenever you can.

21. You toss silverware haphazardly into your bag.

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Rogue forks can mingle with the gross crumbs that reside at the bottom of your purse, or poke holes in your lunch bag. Stick a fork right into your container if it fits, or use a drink cup with a lid and let the handle poke out.

22. You eat dessert right after lunch.

Dessert is a necessary part of life—but it's better to save your sweets for later in the day when you'll probably be hungry enough for a snack anyway. If you can settle for something remotely healthy like a frozen banana (instead of ice cream) or a dark chocolate square with a spoonful of natural peanut butter (instead of highly processed peanut butter M&Ms), it won't just hit the spot — it may actually hold you over for a bit.

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Elizabeth Narins

Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more. Follow her at @ejnarins.