Do you find you end up having the same thing for breakfast or lunch each day? If you do, is this a problem? I was asked this question twice over the course of one weekend, so I thought it warranted a blog entry, although I think you already know the answer…it depends!
We are creatures of habit. We make thousands of decisions each day, so wherever possible we take shortcuts. We sit in the same chair, use the same mug, have the same thing to eat, because it is too much effort to think of an alternative every time. Or perhaps we have found what we really like and what works and we tend to stick with it. Do it often enough and it becomes an ingrained habit. Take breakfast for example. I have the same thing for breakfast EVERY SINGLE day. Porridge with a banana. I know exactly the right portion size of oats to measure out using a particular cup (which, I’ll admit, is pretty big!) that keeps me going until lunch and I love it. I am frustrated when I don’t have it. If I run out of bananas, I’ll have some other fruit or nuts, but it won’t be quite the same. I know I probably should vary it slightly, but the rest of my diet is so diverse I really don’t think it matters. As in most households with young children my weekday mornings are pretty hectic, so preparing the same breakfast for myself each day is about all I can cope with.
With lunch therefore I prefer a little bit more variety, but again it’s not totally different each day as it’s largely dependent with what’s available, often leftovers from the night before. My favourite lunch is probably homemade soup, but this requires prior preparation and at warmer times I usually have a batch of falafels at the ready in the freezer; smoked mackerel; prawns; homemade houmous; tuna; cheese or avocado. Most days served with toast (spelt or rye bread taken from the freezer) cucumber, tomato and Granny’s home made chutney. On the days I have lunch with my three year old we either have much of the same or an omelette, cheese/baked beans on toast or something. At the weekend, anything goes, from toasted sandwiches to roast beef.
I do a weekly online shop and make sure I buy some sort of protein I can have at lunchtime, but that is the extent of planning that goes into my lunches. I would love to say that I spend ages chopping a wide variety of vegetables to make the most nutritionally packed salad, sprinkled with toasted seeds served with wholegrains, but the reality is I don’t have time. I tend to put the most time and effort of planning and preparation into our evening meal. I love getting creative so we have varied dishes, often the children’s differing to the grown ups’ (but hopefully not for too much longer!) ensuring that we’ve all had our fill of omega 3 each week and healthy fats each day; at least five (normally more) portions of a variety of different fruits and vegetable a day; good sources of lean protein; wholegrain, high fibre sources of carbohydrate.
Many of you will rely on convenience food for lunch and, depending where you work, there are now such a variety of lunch options, but often of varying nutritional quality. If you are in a rut and seeking some variety, do try taking a packed lunch, or try to venture further from the office in search of more variety, plus you’ll get a longer walk. When I have been office based I always made extra food the night before and take left overs for work, but again this took planning.
As long as it’s nutritious and you get a balance in the rest of your day, having the same meal every day isn’t going to matter too much. For example, if you have a varied breakfast, but generally the same nutrient-packed lunch including a range of different healthy ingredients and a varied evening meal you don’t need to worry too much about having the same thing for lunch. But if you skip or stick with the same breakfast, maybe grabbing something convenient on the go, then have the same sandwich for lunch each day and a limited repertoire of evening meals, then you might want to think about adding some variety into your diet to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. It is useful to think about the balance of your diet over the course of the week and not just over the day especially in relation to sources of vitamin D, iodine, iron and B12 for example, as we may not be eating meat and/or fish every day.
It is becoming more and more apparent how important the variety of our diet is in relation to our gut health and how this impacts on our wider health, see previous blog on fibre. My challenge for you, (as set by Laura Tilt, registered Dietitian who specialises in gut health) is to see if you can fit 30 different plant foods into your diet each week for optimum gut health. This includes fruit and veg, but also pulses and grains such as wheat, oats, rye are all included. When you count them all up you might just be surprised how many you reach.