Take Care of Yourself: Eating Right in the Wrong Environment

Take Care of Yourself: Eating Right in the Wrong Environment


My article Take Care of Yourself: Eating Right in the Wrong Environment made it’s way into the winter edition of In The Black, a quarterly magazine of the Australian Veterinary Business Association – hence the reason for the cute furry friend image I chose for this post.

A friend and colleague in the field of exercise physiology asked if I wouldn’t mind giving the topic a crack due to my growing interest in nutritional and environmental medicine (NEM).  I am not an expert in nutrition, but since my recent training in NEM, I feel I know enough now to make a contribution.  On receipt of my submission the editor said, “thanks again for your help. Our magazine relies on the help of experts who volunteer their time to share their knowledge with our readers.”

I was happy with that response and proud to present the piece to you now.  Enjoy.

Navigating your way through the smorgasbord of food outlets to find something nutritious and delicious for a meal, snack and drink can be a challenging task, especially on a tight time frame and budget.  

Add a busy morning to your mix; you’ve worked up an appetite, and with the colder season coming up – you’re perhaps a little more inclined to indulge in and sway to comfort foods. Your choice is now influenced by being busy, hungry and the cold. Sound familiar?

In an ideal world, we would all be pre-preparing our daily nutrition to save time, money and improve our lifestyles through healthy eating practices. Right? That’s easier said than done. You should keep this in mind though, for your healthy living goals. However, if you spend just 5 minutes to plan your eating strategy the night before or before you start your busy day, you can have more control and discipline in making good food choices from menus – no matter what your options are.

If you’ve already spent a minute reading this, then take the next 5 minutes after finishing to plan your eating strategy for tomorrow. After all, the last thing you want to do is find yourself running up the street to the closest bakery, McDonalds or noodle shop to grab something quick for lunch based on how you’re feeling at the time.

Before we get into the best food options, consider making a commitment to yourself to become more vigilant in this area of your life. After all, eating well is about making smarter choices and planning ahead and it’s easier than you think.

Let’s dive into smart choices as you’re probably getting a little hungry reading this!


Salads are typically the obvious smart food choice, but be aware of potato and pasta salads; these can have a lot of dressing, salt and kilojoules in them and you may eating as many calories as chicken strips from a fast-food outlet. You can still have these salads, but portion control is the key.

Smart choice: Leafy green salads with grilled meats, topped lightly with vinaigrette or low-calorie dressings. e.g. lean beef, chicken or tuna salad or a vegetarian option of quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’), chickpea and baby spinach with hummus.

Tip: Ask for the dressing in a separate container so you can add it on yourself.

If you have the choice of combining different salads, choose two non-starchy vegetable based salads plus one that’s more substantial, be it the bean/legume or sweet potato salad (hold off the mayo).

Something a little more filling?

You’d be surprised how filling a wholesome salad can be, but if it’s a sandwich you want, try to find a place where you can build your own – to get more control over your nutrition. But do it wrong and you may be eating those chicken strips again! A wrap might be a better option than a steak sandwich with everything under the sun. Pre-made wraps are also an easy grab-and-go option.

Smart choice: Low GI carb base e.g. wholemeal/whole grain bread or wrap then choose lean meat like chicken or turkey. From there, load up on colourful veggies and avoid sauces, heavy dressings or mayonnaise. Cheese in moderation is ok.

Or if you are at the noodle shop, skip the high-GI white rice or noodles and go for a lean meat or vegetable stir-fry with extra steamed vegetables instead. A little rice is fine but think – nutrient dense over empty calories – you can’t go wrong with too many vegetables!

Light Snacks

A small fruit salad will give you the natural sugars for an energy boost at choc-o-clock time – without the blood sugar spike-and-crash you get from chocolate and cakes.

Don’t forget your local supermarket for a couple of pieces of fruit instead of those chips and gravy. Best of all, they’re as cheap as chips! While you’re there, why not get tomorrow’s lunch? It’s as simple as grabbing tins of salmons, pre-mix of baby salad, an avocado, tomato and a packet of wraps. My goodness, you probably have enough for a couple of lunches!


Sushi can be a lean and tasty choice. Two sushi rolls are substantial, low in calories and price tag. For a lighter choice, sashimi with a small serve of the nutrient-packed seaweed salad is worth a try.

Smart choice: a black or brown rice version of your favourite roll (avoiding tempura sushi or items) and a side of edamames beans.

Afternoon pick-me-up

Look out for a pop-up juice bar and grab a cup of fresh fruit and vegetable juice or a smoothie. They are a fast way to get an energy boost while packing a punch of nutrients your body requires like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Be aware of 100% pure fruit juices as they carry a lot of sugar, even though it’s natural sugar; without the fibre – the energy boost will not sustain you for very long and it all adds to your calorie count. It’s far better to eat the whole fruit instead.

Smart choice: Clean up your drinking regime by switching your pre-bottled version of juices to freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice with more vegetables than fruit, and sugary drinks for a bottle of sparkling water – you’ll still feel refreshed but save on the extra calories and sugar.

Caffeinated drinks with milk like coffee or tea are commonly teamed up with a light lunch. This isn’t a bad combination, as the balance of protein, fats and low GI carbs will at least help you feel fuller for longer. Just remember, caffeinated beverages after 2pm may interrupt sleep.

Top tips for healthier takeaway and dining options

Visit http://www.nutritionaustralia.org for the full listing.

Cuisine Go for this… Instead of this…
Salad/sandwich bar Lots of colourful veggies + lean meat/egg/fish/legumes as protein Caesar salad
Baked potato Lots of coloured vegetable fillings with hummus/tzasiki Sour cream, butter and bacon
Chicken/Fish shops Grilled or roast chicken (remove the skin)Grill fish and Garden/Greek salad Fried chickenBattered fishHot chips/potato and gravy, coleslaw
Bakery Wholegrain bread roll/salad roll Pies, pastries and sausage rolls with sauce
Sushi Fresh sushi/sashimi Tempura sushi or items
Burgers Wholemeal/wholegrain/ half or no bunGrilled meats or vegetarian option with lots of vegetables/side salad White buns and minced meat patties with mayonnaiseFries with tomato sauce
Pub meals Grilled fish/chicken/steak with salad Crumbed or fried food
Indian Look for lean meat or seafood and vegetable dishese.g. Dahl or Tandoori chicken Creamy dishes e.g. Korma or butter chicken
Italian Tomato-based saucesThin crust pizza with lots of vegetables, lean meals such as chicken or seafoodSide salad or steamed veggies Creamy sauces – CabonaraThick crust pizza with lots of processed meatsHerb/garlic bread
Mexican Lean meat or vegetable burrito bowls or tacos without sour cream Nachos with sour cream and cheese
Asian Lean meat/seafood and vegetable stir fries Fried meat/seafood dishes