IT can be the last thing on your mind when you are busy at work. And with more than half of office workers admitting to eating at their desks every day, it is hardly surprising that what they end up shoving into their mouths is the quickest and easiest thing which comes to hand. But that doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy.
An Edinburgh chef is on a mission to convince hard-pressed workers to ditch the culture of pre-packed sandwiches, Scotch pies and sausage rolls and switch to more wholesome alternatives.
Mark Greenaway is fronting a campaign, with workspace provider Regus, to show how it is possible to eat a healthy lunch with just £3, a kettle, and a microwave.
He says: “It might seem daunting when all you have is what’s in an office kitchen, but once you’ve got the basics – the building blocks in place – then all of a sudden you can make your lunch a wee bit tasty and exciting. I’m spoiled with all the riches I have in my workplace.
“I’m in a privileged position with every bit of equipment you could ask for but the reality is most people in an office environment will only have a kettle and a microwave.
“It was a challenge to come up with recipes. I didn’t even know you could cook pasta in a microwave, but once you realise a few things that work, you can have a play around to vary the dishes.
“If you shop smart and sensibly, there’s no reason you can’t eat well with a bit of effort.”
Mark, a staunch advocate of freshly-prepared food, says the number one reason for cooking lunch rather than buying is to ensure people know what they are eating. He argues that by preparing home-made dishes, it is possible to control what goes into the meal, ensuring there are no unnecessary or hidden ingredients.
“I think the most important thing to remember when eating at work is that if you are cooking for yourself, you know exactly what’s going into it.
“If you are buying one of those meal deals from the supermarket you have no idea.
“When you look at the back of a prawn sandwich and try and work out what the things that are listed on the back, it’s not a very tantalising prospect and it can’t be healthy.
“Often if you buy something on the go, there is no way to know how much fat, sugar or salt went into it. This way it’s only simple ingredients and you know exactly what they are. It can be the most healthy and creative way to eat and stay full for the rest of the busy working day.”
He insists there needn’t be lots of chopping involved with the recipes so simple it’s merely a case of adding a few things and turning the dial.
The key to creating a flavoursome culinary creation rests with creating a basic store cupboard containing seasoning essentials like salt, pepper, stock cubes, sweet chilli sauce and hoisin and soy sauce.
These will give even the blandest dishes a “bit of a kick” and stop people getting bored with the same recipes, says Mark.
Unlike some other methods of cooking such as boiling, microwave cooking allows foods like fruit and vegetables to retain most of their healthy vitamins and minerals. It is very compatible with a low-fat diet because it does not require the addition of excess fat to cook food.
Mark tested his recipes at a trial event staged by Regus, which has three bases in the Capital where people or companies hire out work space.
Regus PR manager Henry Collinge said their research had shown there was a real need to look into office eating habits as it reflected a larger picture of well-being.
He said reluctance to leave the office accounts for some stressed out employees working the equivalent of 16 extra days per year for free by not taking a break and eating at their desk. It can also be a costly pastime with the average office worker apparently spending £7.81 a day on lunch and snacks, which works out at nearly £90,000 over a lifetime.
This view was echoed by Sam Donaghy, 32, an event consultant at Standard Life, who said she only takes half an hour for her lunch break.
“I do think coming up with simple work recipes would be a good idea and from my point of view you would save money as well. If you were nipping out to the shops, you can easily spend £5 plus so if you make something at home or in the office then you wouldn’t spend that in total.”
Sandy Lobban, managing director at NoiseMeUp, which specialises in audio design and voiceovers for video games, film and TV, sometimes works in Regus business lounges as an alternative to working from home.
He tasted some of Mark’s dishes and says he was amazed by what could be cooked with just a microwave.
“I was quite surprised. The recipes were very tasty, quick and you could easily adapt them with other ingredients. It does make you realise that only having a few minutes to prepare your lunch is no excuse for poor eating habits.”
Mark and Regus are now working together to see if his demonstrations are something that can be rolled out on to a bigger scale.
Mark adds: “The interest was certainly there and it’s a worthwhile cause and, as a chef, it’s a good challenge for me as well.”
Chicken pesto pasta
1 cup pasta
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pesto
Pour pasta into a microwavable bowl or old takeaway container and add cold water.Microwave the pasta for about 12 minutes and taste to see if done. Add pre-cooked chicken for the final minute and stir in the pesto. Pine nuts, rocket etc can be added to taste.
Whisk three eggs with a fork and microwave for one minute. Add mushroom and cheese or any other filling to taste then cook for a further minute. Garnish with salt and pepper.
Pour over boiling water until cous cous is just covered, then put a plate over it and leave for four minutes. Mix in some pine nuts curry paste, coriander, rocket and cashew nuts at the end.
Chicken noodle hot pot
Ready cooked chicken
Stir-fry vegetables (packet mix)
Put the stir fry vegetables and frozen peas into a bowl with the noodles. Add boiling water to make broth and leave for a couple of minutes. Then add the cooked chicken and stir in hoisin sauce and it’s done.