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The UK’s Favourite Work Lunch

The UK loves Greggs, meal deals and leftovers for their work lunch – but what do expert nutritionists think is best?

Digging out a soggy sandwich at break time, or spending a fortune at the ‘artisan bakery’ seems to be the only options we have for lunch at work. And if you’ve managed to bring some leftovers to the staff room, grappling for the microwave can be a bit of a task.

And if you are working from home and have instead set up shop in your living room – snacking all day can become a real problem.

Once it comes to lunch you may have more options than at the office, but the analysis paralysis of having to choose the ‘perfect’ lunch can be overwhelming and off-putting.

We all want something that is delicious, nutritious and will leave us feeling energised for the rest of our shift.

And with the many pitfalls of the packed lunch coupled with the costly coffee shops, many of us just give in and go for the quickest and most convenient options.

But how does your go-to lunch compare with the rest of the UK’s workforce, and are we really getting what our bodies need when we chow down at lunchtime?

To find out, we surveyed 1,000 office workers across the country, quizzing them on all things lunch.

From their usual order to how much they spend, we even found out the most common place people buy their lunch from.

The results revealed to us that the UK’s usual go-to lunch is something we’ve prepared whilst at home after nearly half said so (42%).

18 to 24s, or Gen Z, are less likely to do this (18%), especially compared to the 53% of 55 and overs who prefer to bring their own food into work.

Food from home is a very popular option, with over a third of participants telling us that they make their own lunch five days a week (35%).

People working in Northern Ireland are more likely to opt for a homemade lunch, compared to anywhere else in the UK (59%).

10% said they’re happy with whatever leftovers they’ve got from the day before, and a further 8% said they like to mix it up and don’t have a go-to option.

However, a fifth of UK workers said they’re more likely to grab a meal deal than any other lunch.

Male workers and Gen Z are significantly more likely to buy a meal deal, with 28% and 34% saying so respectively.

But which shop is the UK’s favourite when shopping for their lunch?

Our analysis can reveal that Tesco is in fact the UK’s favourite place to pick up lunch whilst on their work break, with a third opting for the British supermarket.
Greggs took second place, as 30% said their lunch comes from the hugely popular bakery – so get to the front of the line quickly if you’re wanting to bag a sausage roll this Friday.

M&S just beat Sainsbury’s in the race to be the nation’s favourite place to buy lunch, with 22% heading for the classic shop, compared to 21% of Sainsbury’s lovers.

Going local is always a good choice if you’re wanting to support smaller businesses in your community.

18% would agree, saying a local delicatessen is where they prefer to shop for a work lunch.

Other retailers that ranked in the UK’s favourites include Costa Coffee (17%), Asda (16%) and Pret A Manger (16%).

55 and overs have gone against the grain though, with just 1% saying they like Costa Coffee. Instead, their favourite is Greggs, with just under a third preferring to visit the bakery for their work lunch (31%).

Gen Z’s love for Starbucks is clear too, with the majority (41%) saying they go to the coffee shop chain for their lunch – more than any other age group.

Our survey results also reveal the UK’s region’s favourite places to eat. Londoners prefer Tesco more than any other region with 41% saying so.

Whilst workers in the North East love shopping at Greggs during lunch the most (58%). You’re more likely to see workers heading to Asda for their lunch in the North West than any other region, after 27% said that’s their favourite shop.

But when you’re changing things up and fancy treating yourself, what do you prefer? Well, our survey revealed that Friday happens to be the UK’s most popular choice for a treat day when chowing down at work – with 31% saying so.

Weekly treat day

However, starting the week off with a bit of self care, 4% of people we surveyed said they eat a delicious treat for lunch on Mondays instead.

But, the majority actually said they don’t have a treat for lunch at all! Just under a third said they never have anything a bit fancier for their break (32%).

Our survey showed that older generations are the least likely to indulge in a treat lunch, with 44% saying so.

Of course, these work lunches and delicious treats come at a cost. The average worker in the UK pays out between £15 to £20 a week, with a quarter saying so.

That’s over £1000 a year on just meals for the workday!

Some participants told us that they prefer to save their cash, with 10% of survey respondents spending between £2 to £2.99 on lunch a day.

16% said they spend between £4 and £4.99, and 12% said their lunch costs them between £5 to £5.99.

The bigger spenders are in London though, with 11% spending £6 to £6.99 – way above the average result for the other regions.

However, Northern Irish workers are happy to put the most money on their lunch in comparison to any other region. 19% told us they spend £9 to £9.99, compared to an average of 1% elsewhere in the UK.

Our appetite has certainly increased when we’re working from home too. We asked our survey respondents to tell us if they snack more when clocking in from their homes, and 32% said that is the case.

21% said it actually decreased though, followed by 39% saying their appetite stayed roughly the same.

Looking deeper, we found that just under half of respondents aged 25 to 34 take more lunch breaks – more than any other age group. That’s a huge difference to their older colleagues, after a quarter told us the same.

In fact, over half of the older generation (55 and over) said they didn’t really notice any difference – whilst just under half of the younger workers (18 to 24) said they took more breaks in the office.

Northern Irish workers’ answers told us that they’re snacking more when they’re working at home than any other region, after three quarters said so.

But when we are at home, where are we chowing down whilst on our lunch break?

Our survey revealed that 36% eat in their living room, whilst 28% prefer to snack in their kitchen or dining room. 2% prefer to mix it up and go on a walk when working from home

Younger workers prefer getting some fresh air more than any other age group, after 15% told us taking a walk for a lunch break is their preferred option.

In fact, they prefer separation from work so much that none of them said they eat at their desk – unlike their millennial colleagues who are more likely to do so (35%).

The data highlighted that most regions agreed with each other on their preferred place to eat lunch whilst working from home.

However, the South East prefers a bit of variety in comparison to the rest of the UK. 9% told us so, compared to an average of 2% across the country saying the same.

But what about when we’re at the office?

Unfortunately, 60% said they tend to eat their lunch at their desk, which isn’t giving their brain a good break from the tasks ahead – 27% said they prefer to sit in a communal area instead!

But once we’ve finished eating, how do we feel?

Half of respondents said they don’t feel any more or less productive, but a quarter did say they are somewhat more productive after lunch.

10% feel much more productive, and 14% said they see a dip in their productivity after finishing up their meals.

37% of younger workers said that they feel much more productive after eating their lunch, more than any other age group.

Londoners would agree with this, as they’re in the region who said so the most (20%).

However, older workers aged 55 and over, told us they feel no difference in their productivity after lunch, with 67% saying so.

A quick and easy snack might be all that some of us manage on the busier days, but what we put in our bodies can have a real impact on our brains.

Just under half (47%) said they opt for a healthier option three days a week, followed by a fifth saying they eat a healthy lunch every day of the week (21%).

Older workers are more likely to eat a healthier lunch – 29% of 55 and overs told us they tuck into a healthy meal for lunch five days a week. That’s more than any other age range.

The West Midlands is the healthiest region though, with just under a third (30%) of workers eating a healthy lunch five days a week.

However, 7% said they only eat a healthier lunch once a week.

A third of UK workers said that they think healthier food will make them more productive, whilst 29% said comfort food is what helps them think.

Half of the younger workers said that they think healthier food makes them more productive, compared to just 23% of workers aged 45 to 54 saying the same.

However, 40% workers aged over 55 said no particular food makes much of a difference to their productivity whilst at work.

Male workers are more likely to find comfort food making them productive, in comparison to their female counterparts – with 34% saying so compared to 25% respectively.

But what do the experts think?

We turned to the nutritionists themselves to find out. Asking them all about what makes the ‘best’ lunch to keep our minds productive and our bodies energised.

We spoke to Emma Thornton, who works as a Nutritionist and Health Advisor at A.Vogel. She shared her expert knowledge, and explained what the ‘perfect’ work day lunch looks like.

“A balanced lunch is the way to enhance productivity. You need a lovely balance of slow-release, complex carbs, plus a good dose of healthy protein to help further slow the release of the carbohydrate portion of your lunch, plus, healthy fats to help support your brain power.”

Emma usually opts for a homemade-wholegrain salad. I use some leftover brown rice or quinoa as the base, then mix through some tinned oily fish such as mackerel, sardines or salmon, a handful of your preferred nuts or seeds, and then an array of vibrant vegetables – whatever you have left over the fridge!”

But what is the best time to be tucking into our power food?

Emma explains, “This depends on when you get up in the morning, but generally around 12 noon is optimal for most people. This is normally an approximate halfway point between breakfast and dinner, meaning you can help support your blood sugar levels better.

“Eating too early could mean you are too hungry ahead of dinner time, and by leaving it too late and also ending up ravenous, this mean you are more tempted to over-indulge or make poorer food choices.”

If you do get a bit peckish, Emma recommends a good quality, high protein snack either mid-morning or mid-afternoon to help tide you over until lunchtime.

So now we know which foods are sure to keep us feeling energised and as productive as possible, which ones should we be avoiding once our lunch break starts?

Emma said, “Refined carbs and sugar are the ones to avoid if you don’t fancy an energy crash. White bread, or processed / packaged foods loaded with added sugar and very little fibre are ones to avoid.

“Caffeine is another one to watch as you’ll experience a crash soon after feeling an initial spike in your energy levels”.

This is a lot to take into consideration for just one hour of our work day, but Emma explained to us why it’s so important, and the common mistakes we need to avoid.

“Convenience and getting stuck in a rut. Eating on the go, or grabbing something in a rush will often mean the quality of what you eat will be poorer. I often try to prepare my lunch the night before whilst I’m making dinner, (leftovers are a great option too!) so it isn’t an added chore the next day when you’re tight on time.”

“Variety is also the spice of life. Not only does it keep it interesting for you, but your good gut bacteria are more likely to be diverse if you eat a wider variety of different foods and this can have benefits for your overall health. I try and encourage people to eat at least 30 different fresh foods, per week.”

But it’s not just what we put in our bodies though, Emma told us how sleep is almost just as important.

“Sleep is such an important factor when it comes to productivity and food choices. Too little sleep can leave you feeling tired and de-motivated and that’s before you’ve even had anything to eat.

“Being sleep deprived can then affect your blood sugar levels, give rise to cravings and ultimately negatively affect your food choices too.”

Hybrid working is becoming the norm across the country, and there is now a bigger focus on healthy eating, and shopping from small businesses. So perhaps we’ll start to see the UK’s eating habits shift whilst at work.

As seasons change and trends adapt to our taste buds, the lunches we choose will inevitably look different.

Of course, if you’re on the lookout for the ‘right’ lunch our findings have shown that as long as it’s varied and gives you a boost of brain power for the rest of the day, tucking in to a treat or a healthy snack is a great option.

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