Friday Professional Group

rae makes meals

This is Your Brain on Lunch

Shabana, our social media expert, passed along some interesting articles to me last week as I was writing about finishing up my Meals Challenge and starting to look at other ways food impacts workers and the workplace – so today, referring to Brain Food: The Ultimate Lunch for a Productivity Boost by Abigail Tracy and Seven Foods That Reduce Stress & Seven Foods That Boost Your Brainpower, both by Barbara Mendez, let’s talk about clear heads and workplace productivity!

In last week’s blog, I talked about  how eating breakfast and lunch on a more regular basis had helped me feel happier and more focused throughout the day – and this week, where I’m regrettably back on the two-cups-of-coffee-and-no-protein-for-breakfast bandwagon, it’s interesting to read these thoughts about why that is.

I am a big egg fan and relied on them near-exclusively to complete my Meals Challenge breakfasts – eggs, it turns out, provide a ‘necessary building block’ to one of the neurotransmitters in the brain which allows for increased concentration and better recall of information. Even when we’re going off the admittedly limited evidentiary proof of my Meals Challenge – especially when compared to today, as I’m having more trouble staying completely focused on just writing this piece – I would feel confident in saying that breakfast in general and eggs in particular helped me keep sharp and focused last week without near as much of the caffeine that’s been a mainstay for this one. I did grab a gluten-free oatmeal cereal for Tuesday, which is said to contain elements which aid in boosting serotonin production and calming anxiety, but I hadn’t had a lot of sleep Monday night and didn’t notice much help brain-wise. I don’t feel like my work has suffered by not eating breakfast, or that eating breakfast made me Super-Employee, but the level of mental effort I am expending helped along by caffeine is definitely higher this week. (I will be getting back on the eggs as of tomorrow, with a firm dedication to the Egg Cause).

One thing I have remained on top of this week has been bringing a lunch for every day except Monday! Even with skipping breakfast, having a well-balanced lunch has made a noticeable difference in my brain in the afternoons. I’ve been bringing leftovers from dinner the night before, which means lean meat, vegetables, and fruit; and I find it really nice to get through an afternoon without being hungry or feeling unsatisfied or greasy (like one can feel after, say, Mexi-Fries and a small Jugo Juice…) That being said, I like the ‘seven’ lists above for reducing stress and increasing brainpower – turkey in a dark-green salad with chickpeas, blueberries and orange segments? That sounds delicious, and easy to throw together the night before so that I can grab it as ‘leftovers’ in the morning and go. I said in my blog last week that I was hoping to spend some time putting together lunches that were easy to grab in the morning, and I am still holding to that – I think salads are really the perfect idea for this if there aren’t leftovers ready to grab. I have a great little Tupperware container that is the perfect size for holding a lunch-size salad’s worth of dressing and fits perfectly in my lunchbox, too!

I feel like the best part about all the pieces we’ve looked at today is that they give you solid reasons to make these healthy choices and tell you why they work. There is no ‘superfood’ to help reduce stress or improve brainpower, but there are lots of little 'great foods' you can eat to give your brain what it needs. I like all the suggestions on both lists of foods to help with brainpower/reduce stress, and I find the idea of the 10-minute lunch to boost productivity intriguing even though I don’t care for green tea. (Our service team, however, drinks it like it’s going out of style – maybe that’s how they’re so amazing!)

Check out this delicious-looking (and adorable!) turkey and orange salad recipe from the BBC if you, too, are planning to bring some brain food for lunch next week; and as always, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to chat about recipes, food or anything else!

-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator 

Photo: Sara Asnaghi, "What have you got in your head?"

Rae Made Meals - Challenge Update

When I survey the landscape of last week’s Meals Challenge, I actually think I maybe came out ahead. Let’s have a look at what I said I was going to do, and what actually ended up happening….


For breakfasts, I said I was going to a) make some truly ‘grab-and-go’ breakfast items and b) actually grab them on the way out of the house. I linked to some sites with great ideas – you can see them if you look at last week’s blog – and while I still think all those ideas were great…I ended up making none of them. For me, it turned out, it was enough of a challenge to eat two boiled eggs with a glass of water on the way out of the house and then follow up with tea or coffee at work. I’m counting this as a win, because I did eat breakfast all five days last week – also, one morning was a Kind Plus cranberry-almond bar. That’s not homemade, but it is different than eggs! I discovered this article, as well, which at least validates my breakfast choice for busy mornings. (I also discovered, much to my delight, that I am far from the only person in the world that eats her boiled eggs with a touch of buffalo wing sauce. Thanks, Twitter!)

In terms of what I could learn from this, I think I’m going to try and make space on my weekends to put together a few more options for breakfasts. I definitely noticed that starting the day with something in my stomach made it easier to make it to lunch without getting crabby. The Kind Plus bar day was a good one, and since I know myself, I know that stocking up on those will be a more likely happening than me making granola bars for myself. The best part about having breakfast every day was that I really did notice a different in my mood and work – I had gotten used to being achingly hungry by 10:30 AM. I liked just being “normal hungry” by the time my lunch rolled around at 11:30.


I was hoping to get out of the “using-up-the-expensive-gluten-free-bread” trap for lunches, and I did…not bad. I loved reading the links I provided in last week’s blog, especially the “16 non-sandwich options”…but again, my planning skills and time got away from me and I didn’t end up making any of them. I actually did utilize the bounty of my fridge – leftovers from dinners made frequent appearances (turkey and feta burgers were a particular highlight), as well as lots of apples, oranges and yogurt. I did bring a sandwich on two of the five days, but was happy to have a) managed to bring a lunch and b) gone a bit easier on the pricey bread. Again, I feel like having a day on the weekend to do a bit of supplementary grocery shopping and meal planning would be a good idea for me. In the near future, I think I’m going to whip up this and the tomato and almond salad here, and bring those as “leftovers” like I did this week with whatever we had had for supper the night before. Continuing on from what I realized about breakfast, by lunchtime I was hungry, but “normal hungry” – and eating my healthier lunches was very satisfying. I had noticed that on days when I didn’t eat breakfast, I was more tempted to make unhealthy lunchtime choices. (Mexi-Fries, anyone?) I found my leftovers or sandwiches and fruit very tasty and filling, and combined with my Coke Zero (a vice, I know, but a caffeine addiction is not kicked in a week), a huge help to get me through the afternoon happy and focused.


Speaking of suppers, this is the one I was most proud of! I challenged myself to make one supper for my family (for this particular Thursday night, that meant my parents, my fiancé, and my brother and his girlfriend), which needed to be healthy, gluten-free, and delicious; and also ready in time for my dad and me to leave for choir at 6:45. My very patient father stood behind me and directed me through making a stir-fry of chicken thighs, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and onions with rice vermicelli and a Korean-inspired sauce. I noticed my cooking skills have deteriorated steadily since I’ve been living somewhere where I don’t have to cook every day (or really at all). The vegetable prep took the longest – the cutting board looked like I’d had a fight with the cauliflower – but by the end of the cooking process it was like my brain had gotten back into the rhythm. I get the feeling stir-fries for six people don’t usually take more experienced cooks an hour and fifteen minutes to finish, but it did turn out deliciously and gave me a little bump of self-confidence. I struck a deal with my dad that I’m going to hang out in the kitchen with him one night a week so he can help me gain more assuredness in the kitchen and help me try out some of the recipes I’ve been reading! (That buffalo chicken salad is still looking really appealing, I’ll be honest). It also made a great lunch on Friday!


So, I’m going to give myself a 6/10 for the meals challenge. I did expend effort in making sure I lived up to the letter of the challenge – I ate breakfast and brought lunch all five days, plus made a family dinner – but I think I can do better on the spirit of the challenge – finding ways to make breakfast and lunch easier, healthier and more interesting. I think I’ll see how I can do on these ideas on my own and maybe run the challenge again in March or April once I’ve had an opportunity to make some of these thoughts habits. In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be talking more about snacks, food and food’s role in the workplace – if you have any thoughts, send me an email!


-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator


Do you have any secrets to good meal planning or some good tips or gluten-free recipes for me? Send me an email at!

Photo: My mise-en-place for Thursday’s dinner. Not pictured: chicken thighs – they were still in the sink defrosting.

The Rae Makes Meals Challenge (plus Rae Organizes Her Desk update!)

Besides some very dedicated, healthy individuals, I’m sure we all have days where we don’t have time for breakfast, pick the wrong choices for lunch, and are so tired when we get home that dinner just falls by the wayside into the takeout menu. With the advent of resources like Pinterest and lifestyle blogs it seems like a no-brainer to make healthier – and, often, easier - choices (oftentimes the recipes look delectable and uncomplicated, AND are pleasingly illustrated with pictures of them adorably presented in mason jars! Who could resist, I ask you?). And yet – sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Actually, for me, it rarely works out that way.

One of the things our fantastic Employment Solutions Specialist and all-around social media expert Shabana does, as you’ll know if you frequent our Facebook or Twitter accounts, is round up and share awesome tips and information on everything from resumes to interview attire to make-ahead dinners. As I looked through some of the ideas on the meal spectrum we’re going to be sharing with you in the upcoming weeks and months, I had a thought – why don’t I take a look at the week I just had, meal-wise, and see if I can do better this week using some of these ideas?

Last week, I actually did better at breakfast than I usually do – I almost never eat breakfast, as I am a devotee of my alarm’s snooze button. I had a cold glass of water, two boiled eggs with a little bit of buffalo wing hot sauce, and tea on Wednesday and Friday. (Friday, though, I also ate three sour soothers. Breakfast of champions!) The other days, I had a cold glass of water and a cup of tea or coffee. So, my goal for this week is to make some truly grab-and-go ideas for breakfast. I started this week with my good old two boiled eggs and hot sauce option, followed by a cold glass of water and some coffee when I got to work this morning. This slideshow has some great ideas for breakfast options – because of a medical condition, though, I can’t eat anything containing gluten, so I’ll be modifying recipes from there and using this site for more ideas and reference for the rest of the week.

As for lunch, last week was also a good week for me. I’ve picked, apparently, one of my best food weeks ever to start this experiment - I brought my lunch (usually a small sandwich and a piece of fruit) every day except for Friday! Usually I run across the street for a salad or a Jugo Juice with protein powder. This probably sounds healthier than it is – it’s sometimes too easy to choose creamy dressings or too much cheese on a salad, and I’ll admit to being honestly unsure how much better a choice a fruit smoothie with protein powder really is for lunch than some of the ideas I want to be trying this week. I’m lucky enough to live right now with my parents and my fiancé, who usually packs my lunch for me while I am racing around in the morning trying to get ready in time to leave, so this week: I’ll be making my lunches the night before! I didn’t manage to get my lunch packed last night, but I did pack some turkey, feta and cranberry burgers, an apple, an orange and a Coke Zero for today’s lunch this morning. Since gluten-free sandwich bread is reaaallly expensive, I was thrilled to come across this website which suggests sixteen sandwich-free lunch ideas, which is perfect for me! I’m also looking at ideas to use or modify from places like this and this.

Dinners? Well, I humbly admit that for dinners, I’m usually off the hook – as I mentioned, my fiancé and I live with my family, and my father is a wonderful and enthusiastic cook. Since two of my other family members are also celiac, that means we’re privileged enough to have safe and delicious dinners usually prepared for us. However! In the spirit of this challenge, I’ll be perusing this to make one dinner (at least – I might aim for two) for me and my family next week. I found, for example, this good-looking delight – that’s probably not the healthiest salad ever concocted, but boy, is it ever up my alley.

I’m actually really excited to take this on! It will involve a good deal of list-making, which is my specialty, and as I look over the plan I’ve got going for the week, I can see exactly where and how this is going to save me lots of time and money in the long run. It gets expensive to eat out for four or five lunches a week! Plus, eating breakfast (my number-one most skipped meal) has been shown to have major benefits. I’ll be back in this space on Friday or Monday to share with you what I made and how the week went in general. Cross your fingers for me! Bon appétit!

-Rae, First Impressions Coordinator

PS: Shabana suggested I share how my desk organization was coming along! She also graciously told me I had been doing a pretty good job. In my opinion, desk organization is still a work in progress. I am doing really well at keeping the pen caddy cleaned out and having only what I need to hand; I am still working on tidying up at the end of the day and not having too much paper everywhere! 


Photo: My unpopular lunchbox in our work fridge. 

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