We should all be lunching like Europeans — it's better for your mind and body

Adopting a European Lunch Habit: A Boost for Mind and Body

A morning filled with intense lessons and group discussions on conflict resolution and peacebuilding had passed swiftly. Topics like terrorism and violence, particularly in regions such as Palestine and Ukraine, had taken center stage. However, as the clock struck 12:30, it marked the commencement of another crucial agenda item. Downstairs awaited a leisurely three-course meal, a time-honored European tradition. In stark contrast, my usual American routine often sidelines lunch, relegating it to a mere afterthought. This sentiment resonates with many peers and colleagues, who seldom indulge in a proper midday meal, making exceptions only occasionally. I recall a friend in the publishing industry, with whom I’d occasionally share an early breakfast. Strikingly, she had not partaken in a weekday lunch for years. Unfortunately, this prevailing culture deems such practices as standard and productive.

According to a 2021 survey by the hygiene brand Tork, even with the rise of remote work, 39% of respondents confessed to occasionally, rarely, or never taking breaks during the workday. A notable 25% felt a sense of guilt or judgment when stepping away from work for a midday respite. A 2019 survey by the California Walnut Board & Commission disclosed that two-thirds of millennials reported bypassing lunch in favor of work. And even when breaks are taken, they are often brief. The recent Compass Group’s Global Eating at Work Survey revealed that the average American lunch break lasts a mere 30 minutes.

Conversely, other countries recognize the importance of a well-rounded workday. In France, it’s considered not only unusual but also against labor regulations to dine at one’s desk. Martin Bruegel, a food-culture historian, emphasized during an NPR interview, “People are simply happier when they take downtime during the workday. It’s beneficial for their overall well-being.” This prioritization of well-being carries substantial implications for both physical and psychological health.

Marissa Moore, a Licensed Professional Counselor and writer at Mentalyc, highlights the importance of nourishing oneself during the workday. Moore emphasizes that pausing for lunch delivers essential nutrients and energy to sustain productivity throughout the day. On the flip side, skipping meals can lead to erratic blood sugar levels, impacting mood and cognitive function. The simple act of eating can alleviate the dreaded feeling of “hangriness.”

Lunch breaks also provide the brain with a much-needed respite. Moore notes that stepping away from work tasks and engaging in different activities can lead to cognitive rejuvenation, improved problem-solving, and enhanced cognitive flexibility. However, the decision to skip lunch among Americans isn’t solely driven by a desire to appear productive. Rising inflation has made eating feel like a luxury for many. A Clever Real Estate survey from April disclosed that nearly 40% of respondents admitted to forgoing meals to meet housing payments.

Nevertheless, even for those who can’t afford to eat midday or choose not to, stepping away from the desk remains vital. Natasha Feldman, author of “The Dinner Party Project: A No-Stress Guide to Food with Friends,” notes that there exists an erroneous perception that taking a break or having lunch is a sign of weakness. Feldman emphasizes that a lunch break doesn’t necessarily entail eating lunch. She underscores the significance of finding a park, a bench, or merely sitting down with another person. Furthermore, it need not adhere to the traditional lunchtime. Feldman proposes the idea of allocating an hour within the day, even if it’s at 4 pm.

Melissa Baker, a certified RDN and author at Food Queries, encourages people to refuel with nutrient-rich options for afternoon sustenance. However, she underscores the importance of granting the mind a reprieve. Baker suggests conversing with colleagues, strolling outdoors, and allowing oneself to unwind. This break facilitates mental rejuvenation, leading to heightened focus for the rest of the day.

Jovana Durovic, editor of the coffee enthusiast site Home Grounds, reflects on her personal experience of altering mealtime habits. Originally from Serbia, Durovic highlights that lunch is the main meal of the day in her homeland, with dinner assuming a lighter role. She observed her American peers eating at their desks or consuming minimal sustenance to endure the day. Eventually, this practice took a toll on her energy levels, concentration, and digestion. However, by reevaluating her meal routine and prioritizing a proper, nutritious lunch, she witnessed a marked improvement in her overall well-being.

During my time in Switzerland, I’ve adopted a different approach. Weekends find me embracing leisurely café moments, immersing myself in books while observing shopkeepers shutting their doors for their own midday breaks. On workdays, colleagues and I gather around a table, savoring dishes like pasta followed by refreshing sorbets or salads, rarely glancing at our phones. After indulging in a meal like pork knuckle over white wine risotto, accompanied by chocolate mousse, I find myself ascending the stairs with a sense of contentment. It’s a feeling I’m keen to hold onto, a departure from operating on an empty stomach. Natasha Feldman observes, “As Americans, we often resist our natural inclinations. By allowing ourselves to embrace our humanity, take necessary breaks, and enjoy meals without rushing, we could potentially save a significant amount of time.”


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