Of Lunchtime and Lingering Habits

This week at work has been on the crazed side, but I’ve been trying to carve out enough time to lunch with colleagues in the cafeteria — just for the sake of some conversation and to get a bit of a break. Yesterday, however, that streak ended and I found myself eating at my desk. My traditional bring-from-home lunch: a Lean Cuisine frozen entree.

Let me say that again: Lean effing Cuisine. Food designed and marketed to help one lose weight.

I’ve been eating these for lunch at work for years. I can’t recall what I did during the grad school/teaching years, but by the time I was in the office environment with lunchrooms and microwaves, my transition from skinny kid to fat adult had commenced and I started buying the frozen entrees as something quick and convenient and that also would help me “get thin again.”

Now, I consciously decided to stop dieting somewhere in 2008, when I chose to embrace the ideals of FA for myself. And yet I’ve been buying diet meals for office lunches for all of those intervening months.

And I didn’t even really notice that weird contradiction until yesterday.

I’m trying to imagine what rationales have been going on in my head for me to simultaneously eschew dieting and to buy diet lunches for myself. Is it another twist on the good fattie/bad fattie pressure I talked about two days ago? My symbolic gesture that yes, I am eating healthy so if I’m fat then it truly is about genetics and not about me eating “too much” or “the wrong things”? Is it that notion of “this fat but no fatter” that was so insightfully discussed* on Shapely Prose recently? My way of trying to “hold the line” so my body stays at this current weight?

Either of those possibilities seem reasonable — and by that I mean “reasonably likely,” not really reasonable.

But I can’t help wondering if there’s something both more innocent and sinister at work here.

On the one side, there’s the innocence of it being an unconscious choice. In a life that can sometimes feel over-full, I find comfort in having some routines. And this choice for bring-from-home lunches is such an easy choice for me to make. (Which definitely says a lot about my class privilege and the fact that I can be so cavalier about the cost factor.) There’s a narrow little shelf in the freezer that perfectly holds 6 Lean Cuisines, and Matt and I know exactly which are my favorite flavors, so we can easily restock that shelf on each trip to the grocery store.

On the sinister side, is the way that this is such an easy choice to make. The miasma of body-shaming in society kind of makes it easier to be on a diet than not to be. Lo-fat, no-fat — and Lean Cuisines — are practically configured to be the default food choice for a woman to make. I think it’s the power of that miasma that helped me not only to continue the Lean Cuisine habit, but to do it so very unconsciously. To not even notice that I was buying diet food. I was just buying my “normal lunch.”

Powerful messages to try and resist. And I’m feeling tonight that I’ve got a long way to go in that.

Especially because when I did the grocery shopping today, I bought 3 more Lean Cuisines to restock the freezer shelf. I just didn’t have the mental energy to figure out how to reinvent my lunch habit, or to reinvent my mornings to make time for more preparation-intensive lunch choices.

At least this time it was a conscious choice. That at least gives me more of an option to choose differently, once I have the energy to do so.

* Too tired to find link; will do so tomorrow.

17 thoughts on “Of Lunchtime and Lingering Habits

  1. Monica

    Try switching to Marie Callender! I picked up Lean Cuisines by habit myself, but one day realized that they just aren’t enough to get me through a long, productive day at work.


  2. O.C.

    I buy Lean Cuisines for lunch too, and have wondered about the same issues. But y’know what? Some of them taste GOOD. Some of them taste BETTER than the non-lean versions Stouffer’s sells. The Swedish meatballs? Yummy. Tortilla crusted fish? Darn tasty.


  3. I’m with OC – I still eat a few Lean Cuisines, usually because they’re things Stouffer’s doesn’t have.

    That said? Stouffer’s mac’n’cheese got me through Lent 😉


  4. Anna

    Fair deuce, I eat Lean Cuisines as well and I’m not dieting either. I find a lot of microwave meals are crazy high in fat, and high fat meals don’t really agree with me. I just think they taste good, are easy and I feel full afterwards. Yeah, it sucks that I’m giving money to a company that does diet products, but I don’t really wnat to spend the money to try out new things when I’ve already found something that works.

    I will probably try this Stouffer business though.


  5. sandra_nz

    Or maybe you just like Lean Cuisine?

    Is it possible you’re overthinking this?

    I mean, if you don’t like Lean Cuisine, buy something else instead. End of story.

    The fact that some people eat Lean Cuisine as a means of weight control doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat it if you aren’t trying to control your weight.


  6. Rebecca

    for what it’s worth, my trick is that whatever is for dinner the night before becomes lunch for the next day. The extra bits slopped into ziplock bowl containers after preparing and before I sit down at the table for dinner. I do this at the moment because I know I’ll never get up to spare any extra amount of time before work preparing. (Not a morning person)

    They don’t sell frozen dinners in Japan so I don’t have the option even if I wanted it though 😦 I think it could be good for a night when you ate out or came home on the 11:30 pm train.


  7. Heidi Johnson

    I eat them because the portions, fat, and calorie content are reasonable and appropriate, as opposed to the typical fast food experience. While it’s possible to eat a healthy meal at McDonald’s, it’s a lot easier to go for the “value menu.” Although I would like to weigh less, my primary concern with my diet has been being healthier… something I have made vast strides in, as recent blood cholesterol tests show. My doctors were extremely impressed that I had gotten all of my numbers into the normal range except my triglycerides. But I have several medical conditions to consider beyond an arbitrary determination of an “appropriate” weight. If Lean Cuisine can help me avoid developing full-blown diabetes, heart disease, etc., the so be it. The lasagna isn’t bad, either. 😉


  8. Lori

    I like LC for lunch sometimes, too, and Healthy Choice. I’m not a sandwich person, and they tend to taste good and be much easier than my making myself something similar.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating LC, if you like it. I mean, Nestle certainly has its problems, but most big food makers do. I’d be more wary, personally, about eating the WW frozen lunches, since they’re directly profitting a diet company. But LC and Healthy Choice are just profitting big agra/food corporations, and while that’s not great, it’s going to be the issue with most stuff you get at the grocery store.

    One alternative to frozen lunches I like is the Indian food that comes in foil pouches. Some of them are microwavable, so if you have some rice on hand, you’ve got a very easy meal.


  9. i-geek

    Eh, if you actually like the LCs, why worry about it? I’m not a fan of most of them but those little mini pizzas that stay crispy in the microwave are kind of awesome. I totally understand the need for quick, easy lunches. I really like Amy’s Organic frozen line- these are vegetarian, healthy in that they seem pretty well balanced and lack a lot of the artificial stuff, and there’s a pretty big range of products. The broccoli and cheddar pot pie is wonderful. 🙂


  10. I happen to just enjoy LC, but they aren’t enough to carry me through an afternoon so I also always have a snack or two. I do dislike the assumption people make that you’re dieting if they see you eating LC, though.

    I second the Amy’s suggestion, though. Anything by Amy’s is goooood!


  11. Yeah, I think a lot of what you’ve said here is valuable insight about the variety of reasons that I might still consciously choose to eat LC for lunch — WITHOUT have to give up my FA membership card!

    I think what really struck me here was how completely unconscious this pattern had become for me. I was so lost in the habit of buying LC that I didn’t even SEE the possibility of buying the other frozen food brands we’ve been talking about here. And not even to see the frozen entrees one case down from the LC was a funny blind spot to notice in myself.

    A big part of the spiritual training I’m in is a process of becoming more conscious and less automatic in my actions and my choices. That’s why I’m glad I finally noticed that there was an apparent contradiction between my FA stance and my LC habit.

    Noticing finally gives me the option to contemplate and to choose what lunches I want to buy. I might keep buying LC, and I might buy other brands, and I might do more packing up of leftovers in the evenings (like Rebecca, not a morning person). Whatever my choice is, I enjoy the notion that I’ll be choosing more from a place of awareness.


  12. littlem

    I’m with Monica. I just felt like they don’t give me enough energy. Like, I would work out, or take one for lunch, and then eat one, and still feel empty and tired.

    So now I have nuts and apples, or cheese and apples, or cheese and raisins, or nuts and raisins.
    Fat and protein for the brain are win, I think, and one of the things “they” don’t necessarily tell you about the boxed foods.

    That’s a powerful thought, though, about the messages we don’t even know we internalize.


  13. O.C.

    I was thinking about this later last night, and I think the issue is comparable to what we face when we’re shopping for clothes. The size number on the label is only a number. Who cares what it is as long as the shirt fits you and looks great? Lean Cuisines are labeled as diet meals, but who cares if that’s what you want for your own healthy, well chosen reasons?

    And I tell you, every time I cook their roasted garlic and grilled chicken pizza in our break room at work, everyone who smells it is jealous! 🙂


  14. Lori

    In my opinion, much of the time LC really *isn’t* enough energy to get you through the afternoon. Most of the entrees I’ve seen have 300 calories or less. The average woman needs at least 1700-2000 calories a day, so unless you’re eating a big breakfast, big dinner, and snacking, a 300 calorie lunch isn’t even getting you close to 1/3 of your daily calorie needs.

    Which, IMO, makes the whole idea that LC somehow is all about “portion control” absurd. Those really *aren’t* healthy portions. They’re small portions. If you spread your calories out evenly over three meals, you’d need two LC meals to meet your minimum requirements. I think they make a nice little entree at lunch time, but I always add a salad and often a roll with it.


  15. Halle

    After eating lots of LC frozen meals for years, I stopped eating them for several years, and every once in a while I have one,a nd it just tastes awful to me and is not filling. I have pretty much switched my instant food to the no fridge required no preservatives added Indian meals like Pav Bhaji and Chana Masala that I get from the Indian Grocery — they can be boiled in bag or microwaved, and even eaten not warmed up straight from the bag. When I run out of those and can’t get to an Indian grocery, I buy pot pies. I found that Boston Market sells pot pies in the grocery that are pretty good — and my Giant Eagle grocery store actually has fresh made HOT ready to eat pot pies that rival the ones from the Boston Market store! But that being said, I now pack the husband’s lunch, with things like cheese, eggs and pickles. I know that a frozen entree is a no-effort-required solution, but I’m rethinking that after seeing I can put together husband’s lunch in less than 5 minutes, even half asleep. If I can do that for him, maybe I can also do that for me.


  16. missincognegro

    I stopped eating pre-packaged frozen meals on a regular basis. For several years, I suffered from what I thought was GERD, then acid reflux, then IBS. Little did I know, I was suffering from gall stones, and experienced a gall bladder attack at least one day a week. I suffered a coup de grace attack in Feb. 2007, following a bout with a norovirus. While I don’t think eating the pre-packaged frozen meals – which I ate about three to four times a week – were the sole cause of my GI problems, eating them wasn’t helping matters.

    Since I’ve stopped eating these meals, guess what? No more stomach problems. I am a fresh-food convert, and cook on a more regular basis. I was sent to a nutritionist by my internist following my gall bladder attack.

    The only pre-packaged frozen foods I eat now are the Barber Foods stuffed frozen chicken breasts, Marie Callender turkey pot pie and Amy’s Mac and Cheese, and do so only very occasionally.


  17. Sucellus

    Trader Joe’s has a wide variety of tasty ready to eat lunches, they are probably the best of the bunch. I’m not sure where you shop, but the Eating Right brand is pretty good. I normally just have Sam buy whatever is on sale, most of these frozen lunches are tollerable, but the stouffers ones are too fatty and make me feel ill. Whole Foods also carries a wide range of Amy’s frozen lunches and random pseudo ethnic stuff.

    I look at it this way. I may not really be dieting, but I also don’t want to be pigging out at lunch AND dinner, and I would rather have a delicious dinner when I’m not in a rush/sitting at a desk and can really eat something satisfying.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s