The Diet Detective: 20 Healthy Fast Lunches

3 06 2011

By Charles Stuart Platkin

Health advocates don’t talk about lunch nearly as much as they talk about breakfast, but it certainly is something we should think about more. If you skip it, or eat too much, it can really ruin your afternoon. Performance decreases, and you’re likely to overeat at dinner.

However, in this fast-paced world we often need a quick meal. Here are a few healthier options. Granted most restaurant and grocery foods are high in sodium, and if that’s an issue for you, you can always brown-bag it.

Ready Pac Bistro Salad, Chef
Crisp iceberg lettuce, creamy ranch dressing, turkey breast, ham and Swiss cheese. Fork inside! Nutrition (one container): 270 calories; 20 g fat; 890 mg sodium; 10 g carbs; 2 g fiber; 15 g protein

McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken
This salad has grilled chicken, fresh mixed greens, oven-roasted tomatoes, fire-roasted corn, savory black beans, poblano peppers, shredded Cheddar and jack cheeses, chili lime tortilla strips and a fresh-sliced lime wedge on the side. Nutrition: 320 calories; 9 g fat; 960 mg sodium; 30 g carbs; 6 g fiber; 30 g protein

Subway 6-inch Turkey Breast Sandwich
Subway has some tasty low-calorie sandwiches. This one has sliced turkey breast and fresh veggies.
Nutrition: 280 calories; 3.6 g fat; 48 g carbs; 5 g fiber; 18 g protein

Dunkin’ Donuts Egg White Veggie Flatbread
Oven-toasted flatbread with egg whites and melted cheeses. Try it with some of their flavored iced coffee. Nutrition: 280 calories; 8 g fat; 32 g carbs; 3 g fiber; 19 g protein

Starbucks Picnic Pasta Salad
Diced white meat chicken, shredded carrots, grape tomatoes, diced zucchini and farfalle pasta in a red wine vinaigrette dressing. Nutrition: 320 calories; 5 g fat; 480 mg sodium; 53 g carbs; 3 g fiber; 16 g protein

Starbucks Tarragon Chicken Salad Sandwich
Roasted chicken breast with cranberries and tarragon dressing on whole-wheat bread.
Nutrition: 420 calories; 13 g fat; 1,000 mg sodium; 46 g carbs; 6 g fiber; 32 g protein

Amy’s Black Bean Vegetable Burrito
Organic flour tortilla wrapped around a combination of organic black beans and vegetables in a mild Mexican sauce. Nice and spicy. Non-dairy/no cholesterol.
Nutrition (6 ounces): 280 calories; 8 g fat; 580 mg sodium; 44 g carbs; 4 g fiber; 9 g protein.
Taco Bell – Fresco Burrito Supreme (Chicken)
A warm, soft flour tortilla wrapped around grilled, marinated all-white-meat chicken, hearty beans, tangy red sauce, crisp shredded lettuce, diced onions, diced ripe tomatoes and fiesta salsa. Nutrition: 350 calories; 8 g fat; 1,060 mg sodium; 50 g carbs; 7 g fiber; 18 g protein

Chipotle Mexican Grill Chopped Salad
Includes black beans, chicken and guacamole (skip the dressing).
Nutrition: 470 calories; 20.5 g fat; 815 mg sodium; 34 g carbs; 42 g protein

Annie Chun’s Thai Peanut Noodle Express
Ramen noodles with peanut sauce—a blend of peanuts, sesame and ginger. Nutrition (one container): 400 calories; 14 g fat; 600 mg sodium; 58 g carbs; 2 g fiber; 6 g protein

Birds Eye Steamfresh Brown & Wild Rice with Corn, Carrots & Peas      
Just toss the entire bag in the microwave and get perfectly cooked vegetables and rice. Nutrition (one bag): 380 calories; 3 g fat; 40 mg sodium; 78 g carbs; 8 g fiber; 10 g protein

Lean Cuisine Thai-Style Noodles with Chicken
Roasted chicken, whole-wheat noodles, green beans and carrots in a creamy chili peanut sauce. Nutrition: 310 calories; 7 g fat; 590 mg sodium; 5 g fiber; 41 g carbs; 20 g protein

Lean Cuisine Chicken Philly Flatbread Melts
Grilled white-meat chicken, onions, peppers, pepperoncini, cheese and a Cheddar cheese sauce in a soft flatbread wrap. Nutrition: 350 calories; 9 g fat; 620 mg sodium; 46 g carbs; 5 g fiber; 22 g protein

Campbell’s Southwestern Style Vegetable Select Harvest Light in a Microwave Bowl
These soups are made entirely from ingredients you can pronounce, and the label is designed to clearly and simply identify exactly what is and is not in each soup. Nutrition (two cups): 100 calories; 0 g fat; 960 mg sodium; 28 g carbs; 8 g fiber; 4 g protein

Asian Island Crunch Salad Kit
Great flavor that includes romaine lettuce, green cabbage, iceberg lettuce, carrots, snow peas, red cabbage, toasted almonds, sweet dried pineapple, chow mein noodles and Dole’s sesame ginger dressing.

Nutrition: 455 calories; 24.5 g fat; 805 mg sodium; 52.5 g carbs; 10.5 g fiber; 7 g protein

Brown-bag Options

Hard-Boiled Eggs
They pack well, and you can either eat only the whites or go for the entire egg for about 80 calories each.

Homemade Turkey Breast Sandwich Combo
Four ounces of white meat turkey breast on 100 percent whole-wheat bread with one slice low-fat provolone, mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion: 360 calories
1 JELL-O Sugar Free, Reduced Calorie Pudding: 60 calories
1 banana: 120 calories
Total calorie count: 540 calories

Homemade Grilled Chicken Sandwich Combo
One medium grilled chicken breast on 100 percent whole-wheat bread with roasted red peppers, lettuce and mustard: 390 calories
3-ounce side salad with a packet of Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette: 55 calories
1 orange: 60 calories
Total calorie count: 505 calories

Homemade Ham Sandwich Combo
Four ounces (two to three slices) of deli ham on 100 percent whole-wheat bread with one slice low-fat Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and mustard: 420 calories
1/2 cup grapes: 60 calories
Campbell’s Select Harvest Healthy Request Chicken with Whole Grain Pasta (1 cup): 100 calories
Total calorie count: 580 calories

Homemade Peanut Butter and Jelly

Even though peanut butter is high in calories, using a moderate amount can keep your meal low-calorie and nutritious. Two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (190 calories), sugar-free jelly such as Smucker’s (20 calories for 2 tablespoons), and two pieces of low-calorie whole-wheat bread (80 to 120 calories) total just 330 calories


Brown-Bag Tips

If you plan on brown-bagging it (actually you should use an insulated bag), use the following tips:

Sandwiches and Wraps: Chicken, turkey, lean cold cuts or low-fat cheese on 100 percent whole-wheat bread (whole grain must be the first ingredient) are all great options. Wraps, whole-wheat pita bread and tortillas (not fried) are also good, but always check the calories. A 1-ounce corn tortilla has about 70 calories. Avoid mayo, tartar sauce, creamy dressings and full-fat cheese. Use mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper or vinegar.

Pasta: Use whole-wheat pasta, and add vegetables and a low-calorie sauce (50 to 60 calories per half cup). Pack it in a plastic container like GladWare or Tupperware. One cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti has 170 calories.

Salads: Buy prepackaged bags of salad and keep them in your cooler, then add your low-calorie dressing at lunchtime. Or buy McDonald’s Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette at only 40 calories per packet. They cost only about 30 cents each and are not sold in all stores. Avoid nuts, croutons, noodles and creamy salad dressings.

Chicken, Turkey and Sushi: All of these can be eaten cold. With chicken and turkey, opt for white meat and remove the skin, which has most of the fat. Sushi is sold in many supermarkets in plastic containers perfect for taking “to go.” (If you’re buying raw fish you better be sure it’s kept cold!) Choose vegetable rolls (such as California or cucumber) to get fiber and flavor for fewer calories.

Keep Your Foods and Soups Hot: To keep almost any food hot—especially soups, stews or chilies—try Thermos’ Vacuum Insulated Food Jar. It keeps foods hot for five hours or more. It can be purchased here:

Charles Stuart Platkin is an Active Expert, nutrition and public health advocate, author of the best seller Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005), Breaking the FAT Pattern (Plume, 2006) and Lighten Up (Penguin USA/Razorbill, 2006) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions and Sign up for The Diet Detective newsletter free at


Copyright 2011 by Charles Stuart Platkin




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