We’ve all been there: it’s almost your favorite time of day (lunch), and you realize you’ve left your perfectly crafted healthy lunch box at home. Sigh. When you dedicate your time and energy to eating healthy, it can be devastating when you realize you have less than an hour to venture out into the streets and scram for a lunch. While you may assume the obvious lack of time only leaves you with unhealthy fast food options, you may be wrong. These days, there are plenty of very healthy and very fast ways to fill yourself up at lunch.
We outline five different types of healthy lunches and the common restaurants in which you can find them. We’ve also given our pointers on maximizing the healthiness at these places — what to choose, and what to 100 percent avoid.
One of the easiest ways to discuss healthy food options is by divulging the caloric information (which is what we’ve done at some parts in the below list), but it’s important to note that calories are not the only thing you should focus on when trying to eat healthy.
Certain healthy foods may seem higher in calories, but they are good calories. For example, a serving of almonds has around 162 calories, which may seem like a lot. But almonds are a great and healthy source of protein that provide your body with beneficial nutrients. And while some people may try to avoid carbohydrates, this can be misleading (for reasons we explain below!)
So the next time the clock strikes noon and you’re stuck without a lunch, refer to our guide below!
1. Poke Bowl
Poke bowls are the latest trend in fast food — they’re basically like a sushi roll but in the form of a rice bowl. A lot of places offer build-your-own options, as well as pre-made combinations if you’re too nervous to create your own concoction. Most sushi places offer poke bowls now, but there are also specific poke bowl restaurants that seem to be popping up everywhere.
The average poke bowl is around 600 calories, but that is obviously dependent on the ingredients you choose. Raw salmon is 88 calories, versus raw tuna which is around 46 calories. Certain sauces can have more calories as well — soy sauce is only around 8.5 calories per tablespoon. We recommend opting for the low sodium kind!
Try the restaurant’s Honolulu Poke Bowl with spicy salmon, edamame, cucumber, mango and rice puffs. Or the Miso Hungry Poke Plenty Bowl, which is made of chicken, cucumber, seaweed salad, cilantro, spicy miso and sesame seeds. You can also make your poke bowl into a poke burrito, where your personally chosen ingredients are wrapped inside of a seaweed wrap!
The Poke Spot offers a build your own bowl option. Choose between tuna, salmon, snow crab, chicken and organic tofu! Or replace one of the signature bowl options with protein that isn’t marinated to reduce your sugar and sodium intake!
The most classic lunch option we have is, of course, the sandwich. While some may scoff at the thought of having carbohydrates, whole grain carbohydrates are actually good for you (just not in the middle of the night!) They give your brain the necessary sugar that helps you to stay alert through the day! The average Subway sandwich has around 500 calories, but you can adjust your own sandwich accordingly. Try to stick with whole grain breads and lean meats like turkey, chicken or tuna. Add as many vegetables as you desire and opt for a lighter sauce like a vinaigrette rather than mayonnaise.
It’s probably easy to find a Subway near your office, as they are the most popular fast food restaurant in America. Try the Veggie Delight sandwich on whole wheat bread. Add apple slices or a yogurt as your side!
Potbelly is another popular fast food sandwich place, and it’s affordable. The restaurant has a “skinny” menu, which offers low-cal subs and salad combinations. Try the turkey breast sandwich with no cheese and add on a garden vegetable soup!
Another popular healthy fast food trend is restaurants dedicated solely to serving you salads. While they’re convenient and obviously healthy, they normally lean on the expensive side. And there are typically a lot of add-ons that can turn your healthy salad into a deceivingly unhealthy lunch option. Avoid breaded protein, creamy dressings and candied nuts like sugared walnuts — instead opt for grilled chicken or tofu, raspberry vinaigrette and regular almond slices.
You can build your own salad, but Just Salad offers a variety of very healthy salad combinations for you to try. Try the Tokyo Supergreens salad with either grilled chicken or tofu, supergreens mix, edamame, avocado, broccoli, almonds and a miso ginger vinaigrette — all for under 500 calories!
Chop’t is a restaurant similar to Just Salad. Choose between building your own combination or one of their signature salads. We recommend the Palm Beach Salad with avocado, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, romaine and a white balsamic vinaigrette for just 310 calories!
4. Burrito Bowl
Turn your favorite burrito into a burrito bowl (or a salad!) You will be surprised at how much healthier your Mexican fare becomes just by eliminating that giant tortilla. Opting for a burrito over a salad can take your lunch from over 500 calories to well under. You can create the perfect burrito bowl and consume around 400 calories, all made of healthy lean meats and vegetables. Again, we recommend straying from the red meat like steak and opting for grilled chicken. Add more veggies than you have rice (and choose brown over white!)
One tortilla from Chipotle has over 300 calories, which is why you can imagine we suggest you opt for a bowl or a salad instead. Choose the grilled chicken, add some fajita veggies. And steer clear of the sour cream, queso and shredded cheese.
Order their taco salad (without the shell), or make your burrito a bowl. Similarly to a Chipotle order, try to stick with lean meats and veggies. Add guacamole if you’d like — avocados offer healthy calories!
If it seems like every healthy lunch option ends in the world “bowl,” you’re probably right. Smoothie bowls are the new alternative to smoothie drinks. Now, spoon your smoothie, along with the additional delicious and healthy whole toppings you choose to add to your lunch. Make sure your smoothie includes healthy protein like almond butter or protein powder, and is free of unhealthy additives like chocolate chips or sprinkles. The average smoothie bowl is around 500 calories, but the majority of those calories are the good-for-you kind!
Choose to make your own smoothie bowl if you’d like, but we also recommend the Peachy Green Goddess Bowl. The bowl is vegan and made of kale and Vitamin K, and topped with chia seeds, bananas, strawberries and more.
Try the Almond Butter Bliss Bowl, made with acai berries, almond butter and almond milk. The bowl is topped with banana, strawberry, coconut and hemp granola. And not only is it healthy, it is the most Instagram-worthy lunch you’ve probably ever had.