What's Your Lunch Calorie Budget?
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
We ask a lot of our lunchtime calories. They often have to carry us through the afternoon until dinner, but they need to provide the nutrients that will help us to stay sharp and energetic during the second half of the day. Filling, satisfying, plenty of protein and not too heavy – that’s a tall order. So let’s look at the nutritional value of some typical lunches, and how much you’ll have to pull out of your calorie wallet in order to buy them:
- A salad can be a healthy meal if it’s based on fresh greens and veggies, and has some added lean protein like grilled fish or chicken, or even a scoop of low-fat cottage cheese. Even with a couple of tablespoons of light salad dressing, you’ll be pulling out less than 400 calories out of your wallet. But salads are often loaded up with cheese and fatty meats and drenched in heavy dressing. If that’s your idea of a salad, you’ll be bankrupt in no time.
- Sandwiches suffer a similar problem. More often than not, a sandwich starts with some type of low-fiber white bread, spread with a layer of greasy mayonnaise, then topped with a hefty portion of fatty meat and cheese. And don’t forget the sides – add some chips, fries or potato salad, and you might need to pull more than 900 calories out of your wallet. If sandwiches are your thing, make sure your bread is whole grain, keep your protein extra lean, pile on the veggies and skip the spreads. You just might have enough calories left to spend on dinner.
- A fast food burger is indeed quick – quick at emptying your calorie wallet. A typical cheeseburger and medium-sized fries will cost you about 700 calories. Add a soda, and you’ll be pulling two more big ones out of your wallet. You can save some calories by looking for healthier options, like salads or grilled chicken sandwiches. But if you’re like most people, you visit your local burger stand to eat one thing: burgers and fries.
- If you can, make your own lunch. It’s so much easier to know how many calories you’ll be spending when you’re in charge. You only need about 400 calories for a grilled piece of chicken and some leftover veggies from last night’s dinner, and you’ve got enough calories to throw in a piece of fruit for dessert. If you’re working through lunch, whip up a shake with some protein powder, nonfat milk and fruit. It’ll only cost you about 300 calories, so you’ll be able to stash some cash for the rest of the day.