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Bite Advice: I Want To Make a Healthy Lunch

By Megan Tempest in Food on Mar 23, 2010 3:20PM

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This week, Chicagoist contributor Kevin Robinson seeks advice on tidying up his work-day lunch.

Hi Megan,

I usually bring my lunch to work, and I try to eat healthy, but I have some sneaking suspicions. Think PB & J or salami & cheddar on wheat bread, yogurt and cashews or an orange. Cheese and crackers are another one. Then I’ll have Girl Scout cookies or 3 Musketeers (my weakness!).

Can you help me with my lunch?


Preparing healthy lunches is easier than you may think, Kevin. With just a few tweaks, your lunch has lots of healthy potential.

Breakdown of Kevin's Lunch:

  1. The Sandwich- PB & J is certainly not just for kids. Make a healthy adult version using all-natural peanut butter (free of hydrogenated oil and sugar), no-sugar added jelly, and whole wheat bread. Remember the golden rule of buying whole wheat bread- the first ingredient must be “whole wheat”. Chicago-based Delightful Pastries makes a delicious, substantial Sunflower Bread. Switch up your breads with whole wheat tortilla and pita. Keep an eye on your peanut butter spread, as about 1 tablespoon is a healthy-sized serving. Consider scratching the jelly altogether and instead add sliced banana, berries, a drizzle of honey, or sliced dates. Spare yourself a high dose of sodium and saturated fat by limiting your salami and cheddar cheese sandwich to one day a week or less. Most deli meats are very high in sodium and salami is also especially high in (visible) fat. If you enjoy a hearty meat and cheese sandwich, healthier options are roast turkey, grilled chicken, lean roast beef, smoked salmon, or tuna salad. Mix up a healthy mayo-free tuna salad with a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Instead of regular cheddar cheese, try reduced fat 2% cheddar, Alpine Lace Swiss, or a sprinkle of feta. Careful with the sandwich spreads as they quickly add on fat and calories. Instead of boring mayo and mustard, try a thin spread of Vegenaise, hummus, pesto or barbeque sauce (beware of high fructose corn syrup in BBQ!). Try mixing a little peanut butter with a tiny dab of hot sauce and a dash of soy for a non-traditional sandwich spread. Don't be shy about adding fresh herbs to brighten up a dull sandwich.
  2. Veggies - They're lacking in this lunch. Great sandwich toppings are spinach, watercress, mushrooms, sprouts, tomato, radish, carrots or nappa cabbage. Or simply combine a mixture of sliced carrots, cucumber, radish, and bell peppers for a colorful, raw vegetable combination.
  3. Yogurt - This is a great addition to your daily lunch. Keep in mind that many flavored yogurts contain a significant amount of added sugar, and most “light” versions contain artificial chemical sweeteners like aspartame. Try experimenting with plain low-fat yogurt, Kefir, or Greek yogurt. Then sweeten it up with your own healthier sweeteners (in moderation, of course), such as honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, or by adding chopped fresh fruit or berries.
  4. Nuts - A handful of cashews, or other nuts like almonds or walnuts, are an excellent source of protein, fiber and heart-healthy oils. However, due to their high oil content, a small portion of nuts packs a lot of calories. A handful of nuts (roughly 1/3 cup) contain about 150 calories. Munch on nuts for a between-meal snack or sprinkle chopped nuts in your yogurt, cereal or on a salad.
  5. Fruit and Dessert - The two go hand in hand. We’ve all experienced the temptation of a Samoa or Thin Mint, but try to limit these sugary sweets to only 1 cookie, or have 1 bite-sized individually-wrapped 3 Musketeer, for the day. On a regular basis, try to replace candy and cookies with fresh fruit for dessert. A fresh apple, banana, pear, kiwi, peach, plum, or orange is a great low-calorie, nutritious sweet treat. If your sweet-tooth isn’t satisfied so easily, try a piece of dark chocolate, a graham cracker with sliced banana, chopped fruit topped with a little granola and honey, dried dates or figs.

Hope this helps Kevin! We’ll address drinking “Old Style” on another day….

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* Hey folks, this is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of anything written on this website. Thanks!