Healthy Lunch Strategies

I am excited to report that yesterday’s presentation went REALLY well. It was supposed to be about 45 minutes but ended up being a little over an hour because everyone was really engaged, asking lots of questions, and contributing ideas. I ran it very much like a Weight Watchers meeting – asking lots of questions, moving around the room, and facilitating more than giving a presentation. I thought I’d share a little overview of what we discussed and see if you guys have any additional ideas to contribute.

Best Bet: Bringing Your Own

It’s only when you make and pack your own food that you truly know what goes into it. A lot of people struggle with having (or making) the time to pack lunch and meal plan, so we came up with a list of ideas to make that easier and streamline the process.

    • Make time to plan your meals on the weekend before you go grocery shopping, or whenever it works for you to fit in.
    • Cook big batches of food and separate into single serving containers right away so you can just grab and go.
    • If you’re making a casserole or soup, double the recipe. Cooking twice as much of the same thing does not take twice the time with prep.
    • Freeze extras that you can’t eat within time (or you might get bored of) so that you have a quick option down the road for a day when you don’t have something in mind.
    • Pack lunch the night before while you’re putting away or making dinner rather than trying to make time to do it during a hectic morning.
    • Bring a lot of food in on a Monday or early in the week if you have a fridge to use. This way you don’t have to bring things in every day and you have a few options to choose from.
    • Make simple foods that you can use in a lot of ways throughout the week. Some examples are a big batch of whole grains, plain grilled chicken, or a pot of beans. If I grill a pound of chicken, I can use it for salads, sandwiches, chicken salad, burritos, tacos, or quesadillas throughout the week so I’m not eating the same thing every day.

Restaurant Surprises

Any idea how many calories are in the tortilla at Chipotle (JUST the wrap)? 290! And 9 grams of fat. So you save almost 300 calories for opting for a burrito bowl over a burrito.

A standard chicken burrito with white rice, black beans, tomato salsa, corn salsa, cheese, sour cream, and lettuce rings in at 1055 calories and 40 grams of fat! If you just hold back on the cheese, sour cream, and tortilla, plus switch the rice from white to brown, you knock it down to 535 calories and 12 grams of fat – almost half! And that’s even having steak instead of chicken.

Another option right by my office is Chop’t, which is one of my favorite places to go. The honey wheat wrap there has even more calories than the one at Chipotle – 300 calories and 8 grams of fat, which is crazy because a lot of people assume that since it’s whole wheat it’s good for you. If you go with a Cobb Salad Wrap with Ranch Dressing there, you’re looking at 1110 calories and 65 grams of fat. If you opt for the Palm Beach Salad with Spa Sesame Dressing, which has avocado, shrimp, and hearts of palm, you’re only looking at 270 calories, 12.5 grams of fat, and a really delicious and healthy lunch.

One other thing that came up is that a lot of people tend to steer towards the vegetarian options on the menu, which can be really good options. But at Potbelly, the vegetarian sandwich is the second worst sandwich for you (after the PB&J) because it has three kinds of cheese plus mushrooms and sauce, so it also isn’t that filling. A lot of times restaurants will load up on cheese and other heavy additions to make up for the lack of meat in those options, so it’s just important to be careful.

Tips for Eating Out for Lunch

    • Look at the menu for the restaurant before you go and pick out what you want.
    • Choose a restaurant that you know has healthy options.
    • Have a few go-to options around you that you know are safe bets. Make sure there’s a variety so you have different ideas when you’re craving different things.
    • Stay hydrated throughout the day so you are eating because you’re hungry and not thirsty.
    • Don’t let yourself get ravenous, because then you’re more likely to overeat and make a worse choice.
    • Realize that not every time we eat out in a celebration. Sometimes it’s just a regular meal. Pick your indulgences wisely.
    • Bring healthy snacks from home to supplement what you buy out – think fruits and veggies!
    • Ask for heavy items on the side so you can control how much goes on them (think cheese, dressings, sour cream, etc)
    • Better yet, bring some condiments you like from home and keep them in your fridge at work if you have one.

The other big takeaway is that lunch is just one meal. I think sometimes we put a ton of pressure on ourselves and feel really disappointed if we overdo it on a meal or get carried away if we’re dining with others, and one meal is NOT going to break your day or your week. If you make a bad choice, just get back on track as soon as you can, and it’ll be alright.

What’s your biggest tip for making sure you bring lunch to work? If you’re not a lunch packer, what’s your biggest tip for making healthy choices while you’re out?

23 Comments on Healthy Lunch Strategies

  1. Robyn
    March 27, 2013 at 9:42 am (8 years ago)

    These are great tips! It sounds like your talk went really well, I am always freezing extras from dinners I cook rather than eating leftovers three days in a row, it really helps when I don’t have time to prep things- i just grab it out of the freezer and go to work

    • Beth
      March 27, 2013 at 11:37 am (8 years ago)

      I do that a lot, too. I get bored when I eat the same things day after day, and it’s always fun to dig something out of the freezer that is homemade. I love it especially when I forget about something I’ve frozen and discover it a few weeks later!

  2. Adriana
    March 27, 2013 at 10:06 am (8 years ago)

    “Realize that not every time we eat out in a celebration. Sometimes it’s just a regular meal. Pick your indulgences wisely.”

    That is a brilliant thing that I hadn’t thought of. I gained 30 pounds my first year at a desk job because I didn’t think have that mentality and decided “Oh, I work hard! I deserve a good lunch! Look at me at a big-girl job!”.

    I’ll have to remember that as I work to lose this excess weight. Thanks!

    • Beth
      March 27, 2013 at 11:36 am (8 years ago)

      It’s so easy to see all those times we eat out as opportunities to reward ourselves, and while that’s OK to do sometimes, it’s easy for it to go beyond where it should. I have to remind myself of that often!

  3. Lauren
    March 27, 2013 at 10:17 am (8 years ago)

    Love love these tips! You must work near my old office because there was a Chop’t, Chipotle, and Potbelly all within a block (19th & L). I wish we had talks like this at my work!

    • Beth
      March 27, 2013 at 11:32 am (8 years ago)

      Hi Lauren! Yup – super close if that’s your intersection. 🙂

  4. Jenn
    March 27, 2013 at 11:10 am (8 years ago)

    Love all the lunch tips Beth. I do know that half the battle of healthy living is all the planning and prep that it takes to eat healthy every day! I tried the bbq chicken pita pizza yesterday and loved it!! I will be having it for lunch again today. Instead of the red onion I topped it with shredded carrots and green onions….so yummy and fulfilling! Thanks for all the tips, I love your blog!!


    • Beth
      March 27, 2013 at 11:33 am (8 years ago)

      Hi Jenn! Thanks for your kind words. So glad you tried that pizza and loved it. I haven’t made one in a long time but now I’m craving it! Love the added veggies. I know raw onion isn’t for everyone. 🙂

  5. Stina
    March 27, 2013 at 11:19 am (8 years ago)

    Realize that not every time we eat out in a celebration. Sometimes it’s just a regular meal. Pick your indulgences wisely.

    THAT! That is a brilliant little nugget and honestly something I’ve never really thought about. My boyfriend and I eat out pretty often with friends and family and while I don’t necessarily view it as a celebration, I do tend to see eating out as a time to indulge – even if it’s the second or third (or fourth!) time I’m eating out that week!

    • Beth
      March 27, 2013 at 11:34 am (8 years ago)

      Hi Stina! It’s so true. I think the average American eats out almost 7 times a week, so if we go crazy that often during the week, it’s super easy for it to get out of hand!

  6. Tori
    March 27, 2013 at 11:44 am (8 years ago)

    This is a great blog, Beth!

    There’s a Receptionist at my WW meetings who has lost like 120+ pounds, and she ate/eats out every single day. She lost her 120+ pounds even eating out every day, and has maintained it doing the same. It’s all about making wise choices, and it is totally doable! There is a time to indulge– just not at every meal out. 🙂


    • Beth
      March 27, 2013 at 11:49 am (8 years ago)

      Hi Tori – thank you! Glad you were able to access it after all. 🙂

      • Tori
        March 27, 2013 at 12:20 pm (8 years ago)

        Me too! 🙂 Thanks for fixing so fast!!

  7. Carrie
    March 27, 2013 at 12:57 pm (8 years ago)

    Hi, Beth. I just re-re-rejoined WW this week. I came upon your blog while doing research on the new programs. Thank you for your honest and direct posts about the programs. It was very helpful.

    I also like your post about lunches. Often we only count the foods we eat at home and forget how much we can do at work.

    I gave up soda (diet and regular) at the beginning of this year and I found that I also ended up not doing the fast -food thing, either. It just seemed like they went together and it would be too easy to slip if I did the drive-thru thing. I now make my lunch every day, even if it means I’m eating something wierd. Today’s lunch: BBQ meatballs; calculated, counted and tracked. 🙂

    Thanks for being such a supportive force.

    • Beth
      March 27, 2013 at 2:13 pm (8 years ago)

      Hi Carrie! Welcome back to WW – so glad you found my blog and are finding it a helpful resource. Your lunch sounds delicious!

  8. Karen p
    March 30, 2013 at 7:36 am (7 years ago)

    I stopped eating at my employers cafe for weight loss ( structured commercial plan). By the time I reached goal weight and was transitioning to Paleo /Primal for maintnence , I realized that I had done myself a huge favor.

    Batch cooking, food costs, control of the sodium, control over the quality of the food, steering clear of the trigger foods were all key. Also avoiding all the crap food left out in the breakroom. Not buying more expensive cafe food meant I could shop for fresh, in season food at the farmers market.

    Bringing your own food takes some time and planing, but between the $$ cost and the down sides of exposure to trigger foods and highly processed foods, hands down , it was in the top 10 tools for weight maintenance and better health for me

    Good topic , Beth.

  9. Dave
    March 30, 2013 at 11:17 am (7 years ago)

    Yes, you really have to be careful at these restaurants. Something that looks benign can chock up over 1000 calories easily. It is really hard for me to get up that high with stuff I usually cook myself because I am not big on cheese and all the garnishes . . .and you really do not realize how much so little added to a meal can add up.

  10. Julie
    April 1, 2013 at 11:07 pm (7 years ago)

    My biggest tip is variety is over rated! I have found it is much easier for me to keep the same healthy ingredients with very little variety helps me stay on track. I’ve recently started shopping for two of my co-workers as well.

    My lunch consists of a sandwich (sandwich thins, Jennie-0 deli meat, and laughing cow cheese instead of mayo or cheese).
    I add carrots, cottage cheese, and pineapple.
    I’ve been doing this for 3 months.

  11. Dane
    April 4, 2013 at 7:41 am (7 years ago)

    Great suggestions. Almost all of them could apply to preparing school lunches for kids without any alterations. You could also include a food thermos if you like to eat hot food at lunchtime.

  12. Philly Joe Jones
    April 10, 2013 at 5:21 am (7 years ago)

    Hey Beth. Great tips on bringing your own meals. My wife also bought a thermos lunch box and it can give you a very “hot and delicious” meal! 🙂

  13. T.N.
    April 12, 2013 at 9:59 am (7 years ago)

    I usually make a large meal on one of my days off that I can use for leftovers for a few days during the week. I’d also have to agree with Julie above about variety not being that necessary. I would switch it up every few days, but having a big dish of ginger lemon quinoa and vegetables usually satisfies until I make something else. Thanks for the tips!

  14. Tim
    April 16, 2013 at 9:33 pm (7 years ago)

    I really force myself to make lunch at night before work the next day in order to make sure I take it. When eating out, I just say the words, fruits and vegetables, over and over, and it really helps me to eat the healthiest I can.

  15. Earlene Blosser
    July 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm (7 years ago)

    I really like the idea of making simple foods. I believe that this is important step to success if one wants to get rid of body fat.


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