It’s a minefield of high fat, high calorie, super salty choices at some lunch joints while others offer at least a few healthy options. Here’s a quick look at the best restaurant lunches. By: Maureen Callahan, MS, RD and Karen Ansel, RD.
That bling-worthy lunch tote may pull in the compliments, but sometimes it’s hard to feel the love about what’s inside, particularly if it’s last night’s leftovers. Feeling the urge to dine out instead? We’ve canvassed nutrition numbers at top-selling restaurant chains to zero in on the healthiest options.
Our guidelines for good: 600 calories or less; not more than 6 grams saturated fat (the American Heart Association suggests a daily limit of 17g) and about 900 mg sodium or less.
2 of 9Photo Courtesy of Domino's Pizza
Domino's goes gourmet with its new Artisan Pizza menu – and your waistline reaps the rewards. Choose two slices of their Tuscan Salami & Roasted Veggie Pizza and walk away for a skinny 300 calories with 12 grams of total fat and 4 grams of saturated fat. While a couple of slices can usually be a salt mine, these sport a not-too-terrible 560 mg per two-slice serving. Compare this to individual-sized meat-topped pizzas that ring up double the calories, over 40 grams of fat, a day’s worth of saturated fat, and over 2000mg of sodium and bite in guilt free.
3 of 9Photo Courtesy of P.F. Chang’s
Skip the Asian buffets featuring fatty, salty entrees and dine on P.F. Chang’sBuddha’s Feast Steamed Lunch with Rice. Jam packed with veggies, this vegetarian bowl sports only 440 calories, a skinny 3.5 grams of fat, no saturated fat, and only 160 milligrams of sodium per serving. Swap the white rice for brown and pick up 3 grams of stomach-filling fiber.
4 of 9Photo Courtesy of McDonald’s
Here are some scary stats, one burger at a popular restaurant chain has over 3600mg sodium, 100 grams of fat (43g sat), and 1400 calories. That doesn’t even include fries!
Instead, go for a McDonald’sHamburger at 250 calories, 9 grams of fat (3.5g sat) and 490 milligrams of sodium. At such low numbers, this burger leaves room for a 20-calorie side salad (add a serving of Newman's Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette for only 35 calories if you prefer) and small fry (230 calories, 11 grams fat (1.5g sat) and 160mg sodium).
5 of 9Photo Courtesy of Atlanta Bread Company
Don’t assume that a salad is an innocent as it sounds. We found a chicken and spinach salad from a popular chain that has over 1600 calories, 110 grams of fat and a days worth of sodium. Our top salad pick is Atlanta Bread Company’sSalsa Fresca Salmon Salad. This corn and black bean salad adds fiber (6 grams) to this 560 calorie main dish salad with an appetite quenching 38 grams of protein, just 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 590 milligrams of sodium.
6 of 9Photo Courtesy of Wendy’s
While their menu sports a lot of grilled items, Wendy’sGrilled Chicken Go Wrap is one of the few that’s not as high in sodium. Calories are a mere 260 with 10 grams of fat (3.5 g sat) and 630mg sodium. Add a garden side salad with Fat Free French Dressing (60 calories, 125mg sodium) and apple slices (40 calories, 0 sodium). Stay away from the competitors’ chicken wraps that sport fried chicken and fatty dressings.
7 of 9Photo Courtesy of Subway
Ask for 9-grain wheat bread, deli mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers and your tab for a Subway6-inch Oven Roasted ChickenSandwich is just 330 calories, 5 grams fat (1.5g sat) and 760mg sodium. Added plus: you’re getting 5 grams of fiber. When choosing a sandwich, don’t be fooled by the “fresh” moniker at various restaurants, this may be nothing more than an oversized deli sandwich with more fat and calories than a double bacon cheeseburger.
8 of 9Photo Courtesy of Outback Steakhouse
Who would have thought one of the healthiest fish lunches around would come from a steakhouse? Outback Steakhouse scores with its Norweigan Salmon with Fresh Seasonal Mixed Veggies. Lightly seasoned, grilled, and served with a bonus side of veggies, it dishes up a respectable 484 calories and 447 milligrams of sodium plus a bonus 7 grams of fiber. If its 29 grams of fat make you nervous, you can relax: They’re mostly the heart-smart omega-3 variety with only 6 grams coming from saturated fat. Eating elsewhere? Watch out for restaurants that offer grilled fish with the intention of being healthy but then pair it with bacon, fatty dressing, and chips.
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Dining Out Tips
Lunching out with an eye toward eating healthy is tricky business. A chain that delivers a lighter lunch is just as likely to dish up unhealthy fare. And salty items are the norm with most sodium tabs hovering close to 2000 milligrams or more. The best strategy: review nutrition charts, either from onsite brochures or online, before you make a choice.
Favorite lunch spot not on our list? Sorry, we had to narrow down our checklist to the top 15 best selling chains. Since some didn’t cough up nutrition numbers or weren’t open for lunch, we plugged in few staff favorites to round out of our list.