Healthier Lunch & Dinner Options
Before reading on, make sure you’ve checked out part one of our healthy eating series about why you shouldn’t think about healthy food and unhealthy food as a black and white issue. Also, be sure to check out last week’s article if you want some ideas on how to eat healthier in the mornings. This week’s article will discuss some healthy lunch and dinner foods and expand on what makes them healthy. All calorie and macronutrient information was obtained from the online database/phone app MyFitnessPal. Foods will be listed along with their calorie and macronutrient contents written as calories, protein(p)/carbohydrate(c)/fat(f).
Sandwich vs. Lettuce Wrap
Ham & Cheese Sandwich (1, Homemade) 310cal, 19p/36c/10f / Ham & Cheese Lettuce Wrap (1, Dagwoods) 120cal, 11p/6c/6f
While bread is certainly not the enemy (as popular culture might have you believe), an easy way to cut some calories out of your diet is to replace the bread on your sandwich with lettuce wraps. This allows you to remove some carbs and fat from the meal while keeping most of the protein. Lettuce wraps also work great in place of tortillas. Next time you’re making a sandwich or burrito, try putting it in a lettuce wrap instead!
Full Sandwich vs. Open Faced Sandwich
2 slices of bread (wheat) 160cal, 6p/30c/2f / 1 slice of bread (wheat) 80cal, 3p/15c/1f
Another great option for reducing the calorie content of your sandwiches without completely getting rid of the bread is to have an open faced sandwich with one slice of bread instead of two. This gives you the same great taste and feel of a sandwich while cutting the carb content in half!
Chips vs. Fruit
Chips (Baked Lays, 1 bag) 130cal, 0p/26c/2f / Mixed Fruit (generic, 1 cup) 44cal, 1p/10c/0f
Chips are very calorie dense and not very nutrient dense. Even the “healthier” options such as the baked lays in this example are pretty high in calories. They are high in carbs (and fat, depending on what type of chips) and they don’t contain any useful things like protein, fiber, or vitamins. Swap out the chips or crackers in your lunch with some mixed fruit and you’ll be cutting calories while also getting your vitamins in!
Chicken Thighs vs. Chicken Breast
Chicken Thigh (4oz raw) 180cal, 21p/0c/10f / Chicken breast (4oz raw) 110cal, 22p/0c/3f
If you’re trying to cut some calories, an easy change is to replace the dark meat chicken you eat (thighs, legs) with light meat (breasts). 4oz of chicken breast has 7g less fat and 70 fewer calories than an equal portion of thigh meat. While plain chicken breast can be bland and flavorless, you can make it taste great by marinating it in your favorite sauce or putting your favorite seasoning on it. Throw it on the grill for the best flavor!
80/20 Ground Beef vs. 93/7 Ground Beef
80/20 Beef (4oz raw) 280cal, 19p/0c/22f / 93/7 Beef (4oz raw) 170cal, 23p/0c/8f
If you’ve previously been buying 80/20 (or 85/15) ground beef, an easy way to decrease your daily calories is to start buying 90/10, 93/7, or 96/4 ground beef. Lean ground beef has less than half of the fat and about 100 fewer calories than typical 80/20 ground beef does per serving. Some people say they like the extra fat because it tastes better, but in my experience I can’t even tell the difference in taste between 80/20 and 93/7 beef. If you can eat something that tastes the same but is much less calorie dense, why wouldn’t you?
Pasta vs. Brown Rice
Pasta (spaghetti, 2oz) 200cal, 7p/41c/1f / Brown Rice (Morrison, ½ cup) 124cal, 3p/26c/1f
Pasta is not unhealthy, but it is very easy to eat a lot of due to a low fiber content. 2oz is not very much pasta, and that already has 200 calories. I’d be willing to bet that most Americans are having more than 2oz at a time when they have pasta. Brown rice on the other hand is much harder to eat a lot of because it is high in fiber. A serving of brown rice also has about 75 fewer calories than a serving of pasta as well, and since you’re less likely to overeat brown rice you’re probably saving yourself even more calories by making the switch. Try swapping out the pasta for brown rice next time you make a dish that calls for pasta as a side!
Oil Based Salad Dressings vs. Vinegar/Fruit Based Dressings
Ranch dressing (2 tbsp, generic) 140cal, 1p/2c/14f/Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing (2tbsp, Kraft) 60cal, 0p/5c/5f
Salad dressings can make or break a salad. You can have all the healthy ingredients in your salad that you want, but if you douse it in a fatty dressing then you may as well just be eating a greasy cheeseburger! This is something that a lot of people don’t realize. They’ll make a salad because they want to eat healthy, but then cover it in ranch or a similar fatty dressing, often times using far more than one serving size. Try using vinegar or fruit based dressings instead. These dressings have far fewer calories so they won’t defeat the purpose of the salad! Another option if you want to stick with the oil-based dressings is to put your dressing on the side rather than on the salad. This way, you can just dip your fork in to get a little bit of dressing instead of a whole bunch each bite.
General Considerations for a Healthy Lunch and Dinner
Here is a simple guideline to follow for making healthy lunch and dinner. Simply pick a protein, a veggie, and a carb, and add a sauce/dressing if needed. This sounds boring at face value, but it actually gives you countless options. For example, one week you could have something simple like steak, broccoli, and potatoes and the next week you could make something a little fancier like fajitas (marinated chicken, bell peppers & onions, with refried beans) or stir fry (chicken/steak, peppers, broccoli & carrots, and white rice with stir fry sauce). Using this as a guideline will assure that you’re eating meals high in protein, fiber, and micronutrients while not going overboard with carbs and fats. Give it a shot!