What 5 Healthy 500-Calorie Lunches Look Like

by Danielle Omar
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What 5 Healthy 500-Calorie Lunches Look Like

Breakfast gets all the credit for being the most important meal of the day, but let’s not forget about the meal that keeps you going after breakfast wears off: lunch! Lunch is your body’s midday energy source, fueling your afternoon so you don’t end up starving long before dinnertime or crashing before your 3 p.m. meeting.

When it comes to lunch, most of us reach for sandwiches. They’re portable, easy to eat and come in a wide variety. They can also become calorie bombs with the bread, cheese, add-ons and condiments. If you want to grab a sandwich, but keep the calories in check, here are a few tips:

GO EASY ON THE CONDIMENTS

A packet of mayo or a few squirts of Thousand Island dressing can easily tack on around 100 calories. Stick to low-cal condiments like mustard, salsa or hot sauce and swap creamy, plain Greek yogurt for mayo whenever possible.

LOAD UP ON VEGGIES

Rather than piling your sandwich with meat and cheese, stack it with high-fiber veggies to sneak in nutrients, a little crunch and added flavor.  

WATCH THE BREAD

Bread may be the cornerstone of a good sandwich, but I love using collard greens in place of wraps for an extra dose of veggies. Using collards or lettuce in place of bread means you can enjoy more fillings for the same (or less) calories. It’s also a way to enjoy sandwiches on a lower-carb diet. If you’re a sandwich purist and bread is your jam, opt for fiber-rich, 100% whole-wheat varieties to keep you full longer. (And stay away from the footlong subs!)

Here’s some inspiration for your next brown bag lunch:

Ingredients

5 ounce can albacore tuna, drained
2 tablespoons 2% Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 avocado, sliced
1 cup spinach
1 small tomato, sliced
1/4 cup carrots, shredded
1 large whole-wheat wrap

Directions

Combine the tuna, yogurt and mustard in a small bowl and mix with fork. Place the spinach, avocado and carrots in the center of the wrap and top with tuna salad mixture. Roll the wrap and slice in half. Eat immediately or store for up to one day.

Ingredients

For the burger:
1 whole-wheat burger bun
4 ounces lean ground turkey
1.5 ounce part-skim fresh mozzarella
1 small tomato, sliced
2 tablespoons basil leaves
For the salad:
1 cup lettuce
1/4 cup cucumber, chopped
2 tablespoons red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette

Directions

For the burger, place a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Shape turkey into a patty about 1/2-inch thick and place in pan, cooking 5 minutes on each side. Place patty on bun and top with mozzarella, tomato and basil leaves.

For the salad, combine lettuce, cucumber and onion in a medium bowl. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.

Ingredients

1 large whole-wheat tortilla
1/3 cup canned black beans, drained
3 ounces cooked, pulled chicken
1/4 avocado, sliced
2 tablespoons salsa
1/2 cup cooked peppers and onions
1/4 cup lettuce, shredded
1 small tomato, sliced
2 tablespoons light shredded Mexican cheese

Directions

Heat the beans, chicken, peppers and onions in the microwave for 1 minute. Heat the tortilla according to package directions. Place the heated ingredients in the center of the tortilla. Top with remaining cold ingredients.. Roll the tortilla and serve immediately or store for up to one day.

Ingredients

1 whole-wheat sandwich roll
3 ounces cooked, pulled chicken
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Sriracha
2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos
1/4 cup carrots, shredded
1/4 cup cucumbers, sliced
1/4 cup lettuce
Cilantro, basil, mint to taste

Directions

Toast or broil the sandwich roll until brown around the edges. Spread mayonnaise and sriracha evenly across the roll. Starting with the pulled chicken, place remaining ingredients in the roll. Finish with cilantro, basil and mint to taste. Fold closed and serve immediately or store for up to one day.

Nutrition: Calories: 467; Total Fat: 10g; Carbohydrate: 63g; Dietary Fiber: 9g; Protein: 30g 

Ingredients

3 large collard green leaves
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup carrots, shredded
1/2 cup cucumbers, sliced
1 small tomato, sliced
1/3 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup lettuce
1 1/4 cups canned low-sodium black bean soup

Directions

Place 1/3 of the brown rice, carrots, cucumbers, tomato, avocado and lettuce into each collard green leaf. Fold closed and serve immediately with a side of heated black bean soup.

Nutrition: Calories: 497; Total Fat: 13g; Carbohydrates: 88g; Dietary Fiber: 19g; Protein: 16g

Related

  • I limit myself to 400 cal for my lunch, but I eat 6 times per day.
    Breakfast 400 – enough to get going; always fruit (stone fruit) and often toast (either with natural peanut butter or eggs).
    Morning 300 – usually just fruit (berries).
    Lunch 400 – anything I want as long as it is real food, and it is always paired with raw veggies. Lunch is often leftovers from previous evenings. It helps to make big batches of a meal for this purpose.
    Afternoon 300 – more fruit (stone fruit) and maybe some carbs.
    Supper 402 – something hearty and filling. Any carb heavy meal is paired with a salad without dressing.
    Evening 200 – This varies depending on my mood, but I try to be good.

    I try to stick to real food and avoid bad carbs that would be considered treats.

  • Fair MarketValue

    None of these alternatives will work with me, they have allergens in them and this is the biggest issue with weight loss. Assuring I get the calories required per day but not getting sick. Because if i should get sick I bloat up and retain fluids. Not really any weight loss in that. i have been find more and more that the quality of the food is dropping the energy a carrot or apple is to supply seems to be lacking, and even meats seem to be losing their value to assure cognitive thought and daily motivations. Could it be weight gain is a mechenizum of poor food?

    • Adam

      Ummm no. Eat less calories than you burn, you lose weight. You’re lying to yourself if you think allergens is the biggest issue with weight loss, calories are. If you retain fluids but burn fat, guess what, those fluids will balance out eventually and you will still have burned the fat. If the scale the very next day doesn’t reflect that loss, it’s still loss. Weight gain has only to do with eating more calories than you burn, I promise it’s not the carrots or apples or lean meats that cause weight gain.

      • Fair MarketValue

        For years I was eating Calories in the range which should have just maintained my weight for the amount of exercise I was doing but it did not. And until being diagnosed Celiac have I ever been able to lose weight and balance. It was explained that the disease had destroyed the Folia in my small intestine and I could no longer obtain valuable nutrients from the foods I was eating. Essentially starving even thou I consumed 2500 Calories Plus. So yes I believe Allergies have a bit role to play in weight loss, for they can trigger auto-immune actions which hamper any efforts.

        But it is true that energy conservation has to take place for a person to lose weight..

        • Den

          Probiotics?

        • Twicker

          there are plenty of Gluten Free choices out there. My son is T1D and was tested for Celiac ( common is T1D) and thank god he was negative. While we think he still has a sensitivity to Gluten , we try to go gluten free or low gluten at meals. He has done very well and has gained muscle and toned up in this process. He is an athlete and needs to stay healthy and maintain a good A1C.
          Hope you find this helpful!

        • myrab51

          I have auto-immune disease and a lot of these issues (psoriatic arthritis and ulcerative colitis). However, when I read these articles, I keep in mind that I am very much in the minority and don’t complain. These are written for the general population. If I want an article written for my specific issues, I go find one. There is SO MUCH information out there tailored to your special needs. Instead of picking apart these, go find those articles, or educate yourself on alternatives that will work for you. Food allergies are a symptom of the auto-immune disease, not the cause of it. You may want to question your rheumatologist more on the topic.

  • Den

    The carbs are the problem. Look at the high carb rating of those sandwiches.

  • Ajah

    They all look yummy. I’ll have to really plan out my meals though, so I don’t go over my count.

  • David McIlrath

    The calories and food look great but the carbs are way too high for someone with Diabetes or Insulin Resistence…

    • PamP the RD

      Not true – the human brain requires a minimum of 130gm carb/d to function! Feed it, don’t starve it. Changing the type or size of wrap can help if your carb goal is 40-50gm/meal but this is not “way too high for someone with diabetes!

      • David McIlrath

        Tell that to the medical profession…

      • David McIlrath

        My doctor has me limited to 60 carbs per day not 130…

      • jdock

        My brain functions just fine on <40g carb/day. The body is an amazingly adaptive machine. There are entire groups of people who do not eat carbs in their diet for the vast majority of the year.

  • Joanne Savard

    Never any vegetarian suggestions.

  • Kathy Merritt Carnes

    YIKES the carbs…..

  • Ruth Winkler

    42 carbs is the lowest option? Why do you guys always promote such high carb foods? Some of us here are on low carb, and nothing you have posted could even be considered as appropriate for my lunch. I wish you would at least occasionally have low carb options.

    • Shelly Towler Walsh

      If carbs are an issue, adjust this recipe accordingly.