Long gone are the days when you could pick up a simple sandwich or salad at your local café and walk away with change from $10. Nowadays picking up lunch at work more frequently turns into buying lunch from a food court, usually from a chain store that offers a wide array of fast and pre-prepared meal options.
While many a food court meal ‘looks’ healthy, a closer look at the ingredients reveals that the most popular lunch choices can contain double the number of calories we need at a lunch meal, and often set you back as much as $20 for a simple salad or sandwich.
So, if you do find yourself picking up lunch on-the-go more often than not, here is a rundown of what is really in your food court lunch, and the ways to make it a much healthier (and lower calorie) choice.
Chicken and avocado sandwich
Certainly if you had constructed your own chicken and avocado sandwich on a couple of thin slices of wholemeal bread, you would have an incredibly healthy lunch, but this is not what the average pre-made sandwich translates into. Rather mega slices of bread teamed with fried chicken, loads of high-fat mayonnaise, avocado and cheese means your light lunch sandwich can contain as much as 800-1000 calories per sandwich and up to 40g of fat.
Make it lighter by opting to make your own sandwiches where possible. Choose lean protein such as chicken breast or turkey and seek out lighter wraps or small slices of bread.
Pre-made salads are easy to find in cafés and food courts, but unfortunately the most popular options, including pasta and noodle salads, pesto and avocado chicken and Caesar, tend to be much heavier on the carbs and creamy dressings than the lean protein and low-calorie salad vegetables we would incorporate if we made our salad at home. With the average sized salad equating to 500-600 calories a serve, there are much lower calorie salads available.
Make it lighter by making your own salad mix where possible and seek out roasted veggies or lean beef options and enjoy with crackers or a slice of wholegrain bread to keep your light lunch, light.
Mexican options have sprung up in most food courts and with a myriad of menu items littered with vegetables it can be easy to think your choice is healthy. The average burrito though, contains close to 800 calories thanks to the ultra large wrap, loads of white rice, relatively fatty cuts of meat and extra cheese, avocado and sauces.
The good news is that there are a number of light options including burrito bowls (no rice), or even hard shelled tacos, as long as you go easy on the cheese, avocado and creamy sauces.
Whilst burger chains claim to offer ‘healthier’ options, at the end of the day even healthier fries and burgers are still incredibly calorie dense meals. With the average burger and chip deal containing at least 800-1000 calories (and that is without a drink), you are kidding yourself if you think your indulgent burger lunch is a healthy choice.
Make it lighter by choosing naked burgers where possible and be strong and skip the chips if your goal is to keep your calories controlled at lunchtime.
When you compare the nutritional profile and calories of sushi to that of typical fast food orders indeed it is much lighter, and healthier, although depending on your order sushi can still be relatively high in processed carbohydrates. A typical sushi roll order, packed with loads of white rice lacks the protein and vegetable bulk of a nutritionally balanced lunch meal, which can leave you hungry and unsatisfied an hour or two later. To avoid this, the key is to opt for more fresh fish and extra vegetable sides.
Make it lighter by seeking out brown rice options where possible; add sashimi to your order as well as fibre and protein rich edamame and seaweed salad.
It wouldn’t be a food court unless there was a stir fry option and while various curries and stir fries may look relatively healthy — thanks to the addition of brightly coloured veggies — they tend to be calorie dense thanks to the liberal use of oil and fatty cuts of meat. Plus the volume of rice or noodles that form the base of most stir-fry serves translates your healthy meal into one with 800-1000 calories.
Make it lighter by choosing plain chicken or prawn veggie stir fries and skip the rice in favour of extra veggies. Even better, seek out Vietnamese outlets which have a growing range of lower carb options including veggie bowls and rice paper rolls.