Healthy Lunch Makeover
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Healthy Lunch Makeover

Hungry by 4 p.m.? Gaining weight? It's time to make your midday meal healthier.

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Barley-Vegetable Salad

Most women grab a salad for lunch -- or yogurt and an apple -- and think they're making a smart choice. Yet these so-called light lunches leave us lethargic, cranky and hungry by late afternoon. Before long, we're heading to the vending machines for a Snickers bar.

To beat the bad-lunch trap, you need to rethink your food choices. The key, say experts, is to eat a lunch with staying power.

"Ideally, lunch should give you the energy and nutrients to keep you going through the afternoon," says Joy Bauer, R.D., a nutrition consultant in New York City and author of The 90/10 Weight Loss Plan (Renaissance Books, 2001). "It should contain about twenty grams of protein and about eight grams of fiber." And it should have no more than 700 calories, adds Kathleen Zelman, R.D., an Atlanta-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

But that doesn't mean giving up the lunch you love. To help get the maximum mileage from your midday meal, we've taken four of the most popular lunches women eat and given them makeovers.

Salad: Before and After

Before: A salad with four cups of iceberg lettuce mixed with romaine, topped with one quarter cup of croutons and low-cal dressing

Total count: Calories, 95; protein, 4.5 grams; vitamin A, 1,048 IU; vitamin C, 11 mg; fiber, 4 grams; fat, 3.6 grams

After: Toss the iceberg and use lots of dark green lettuce (it has far more nutrients). Then bump up your salad's staying power by adding 3 ounces of canned tuna. Top with vitamin-rich broccoli, bell peppers and carrots; instead of croutons, use seven walnut halves for additional protein and some crunch. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of olive oil. Add a whole-wheat roll for extra fiber (which helps you feel full longer) and complex carbohydrates (which provide energy).

Total count: Calories, 420; protein, 31 grams; vitamin A, 15,000 IU; vitamin C, 192 mg; fiber, 10 grams; fat, 18.5 grams

Fruit & Yogurt: Before and After

Before: A medium-size apple and low-fat, fruit-flavored yogurt

Total count: Calories, 320; protein, 12 grams; vitamin A, 210 IU; vitamin C, 10 mg; fiber, 4 grams; fat, 3.5 grams

After: To boost the vitamins and protein, turn your yogurt lunch into a sundae with healthy toppings. Place the yogurt in a serving bowl, add sliced apple, 1/2 cup of cantaloupe cut into chunks and 2 tablespoons of granola. Add two wheat crackers spread with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter for extra protein and carbohydrates for energy.

Total count: Calories, 584; protein, 19 grams; vitamin A, 3,209 IU; vitamin C, 44 mg; fiber, 7 grams; fat, 15 grams

Pizza: Before and After

Before: A slice of pizza, loaded with cheese

Total count: Calories, 380; protein, 19 grams; vitamin A, 800 IU; vitamin C, none; fiber, 7 grams; fat, 17 grams

After: Punch up your pizza by choosing a slice topped with plenty of broccoli, red pepper and mushrooms. A cup of seedless grapes for dessert will satisfy your sweet tooth and supply vitamins and fiber.

Total count: Calories, 510; protein, 21 grams; vitamin A, 1,893 IU; vitamin C, 66 mg; fiber, 10 grams; fat, 18 grams

Sandwich: Before and After

Before: A grilled chicken sandwich on a hard roll topped with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato, plus a bag of potato chips.

Total count: Calories, 602; protein, 37 grams; vitamin A, 332 IU; vitamin C, 24 mg; fiber, 4 grams; fat, 25 grams

After: Trade in the roll for two slices of whole-wheat bread, use Dijon mustard instead of mayonnaise and opt for a handful of baby carrots in place of the potato chips.

Total count: Calories, 337; protein, 34 grams; vitamin A, 15,330 IU; vitamin C, 14 mg; fiber, 7 grams; fat, 7 grams

It's Never Too Late for Lunch

Lunch is the meal we're most likely to skip, according to research by the NPD Group, a consumer marketing research firm. No matter how busy you are, it's important to take time out to eat, say experts. "Foods like fruits and vegetables provide us with energy to keep our brains functioning," says Jackie Newgent, R.D., an ADA spokesperson. "When we don't have that energy, we are not at our peak mentally or physically."

If a busy schedule prevents you from eating a good lunch, grab a quick but healthy snack at lunchtime (see below for ideas) and eat your lunch later in the day when you're not so rushed. "There's no rule that says you have to eat lunch at noon," says Newgent.

15 Great Afternoon Snacks

Despite a healthy lunch, you're hungry at 4 p.m. Instead of hitting the vending machine, try one of these energy-boosters instead:

  • One half small raisin bagel with fat-free cream cheese and an orange: 350 calories, 2 grams of fat
  • Apple and low-fat cheese stick: 162 calories, 6 grams of fat
  • 2 rice cakes smeared with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter: 220 calories, 9 grams of fat
  • Unsweetened whole-grain cereal with skim milk: 180 calories, no fat
  • Handful of nuts and raisins: 245 calories, 9 grams of fat
  • Celery sticks with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 230 calories, 16 grams of fat
  • One quarter cup hummus with 11/42 cup of baby carrots: 140 calories, 5 grams of fat
  • Vegetable soup: 120 calories, 3 grams of fat
  • Skim-milk latte with a biscotti: 230 calories, 3 grams of fat
  • Handful of pretzels: 110 calories, no fat
  • One half cup of cottage cheese and seven Wheat Thins: 180 calories, 9 grams of fat
  • Granola bar and skim milk: 230 calories, 7 grams of fat
  • Peanut butter (1 tablespoon) and jelly (2 teaspoons) sandwich on whole-wheat bread: 315 calories, 10 grams of fat
  • Smoothie made with skim milk, ice cubes and a banana: 185 calories, 11/42 gram of fat
  • Fat-free frozen yogurt topped with sliced fresh fruit or berries: 170 calories, 3 grams of fat

Don't Eat That!

You may sometimes be tempted to grab a quick burger for lunch, but don't do it, says Jackie Newgent, R.D., a spokesperson for the ADA. "Heavy lunches are full of fat and calories," she says. "Rather than giving you energy, they weigh you down and make you feel tired."

4 Lunches to Avoid:

  • Bacon cheeseburger with fries
  • Giant bagel and cream cheese
  • General Tsao's chicken (sauce over fried meat)
  • Pork fried rice

Additional sources for this article include: the USDA and the Corinne T. Netzer Encyclopedia of Food Values (Dell, 1992).

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