Skip to main content

Healthiest restaurant lunches

By Maureen Callahan, CookingLight.com
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.
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.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Go for a McDonald's Hamburger at 250 calories, 9 grams of fat
  • Our top salad pick is Atlanta Bread Company's Salsa Fresca Salmon Salad
  • Wendy's Grilled Chicken Go Wrap is one of the few that's not as high in sodium
RELATED TOPICS

(CookingLight.com) -- 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.

1. Pizza

From its new "Lighter Options" line, choose 2 slices of Domino's medium hand tossed Philly Steak Pizza to deliver some skinny pizza numbers: 400 calories, 14 grams fat (6g sat), 840mg sodium.

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.

Cooking Light: Hot Trend: Restaurant Snack Menus

2. Asian

Skip the Asian buffets featuring fatty, salty entrees and dine on P.F. Chang's Asian Grilled Salmon Lunch Bowl. This salmon fillet with brown rice sports 320 calories, a skinny five grams of fat (1g sat) and only 570 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Round out the meal with a side of garlic snap peas: 64 calories, 2g fat, 107mg sodium. (Note: One dish is two servings).

3. Burger

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's Hamburger at 250 calories, 9 grams of fat (3.5g sat) and 520 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 40 calories if you prefer) and small fry (230 calories, 11 grams fat (1.5g sat) and 160mg sodium).

4. Salad

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's Salsa 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.

Cooking Light: The Best and Worse Restaurant Salads

5. Chicken

While their menu sports a lot of grilled items, Wendy's Grilled 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 750mg sodium. Add a garden side salad (25 calories, 30mg sodium) and a Mandarin Orange Cup (90 calories, 10 grams of sodium).

Stay away from the competitors' chicken wraps that sport fried chicken and fatty dressings.

6. Sandwich

Ask for 9-grain wheat bread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers and your tab for a Subway 6-inch Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich is just 320 calories, 4.5 grams fat (1g sat) and 750mg 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.

7. Seafood

Cooked with a lemongrass garlic sauce, one serving of P.F. Chang's Mahi Mahi comes with a side of cilantro rice racking up 420 calories, 17 grams of fat (8g sat) and 605mg sodium, plenty of room to squeeze in a side of vegetables.

Watch out for restaurants that offer grilled fish with the intention of being healthy but then pair it with bacon, fatty dressing, and chips. (Note: One dish is two servings).

Cooking Light: Healthy Fast Food Drinks

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.

Enter for a chance to win in our $5,000 Grocery Giveaway

Copyright 2011 Cooking Light magazine. All rights reserved.

 
Quick Job Search