How do you know what the healthiest, most filling, best all-round lunches are?
You’ve got 10 minutes to grab something, and the choice is often overwhelming. “Pick me!” purrs a seductive pulled pork burrito. “I’ll help you feel smug about your life choices (if a little hungry),” lectures a stern superfood salad.
To help you decide what will keep you full until teatime without sneaking in a load of hidden sugar, fat, and salt, we asked nutrition experts to pick out the healthiest and least healthy choices from some of your favourite lunchtime haunts, from Greggs and Tesco to Leon and Itsu.
Here’s what they chose…
“Although at 419 calories, this is not the lowest-calorie option on the menu, it represents a balanced meal, combining starchy carbohydrate with a high-quality protein source and vegetables.
“It’s low in fat and is high in protein, which can help to keep you fuller for longer.” – Annemarie Aburrow, dietitian
“With a whopping 1,086 calories per portion, this option will provide around half of your daily calorie requirements. It also contains 4.5 grams of salt per portion – a massive 75% of the maximum recommended daily intake.” – Annemarie Aburrow
“This wrap is a great source of fibre which can help fill you up – it’s reasonable in calories for a meal, and low in sugar. It has a variety of foods in one convenient portion. It is high in salt with 1.7 grams per portion, but considering its other benefits, it would be OK if you watch your salt quota for the rest of the day.” – Christina Merryfield, dietitian
“This sushi salad contains a massive 5.8 grams of salt per portion – that’s an adult’s entire maximum recommended daily intake. Eating too much salt across the day increases our risk of developing high blood pressure, a big risk factor in heart disease.” – Annemarie Aburrow
“This is low in fat, and very low in saturated fat, and has only 361 calories. It also contains a balance of protein, carbs, and some fibre from the seeded roll and salad, so would fill you up and provide some vitamins.” – Christina Merryfield
“Pasties are high in fat, and this one contains a huge 14 grams of saturated fat, which is half your recommended daily intake. This one is made mainly of protein and carbohydrates, without much fibre or vitamins from veg, so offers very little nutrition for the amount of calories.” – Christina Merryfield
“Most of these options contain almost half of your saturated fat recommendations for the day and are very high in calories – especially considering that they’d be an add-on to a main meal at lunch.” – Christina Merryfield
(pictured: Belgian chocolate mousse and crème brûlée)
“This offers a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, and unsaturated fat with a relatively low salt content and a good amount of fibre. It’s slightly high in calories but that isn’t a bad thing in this kind of good quality, low-GI food that will keep you going all afternoon.” – Jo Travers, The London Nutritionalist
“This hot box is pretty high in fat at 42 grams per portion, and as a result has a lot of calories, at 747 per portion, pushing towards half your recommended daily income. It also has three grams of salt, which is half an adult’s daily limit.” – Jo Travers
“This is a good balance of protein, carbohydrate, and vegetables. It’s low in calories, so if you’re hungry it gives you room to finish up with a yoghurt for dessert!” – Jo Travers
“The bread is pretty high in refined carbs and it contains a lot of fat – in fact it contains around a third of your daily intakes of fat, salt, and saturates. It would probably be OK if you are eating healthily for the rest of the day, but it’s one to avoid if you are going out for a slap-up meal in the evening.” – Jo Travers
“This contains some nice lean protein from the crayfish, some fruit and vegetables, and a tasty low calorie dressing. Pair with a small pot of lentils or brown rice to get some good-quality, slow-release carbohydrate.” – Jo Travers
“This contains nearly three-quarters of your recommended saturated fat intake and half a teaspoon of salt in just one sandwich! The traffic light label is awash with red and orange, so this should only be a once-in-a-while treat.” – Jo Travers
What should you look for overall when choosing a healthy lunch?
“The best options are things that contain a balance of protein, carbohydrate and vegetables,” says Jo Travers. “Try to choose slow-release carbs like whole grains – brown rice, lentils, beans etc – rather than white rice and white bread, as these will keep you fuller for longer.” Travers also advises you “look at the salt content too, as ready-prepared food often has loads of it.” The NHS recommends that we eat no more than six grams of salt, around one teaspoon, per day.
Of course, you’re often in a rush and don’t have time to study the nutritional information on every sandwich you like the look of, so Travers suggests you “check the traffic light labelling if they use it. Red = bad, green and orange = good – as long as it contains both protein (meat, fish, cheese, eggs, tofu) and carbs (grains such as bread, rice, noodles, quinoa).”
So, look for a balance of protein, veg, and carbs that’s low in fat, salt, and sugar, and don’t worry too much about the calories.