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Healthy Lunch Ideas for Eating Out

By Natalie Stein

Whether it is for a business meeting or a casual get-together with friends or family, you might find yourself wondering what to order for lunch in a restaurant. Most restaurants have plenty of healthy options that are low in calories and high in nutrients, and you can take advantage of the fact that many restaurants are willing to accept special requests as you order your meal. In addition to ordering healthful options, watch your portion size -- accidentally eating several portions in one sitting can boost your calorie, fat and sodium intake.

Salad

A big lettuce-based salad can be a low-calorie, filling and nutritious lunch idea for when you eat out, as long as you limit the fatty toppings. A salad with romaine lettuce or other greens, such as spinach, will have more nutrients, such as vitamin A and iron, than a salad with iceberg lettuce. Include a variety of vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, sprouts and mushrooms to increase the fiber and vitamins in your salad. The Linus Pauling Institute recommends eating nuts and seeds multiple times per week for their healthy unsaturated fats, magnesium and dietary fiber, and many restaurants offer choices such as walnuts, pecans, almonds and sunflower seeds. Be careful not to accidentally increase the saturated fat content of your salad by getting it with extras, such as croutons or crispy noodles, large amounts of cheese, bacon or fried chicken strips. Ask for a light dressing to keep the calories and fat lower, and get it dressing on the side

Soup

Many soups are healthy lunch possibilities at restaurants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests choosing a clear or broth-based soup rather than a soup with cheese or cream such as broccoli and cheese, clam chowder or cream of chicken mushroom. A soup with vegetables provides vitamins and fiber, and helps to fill you up without adding many calories. You can also choose soups with legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, to increase the fiber and protein in your meal. Some possible soup choices are minestrone, chicken with vegetables, tomato or lentil. Soups often come with breadsticks, croutons or garlic bread. These are often made with butter and are high in fat, and you might want to limit your portions of these or ask for a small package of fat free crackers instead.

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Sandwich

When you eat out, a sandwich and the sides that come with it can be a healthy meal. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, people who eat more whole grains instead of refined grains are less likely to have coronary heart disease, so ask for your sandwich on whole grain bread instead of white bread. Avoid fatty meats and cheeses because they are high in saturated fat, and instead choose a lean protein source, such as turkey breast or grilled chicken or fish, or a healthy spread such as hummus made with garbanzo beans. The American Heart Association recommends asking for plenty of vegetables, and getting ketchup or mustard while skipping the mayonnaise or other creamy sauces.

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