Once, while sitting in the cinema, I watched a man in the row in front open a Tupperware box and proceed to eat its contents. I remember initially feeling admiration for that amount of dedication to meal prep. Then the smell, like microwaved cat food hit me, and my feelings toward him quickly changed. Making meals in advance is a good way to build good food habits when you start a new diet, but when sticking to your routine stinks out an entire movie theatre, there are probably better options.
Making lunch at home and bringing it to work means you have much better control over the number of calories and the amount of protein you eat; both pretty useful things to have a handle on during a diet. Sometimes, though, you’re likely going to eat out for lunch, and it’s then that problems occur. Three problems in particular.
- The food on offer all seems to be way too high in calories. You’ve planned this week pretty well, and to make everything work over the 7 days you can’t afford to drop 800 cals on something that’s going to leave you feeling hungry again 60 minutes later.
- All the food looks super low in protein. Not the end of the world as a one-off perhaps, but you’re hitting the gym straight after work and those gains aren’t going to make themselves.
- You want to actually be sociable and eat with people. Even though you’ve planned this to be a lower calorie day so you can eat out over the weekend, you don’t want to be the person that refuses to go, or who sits there not eating while everyone else tucks in.
Luckily for you, common places to grab a quick workday lunch often have options that both keep calories low while providing way more than enough protein. To make life that bit easier for you, I’ve compiled a list of meals at places you might end up at that all come in under 500 calories with more than 25g of protein.
Pret A Manger: Protein box – 376kcal / 38g Protein
If you find yourself on a random workday lunch at Pret and you want to keep things tight, this would be my go-to. Completely ignore the chocolate brownie and pain au raisin at the counter while you pay.
Leon: Chargrilled aioli wrap – 459kcal / 37g Protein
Since being introduced to this wrap by my friend, who is highly knowledgeable in matters of losing weight while still eating out, it’s become a firm favourite. I eat this when I’m out and about a lot and I enjoy it each time. The chicken burger, at 432kcal and 35g protein, is worth a look too.
Nando’s: Chicken butterfly and chargrilled veg 423kcal / 59g Protein
If you can manage not having chips and perinaise just this once, then this is workable. If you feel hard done by afterwards, I recommend waiting until you have a higher calorie day and going back for the sunset burger, that might not be the most helpful advice in the context of this article, so let’s just move on…
Tortilla: Naked burrito with black beans, chicken, cheese, and guac 480kcal / 37g Protein
Ok, so a burrito without the wrap or any rice isn’t really a burrito anymore, but whatever you call it, this is still decent and pretty filling thanks to the chicken and black beans.
Wagamama: Sirloin and shitake salad 434kcal / 53g Protein
As a nutritionist I pride myself on two things;
- Being good at my job
- Not being a dick
Let me explain number 2 a bit more. No one and I mean no one, wants to eat with someone who talks about the number of calories you’re consuming during a meal. The kind of guy who says “are you sure you want that” when you order. The kind of guy who, after you order sticky toffee pudding, makes the waiter hang back while he says “do we need to talk about this” to you (no word of a lie this actually happened).
However, if you actually ask me the number of cals in something, then I’m not going to lie to you. So, in Wagamama one day when I was asked how many calories the chicken katsu curry had after we’d eaten, I told the truth. Before I’d said anything they’d been assuming it was around 600 calories, so when I mentioned it was actually 1,145 cals, they were not impressed. If you want to avoid the same problem, stick to the sirloin and shiitake salad, or chicken harusame glass noodle salad, with 441kcal and 31g protein, instead.
Itsu: Chargrilled chicken udon 434kcal / 29g protein
Not much to say about this one other than the fact that it ticks the boxes we want ticked and tastes pretty good.
Pizza Express: Grand chicken Caesar salad with no dressing 477kcal / 47g Protein
Low-calorie pizzas taste of balsa wood and sadness and don’t even try to sell me on using cauliflower as a base because I’m not buying it. if you’ve got the calorie budget to make pizza work then have at it. If not, save it for another day and have this salad instead.
Low calorie, high-protein meals don’t always have to prepared by you in advance. If you know where to look, you nail an unplanned lunch on the high street without overdoing it.
Want to learn how to fit in huge lunches and drinks on the weekend while still getting leaner each week? Download the Ultimate Flexible Fasting System now, to put your diet on autopilot.