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Foods

Five Fast Food-Inspired, Weight Loss-Friendly Lunches You Can Make at Home

Five Fast Food-Inspired, Weight Loss-Friendly Lunches You Can Make at Home
Author
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Fast food for lunch makes perfect sense. It lets you continue on with your day without much of an interruption. It tastes fantastic. And with drive-thrus, you do not even need to get out of your car to get your meal! That may explain why 43% of American adults have fast food for lunch on a given day.

But that fast food habit can take a toll on your waistline. Choices are often high in calories, fat, and carbs. And they may leave you hungry or with cravings by mid-afternoon.

The following meals can give you a healthier option. They are similar to orders you might make at a fast food joint, but they are far healthier. And they are easy to prepare, too.

These meals have about 400 to 500 calories each. And they can help you get more green badges in Lark when you keep your other meals nutritious, balanced, and calorie-controlled, too! Remember to log your meals to get feedback and to get more green badges! And be sure to check with your doctor before trying any new meal plan or diet!

Burger and Fries


Veggie burger

What is the most classic fast food meal? A burger and fries may be the first choice for millions of Americans. You can have yours, too! Just make them a lot healthier! Adding grated zucchini and tomato paste to the ground turkey keeps it juicy while adding nutrients. You can make the sweet potato fries ahead of time, or slice zucchini into “fry” shapes ahead of time. If you want a vegan recipe, just use vegetable protein instead of ground turkey – or choose a veggie burger patty for an instantly ready burger!

Serves 1

Ingredients for burger

  • 2 tablespoons of diced onion
  • (Optional) 1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced 
  • 2 tablespoons of grated zucchini
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 3 ounces of lean ground turkey
  • 1 whole-grain hamburger bun

Topping ideas for burger

  • fat-free or low-fat cheese single or slice of low-fat cheese
  • tomato slice, lettuce leaves, onion slice
  • Baked portobello mushroom
  • Onion rings cooked with sliced mushrooms 
  • Roasted eggplant or bell pepper slices
  • Yellow, deli brown, or dijon mustard 

Ingredients for fries

  • 1 small zucchini, sliced into thick or thin “french fry” shapes
  • ½ medium sweet potato (about ½ cup), sliced into “french fry” shapes
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • Salt, garlic salt, or seasoned salt to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet.
  2. Toss the sweet potatoes and zucchini with the olive oil and salt. Spread the fries on the sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until softened.
  3. Mix the onion, garlic (if using), zucchini, tomato paste, and ground turkey thoroughly in a bowl. 
  4. Form a patty shape. 
  5. Heat cooking spray in a pan and cook the patty for 5 to 8 minutes on each side, or until no longer pink in the center.
  6. Place on a bun with optional condiments and fillings. Serve with the fries.

Variations

  • Gluten-free: Use a lettuce wrap or gluten-free bread instead of a bun, or put your burger on ⅓ cup of cooked brown rice or quinoa.
  • Low-carb: Use carrot sticks or extra zucchini instead of sweet potato for the baked “fries,” and skip the bun. Instead, add a slice of low-fat cheese to make it a cheeseburger, and serve it in a lettuce wrap.
  • Vegan (plant-based): Use a veggie burger, soy protein, or falafel instead of ground turkey.
  • Fun swaps: Any type of non-starchy vegetable can be great for fries. Green beans and asparagus are super easy to roast. You can flavor the fries with garlic powder, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, fresh rosemary, or Italian herbs.

Your-Way Burrito Bowl


Burrito Bowl

A burrito is definitely a satisfying grab-and-go meal, but it may not be the healthiest lunch. If you make your own burrito bowl, you can cut back on calories, carbs, and fat, while boosting fiber and antioxidants. You can have the flavors you crave in a satisfying bowl without the post-lunch lethargy that a beef and rice burrito may cause. 

You can throw this bowl together the night before and take it for lunch in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Or you can just prep the ingredients in advance and put them together on the spot at lunchtime.

Just mix and match your favorite ingredients from these choices. Aim for 3 to 5 total choices from the first three columns, and as many vegetables as you like from the last column. Put your faves into a container with an airtight lid, and lunch is ready when you are!

Serves 1

Ingredients and Directions

Pick 1 or 2 of these high-fiber carbs: Pick 1 or 2 of these lean proteins: Add 1 to 2 of these nutritious fats: Load up your bowl with these vegetables:
  • ⅓ cup of cooked brown rice
  • ½ cup of fresh or cooked frozen corn kernels
  • ¾ cup of cooked butternut or acorn squash
  • ½ small whole-grain tortilla, toasted
  • ½ cup of low-sodium black, pinto, or fat-free refried beans
  • 3 ounces of cooked lean ground turkey, shredded chicken, or cooked fish with Mexican spices
  • 1 ounce of shredded low-fat jack or cheddar cheese
  • 2 slices of avocado
  • 2 tablespoons of pepitas or toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Grilled zucchini or bell pepper slices
  • Chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
  • Chopped cucumber
  • Freshly chopped cilantro
  • Diced onion
  • Chopped romaine lettuce

Variations

  • Gluten-free: Avoid a whole-wheat tortilla.
  • Low-carb: Limit higher-carb choices in the first column, and choose an additional item or two from the protein or fat column.
  • Dairy-free: Use soy cheese or skip the cheese.
  • Vegan (plant-based): skip the ground turkey or use vegetable protein or soy protein (TVP or TSP) instead, and omit the cheese or use soy or another vegan cheese substitute instead.

Greek Pita Pocket


A Greek diet may be traditionally healthy, but a gyro sandwich, with red meat on an oversized white pita, may not be the best. This recipe puts the “Mediterranean” back into Greek food to give you heart-healthy nutrients. You can use a small whole-grain tortilla or wrap instead of pita if you like.

Ingredients: 

  • 3 ounces of salmon
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • ¼ cup of sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons of yogurt
  • Dash of garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon of dried dill weed
  • 1 whole-wheat pita, in halves
  • ½ cup of chopped tomatoes

Directions

  • Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil onto the salmon. Bake the salmon at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until it flakes with a fork.
  • Mix yogurt, onion, garlic powder, and dill weed in a bowl.
  • Spread the yogurt mixture on the inside of each pita half. 
  • Flake the salmon apart and add half of it to each sandwich.
  • Add the tomatoes.

Variations

  • Gluten-free: use a gluten-free, whole-grain wrap or bread, or turn it into a bowl and add ⅓ cup of cooked quinoa or brown rice, ½ cup of lentils, or ½ cup of cooked sweet potato cubes instead of pita.
  • Low-carb: Turn it into a salad by putting the salmon mixture on a bed of lettuce. Turn the yogurt mixture into a dressing by adding another 2 teaspoons of olive oil and another squeeze of lemon juice (or to taste).
  • Vegan (plant-based): swap the yogurt, garlic powder, and dill weed for 2 tablespoons of hummus. Use falafel (from frozen or dry mix), a veggie burger, or baked eggplant or zucchini with 2 tablespoons of chopped cashews instead of the salmon and olive oil.
  • Fun Swaps: Try it with 3 ounces of skinless chicken, 2 ounces of sliced low-fat mozzarella cheese, or 3 ounces of canned tuna or cooked fresh fish instead of salmon.

Tuna Salad Sandwich and Chips

Tuna Salad Sandwich

A simple sandwich and bag of chips can be a surprisingly disastrous choice. It may have carcinogenic processed deli meat or mayo-laden tuna salad, and fatty spreads. And the bread? A sub roll can have 3 to 5 servings of refined starch! That doesn’t even count the chips you may add to your order. In total, a tuna salad and chips from a sandwich joint or cafe can total over 1,000 calories.

You don’t have to give up your favorite go-to, though! A few smart changes can boost fiber and slash calories, carbohydrates, and fat. Our tuna salad sandwich has healthy fats, a smaller portion of whole-grain bread, and tons of vegetables. On the side, try easy-to-make veggie chips.

The tuna salad in this recipe serves 4. You can put the rest of the salad away in the fridge or freezer if you do not use it for a sandwich that day.

Ingredients

Tuna Salad Sandwich

  • 2 5-ounce cans of tuna in water
  • ½ medium ripe avocado, mashed
  • ½ apple, diced
  • ¼ cup of red onion, minced
  • ½ cup of celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh dill weed, chopped (or 1 teaspoon of dried dill)
  • 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
  • Unlimited optional toppings: lettuce, tomato slices, spinach leaves, sprouts, cucumber slices, bell pepper rings
  • 2 slices of whole-grain bread

Veggie Chips

  • 1 cup of shredded kale or napa cabbage, or thinly sliced vegetables, such as zucchini, yellow squash, fennel, eggplant, carrots, radishes, or turnips.
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet.
  • Toss the vegetables with olive oil. Place on the cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Drain the tuna but reserve the juice.
  • Mix the tuna, avocado, apple, red onion, celery, dill, and mustard well. Add reserved tuna water if needed to thin it out. 
  • Spread onto a slice of bread and add vegetable toppings.
  • Serve the sandwich with the veggie chips.

Variations

  • Gluten-free:  chose brown rice bread or other whole-grain, gluten-free bread
  • Low-carb: Keep it as a salad instead of putting the tuna on bread. 
  • Vegan (plant-based): Mix 1 ½ cups of mashed garbanzo beans with garlic powder instead of using tuna
  • Fun swaps: Canned salmon, cooked chicken, hard-boiled egg whites, and tofu are all great choices instead of tuna. You can put your tuna salad on a whole-grain mini bagel or stuff it into a whole-grain pita or wrap. And any veggies can be used for toppings or fillings. If you do not want to take the time to bake veggie chips, just use ready-to-eat raw veggies such as baby carrots or grape tomatoes.

English Muffin Pizza


English Muffin Pizza

What could be better than pizza? What about pizza without guilt? It takes less time to make your own healthy pizza than it does to order it, and way less time to work it off! You can use any whole-grain base or if you are low-carb-ing it, a portobello mushroom or sliced eggplant works fine, too. You can round out this meal with some fruit or a small salad.

Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 1 whole-wheat pita or 2 whole-grain English muffin halves
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons of pizza or tomato sauce (with less than 2 grams of added sugar)
  • 2 ounces of fat-free mozzarella cheese
  • Vegetables: bell pepper rings, chopped onion, sliced mushrooms, chopped tomatoes, spinach, basil, diced cauliflower or broccoli, or any other vegetables
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Optional extra protein: anchovies, 1 ounce of feta cheese, or 2 ounces of cooked diced skinless chicken
  • Optional herbs: fresh basil, dried thyme, dried oregano

Directions

  • Spread the sauce on the English muffin.
  • Top with the cheese.
  • Distribute the vegetables evenly on top.
  • Drizzle with olive oil.
  • Add any optional extra protein and herbs.
  • Bake the pizza in an oven or toaster oven at 350 degrees for 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Variations

  • Gluten-free: Use a portobello mushroom or gluten-free whole-grain bread for a crust instead of a whole-wheat English muffin.
  • Low-carb: Use a portobello mushroom, sliced eggplant rounds, or zucchini boats instead of an English muffin as the base.
  • Vegan (plant-based): Try vegan (soy or almond-based) instead of mozzarella cheese, and consider adding meatless chicken pieces or meatless sausage as a topping.
  • Fun swaps: Sliced whole-grain bread is an easy swap for the English muffin. You can also swap out the tomato sauce and add basil and fresh tomatoes, or a drizzle of olive oil with garlic, instead. You can even make this in a bowl by using ½ cup of whole-grain pasta instead of an English muffin.