An all-too-familiar scenario: your healthy meal-prep aspirations—for whatever reason—go out the window. And then you roll that window down even further and order a combination from the drive-through: supersize the fries, please and thank you.
But let’s be real for a second. That high-fat, high-calorie fast food lunch just isn’t cutting it. It will leave you feeling sluggish and, of course, can lead to weight gain and heart problems.
Lunch doesn’t have to go down this way.
That’s why we’ve asked health experts to dish out their fave nutritious lunches for under $7 (because that’s actually less than what you’d be spending in the drive-thru).
Here’s a whole week’s worth of healthy lunches to inspire you.
1. Portobello Mushroom Margherita Pizzas
Enjoy pizza for lunch and still lose weight? You bet, says Christy Brissette, R.D., owner of 80Twenty Nutrition. “Here’s how: slash the calories of regular pizza by 75 percent by using portobello mushroom caps as your crust and light mozzarella cheese.” Dreams do come true. Get Brissette’s recipe here.
The cost: about $4 for two mini pizzas
2. Freekeh Soup with Du Puy Lentils and Kale
Aside from this dish being fun to pronounce, a filling soup can also be great for weight loss. Freekeh-deaky! (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) “Soup helps you lose weight when it’s made with low-calorie broth and plenty of vegetables to fill you up for fewer calories,” Brissette explains. “The lentils and freekeh in this soup pack in enough fiber to keep cravings at bay and the lentils also provide fiber, which can help boost your metabolism.” BTW, freekeh is organic roasted green wheat and the ancient grain has long been used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, Brissette explains. Get Brissette’s recipe here.
The cost: $2.25 for a two-cup serving
3. Chickpea and Avocado Salad
Psst, the cost of lettuce is going up. It’s all good, though, because you can make a tasty and healthy salad with chickpeas. Rebecca Lewis, R.D., at Hello Fresh, shares this easy-to-make recipe: 1/2 can of chickpeas, 1/2 of an avocado, 1 tomato, 1 ounce feta cheese tossed together and spiced up with 1 teaspoon of chili flakes. Add the juice from 1/2 of a lemon and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. “This recipe is a balance of healthy plant-based protein (the chickpeas), plus a dose of fiber as avocados have more fiber than any other fruit or veggie,” Lewis says. The salad, she says, is nutrient-dense and packed with flavor.
The cost: about $5
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4. Sauteed Garlic Zucchini Noodles
You thought pasta was cheap? Zoodles are too! For the uninitiated, zoodles are spiralized zucchini ribbons. By replacing your noodles with zoodles, you’re trading out the empty carbs for nutrients. To make this dish, courtesy of Melissa Eboli, certified nutritional chef and wellness counselor at Via Melissa, you’ll first want to spiralize a zucchini. Then, saute it for two minutes with some garlic and olive oil and sea salt. Then, top it with some walnuts and flax seeds to make it satiating with the added healthy fats, she says. “Zucchini is high in iron, great for energy and it has a high water content,” she says.
The cost: approximately $4 a serving
5. Creamy Vegetable Lentil Soup
Lentils are nutrient-dense and packed with protein. In fact, one cup has 18 grams. This lentil soup recipe, shared by Megan Casper, RDN, on her site Nourished Bite, is combined with other nutrient powerhouses like tomatoes, celery and carrots. It only takes 10 minutes to prep. “This hearty, flavorful lentil soup is packed with both protein and fiber to keep you healthy and satisfied,” Casper says. Plus, lentils have cholesterol-lowering potential, she explains.
The cost: about 50 cents per serving
6. Tuscan Bean Soup
This soup recipe is bulked up with cannellini beans, kale and other fiber-rich veggies. It only has 200 calories per bowl, dishes Joanne Mumola Williams, a Ph.D. nutritionist, author of “Health Begins in the Kitchen” and creator of the food blog Foods For Long Life, who shared the recipe with us. You can see her recipe here. “Make a big pot of this on Sunday and serve for lunch throughout the week,” she says.
The cost: less than $2 per serving
7. Green Bean Pasta
A great way to enjoy pasta? By bulking up your dish with healthy veggies. This recipe is shared by Slimming World, a healthy eating program that helps members select foods that are filling, but low in calories. (There’s still room for indulgences in the plan.) This colorful penne pasta dish is mixed with green beans, plum tomatoes, chilies and fennel seeds. The green beans and fennel seeds have a high fiber content to help power you through the day. Get the recipe here.
The cost: It comes out to about $2 a serving.