Let's do lunch — the healthy way

healthy lunch

From fast-food restaurants and delis exploding with high-calorie sandwiches to salad bars stocked with high-fat and high-sugar add-ons, lunchtime can be a minefield of temptation for those trying to eat a healthy and balanced diet.

But a healthful — and enjoyable — lunch can be done. These simple tips can help.

Your meal should include lean protein, whole-grain carbohydrates, and produce. Roughly half of your plate should be vegetables or fruit; one-quarter should be lean protein such as fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, or low-fat cottage cheese; and one-quarter should be whole grains, such as one slice of whole-grain bread, or half a cup of brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, or quinoa. You might include a small amount of healthy fat, such as a tablespoon of oil-and-vinegar dressing on your salad.

Salad can be a good way to go, but you need to be careful. Regular salad dressings, cheeses, and salads that are mayonnaise-based (such as tuna, chicken, and egg salads) can contain unhealthy fats, hidden sugar, and salt — not to mention lots of calories. Here's the trick to a healthy and satisfying lunch salad:

Step 1: Build a vegetable base. Load your plate with leafy greens and raw or grilled vegetables.

Step 2: Add some protein. You might try a few scoops of garbanzo or kidney beans, for example. Beans are an excellent source of fiber — and they're filling! Other good selections include grilled chicken, low-fat cottage cheese, or chopped eggs. But go light on any cheese toppings — just a sprinkle of a strongly flavored variety like feta or Parmesan can deliver flavor with fewer calories.

Step 3: Add a small amount of healthy fat. Sprinkle on the nuts and seeds. They are high in heart-healthy unsaturated fat and healthy protein, give you a feeling of fullness, and help food stay in your stomach longer. You might also opt for a dash of oil and vinegar.

Step 4: Whole grains and fruit make a nice addition to a creative salad. Look for whole grains like barley or bulgur wheat to sprinkle on top. Or add a few slices of fruit.

If you want to learn about other effective strategies for healthy eating, buy the 6-Week Plan for Healthy Eating, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.