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What to Eat in the Company Caf

It's noon. You're starving, but you didn't pack a lunch, and you don't have time to leave the building for a meal. That's when the company's in-house cafeteria beckons.

As today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column demonstrates, you've got to make the most of every meal if you want to get all your day's nutrients without taking in too many calories. Packing a lunch is obviously the best way to make your midday meal both nutritious and delicious; it's also cheaper and faster than eating out.

In-house cafeterias aren't always bastions of healthful dining. Yesterday, I toured the Washington Post's cafeteria -- which seems pretty typical -- with Fairfax registered dietitian Danielle Omar, who helped me navigate the food options with an eye toward assembling a healthful meal.

Here are some of her tips:

  • In general: Try to fill half of your lunch plate with fresh greens or fruit; divide the other half between protein - preferably something lean like grilled chicken or fish -- and carbs.

  • Deli station: Avoid the tuna and egg salads and any other "salad" featuring mayonnaise, which usually is of the full-fat variety. If you need cheese, make it Swiss -- all those holes keep the calories and fat down. Be aware that deli meat is almost always high in sodium, so you'll have to adjust the rest of your day's intake. Choose hummus as a spread; take advantage of nutritional "freebies" such as tomato, cucumber, sprouts, pickles and peppers. Stick with whole-grain bread (including rye and pumpernickel); shun the huge wraps, Kaiser and sub rolls, ciabatta and croissants.

  • Salad bar: "It's the fat that adds up," notes Omar, who recommends choosing a single fat - avocado, nuts, seeds or cheese -- and skipping others. Pick spinach and dark greens if they're available. Avoid croutons and thick gloppy dressings; use packaged "light" varieties if they're available -- or bring your own from home. Load up on beans, beets and broccoli. If you want eggs, eat just the whites -- unless the eggs are your only lunchtime protein. Ask the cafeteria manager to swap full-fat cottage cheese for low-fat. Grab some fresh whole fruit if it's offered.

  • Pizza: Eat just one slice of cheese- or vegetable-topped pie and round out your meal with a salad.

  • Burgers: "You know they're using high-fat meat," Omar says. Best bet: a turkey burger. Shun sloppy joes.

  • Soup: Clear-broth-based is best, but even a creamy variety won't do too much damage if you have just a small portion. Look for lentil or bean soups; pair them with half a sandwich and save the other half for later. Skip chili -- unless it's vegetarian.

  • Chips and snacks: If you must, at least go for whole-grain chips or baked potato chips; mini rice cakes are okay, too. Avoid 100-calorie snacks, Omar suggests: They're meager and unsatisfying.

  • The beverage: Make it non-caloric. Water is best. And it's free!
  • What are you having for lunch today? Did you put much thought or planning into it?

    By Nancy Szokan  |  April 14, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
    Categories:  General Health , Nutrition and Fitness  
    Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: A Most Unusual Lunch: Placenta
    Next: What's Really Good for Your Heart?


    So-called rye or pumpernickel bread is not going to be whole grain. Certainly not in a cafeteria. It'll be refined wheat flour, no rye flour, and a few caraway seeds. Just read the list of ingredients on any supermarket package of ordinary "rye" bread, and you'll see how mislabeled it is.

    If you want whole-grain rye or pumpernickel bread of any sort, you'll have to make it yourself. And check the flour label before buying it to be sure it's whole grain.

    Posted by: karen-in-hawaii | April 14, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

    Our "Company cafeteria" is a couple of vending machines. Too many unhealthy people at my office, smokers, obesity, and no one has a thought on how to improve. Shame.

    Posted by: ncorr | April 14, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

    What's you obsession with naturally occurring fats? Mayo in moderation is better for you than low-fat mayo because in order to make it low-fat and not taste awful it is processed and adulterated.

    Mayo recipe:

    Low-fat mayo Recipe:
    egg white
    microcrystalline cellulose

    Take you pick. I choose mayo.

    Posted by: MzFitz | April 15, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

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