5 Quick and Delicious Lunches Under 400 Calories

I feel like I need to preface this post with a disclaimer. I am not usually a calorie-counter at all. Counting widgets of energy as I eat is profoundly contrary to the spirit of what I believe about setting a joyful, nourishing table. Food is more than a commodity; eating is so much more than simple consumption of energy.

But I have also been paying attention to the upwards creep of meal portion sizes — both of my own homemade lunches, and those of the average American takeout meal. I created these five lunches out of curiosity — a portion-size scientific experiment, if you will. I just wanted to see what 400 calories would get me. What did it actually look like?

Another disclaimer: 400 calories is no magic number. I chose it almost arbitrarily. A lunch of this size fills me up and keeps me satisfied (I am fairly petite). But I know that lots of people would want more than this for lunch.

So, here's a visual tour through five complete lunches that each come in under 400 calories and that also happen to be easy to pack or whip up for a midday lunch.

5 Quick, Yummy Lunches Under 400 Calories

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  1. Lentils with poached egg plus a cup of cantaloupe - Cook lentils the night before; they last well in the fridge. Then poach an egg in the office microwave to go with them. I also love to buy a melon on Sunday and cut it up for snacking and lunches throughout the week.

    Calorie breakdown:
    • 240 in 1 cup cooked lentils
    • 80 in 1 poached egg (see how to make a poached egg in the microwave)
    • 60 in 1 cup cantaloupe
    Total: 380 calories

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  3. Brown rice with shredded chicken - Brown rice is another great make-ahead starch for lunch. It's nutty and delicious, and it pairs beautifully with leftover chicken. I like to drizzle just a bit of sesame oil over the rice for extra flavor.

    Calorie breakdown:
    • 165 in 3/4 cup cooked brown rice (see how to cook brown rice)
    • 110 1 chicken thigh (about 52g)
    • 40 in 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 70 in 1 nectarine
    Total: 385 calories

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  5. Black beans with lime & avocado plus a banana - The quickest lunch, and vegan too! Just mix a few fresh things together with black beans, and take to work in Tupperware along with an avocado and a banana.

    Calorie breakdown:
    • 135 in 3/4 cup black beans with lime (get recipe here)
    • 150 in 1/2 medium avocado
    • 105 in medium banana
    Total: 390 calories

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  7. Whole wheat tortilla wrap with tuna-cabbage salad plus cherry tomatoes - A quick and easy wrap sandwich with a crisp filling of tuna and cabbage. Take advantage of the cherry tomatoes in the markets right now — so yummy!

    Calorie breakdown:
    • 120 in the whole wheat tortilla
    • 240 in 1 cup tuna-cabbage salad (get recipe here)
    • 30 in the tomatoes
    Total: 390 calories

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  9. Baked sweet potato with yogurt and bacon plus a nectarine - Roast a few sweet potatoes, top with bacon crumbles (yes, bacon!) and then warm up in the microwave at work. Yogurt makes a great complement as well.

    Calorie breakdown:
    • 170 in 1-2 sweet potatoes (200g)
    • 90 in 3 slices bacon, crumbled
    • 20 in 2 tablespoons whole-milk yogurt
    • 70 in 1 nectarine
    Total: 350 calories

Related: 200 Calorie Gallery

(Originally published August 26, 2010)

(Images: Faith Durand)