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5 Easy-to-Pack Lunches Under 500 Calories (That Cost $8.50 or Less)

author image Greg Presto
Greg Presto is a sports and fitness reporter and video guy in Washington, D.C., who thinks fitness should be fun and an adventure, whether you're on a trail, in the gym, or on the living room floor. He's done work for "Men's Health," "Women's Health," "Shape," "Prevention," "Reebok," "USA Today" and others.
5 Easy-to-Pack Lunches Under 500 Calories (That Cost $8.50 or Less)
Bringing a satisfying salad to work doesn't need to be a chopping-and-mixing morning chore. Photo Credit NatashaPhoto/iStock/Getty Images


Lose weight. Eat healthier. Save money. Pay down debt.

Each year, these are cited among the top 10 most common resolutions made by Americans … and often, later listed among those that aren't met.

This is the year you keep your resolutions. By making your own lunch instead of getting take-out, you’ll save both money and calories. These five lunches are easy to pack, so you'll actually make them, and they taste delicious, so you’ll enjoy eating them. Plus, they're all less than 500 calories, to help you maintain a healthy weight. And they're not just lean--each includes a secret nutritional superstar that will make your eating of higher quality, too.

There's no chopping, no measuring, and no cooking at home. Oh, and there's nary a boring sandwich in the bunch. So pack up and resolve to succeed.

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Magic Microwave Pad Thai (for about $5)

Six-for-a-buck ramen packages may be the lifeblood of twenty-somethings, and the nightmare of cardiologists--but it's the seasoning that's packed with salt, not the noodles. Try mixing unseasoned noodles with your favorite jarred Asian sauces, canned vegetables, and precooked meats, and you've got unlimited ways to have something other than a sandwich at your desk.

This version of pad thai packs all of the flavor for less than 500 calories, and leaves you with leftover spinach to munch on as a salad the next day.

NUTRITIONAL POWER PUNCH: The yolk of your egg is packed with choline, a nutrient that can help keep your liver from depositing fat.

You'll need:

- One (1) package ramen noodles (any flavor)

- One (1) 14-ounce can La Choy bean sprouts (or similar)

- One (1) 4-ounce can mushroom stems and pieces

- One (1) jar Thai Kitchen Original Pad Thai Sauce (or similar)

- One (1) hard-boiled egg

- One (1) package baby spinach leaves

- Can opener

- Microwave-safe container

- Knife or fork

To make it:

1. Prepare the noodles according to package directions, but don't mix in the spice packet.

2. Open and drain the mushrooms. Open the bean sprouts.

3. Slice the egg into pieces.

4. Drain the broth from the noodles. Add the mushrooms, a small handful of spinach leaves and two teaspoons of the sauce, and mix thoroughly.

5. Add egg and as many bean sprouts as you like.

Total calories (as prepared): 439

Total cost (as prepared): $5.09

The Big Good-Fats No-Chop Greek Salad (for about $8)

Bringing a satisfying salad to work doesn't need to be a chopping-and-mixing morning chore … and it doesn't have to be soggy by noon. Bring a few small containers and you can make this surprisingly easy Greek salad that's as packed with flavor as the ones you buy for $12 or more at a fancy salad takeout restaurant.

NUTRITIONAL POWER PUNCH: You already know all those olives are good for you. But the Romaine's not just empty filler: Two cups of these greens provides more than 100 percent of your daily recommended value of Vitamin A.

You'll need:

- One (1) bag pre-chopped Romaine lettuce

- One (1) 8-ounce tub feta cheese crumbles

- Two (2) roasted red peppers from grocery store olive bar

- Six (6) pitted olives from grocery store olive bar

- A little extra juice from the olive bar (for dressing the salad)

- One (1) package grape tomatoes

- Salad bowl

To make it:

1. Mix half of the cheese crumbles with all of the other ingredients.

Total calories (as prepared): 346

Total cost (as prepared): $7.99

Two-Minute Rice and Beans (for $3.78)

This combo's a staple for a reason--rice and beans complement one another to give your body a complete protein without a shred of meat. And you can have it at work--not reheated, but fresh from the kitchen microwave--in just two minutes. Try it over a half-bag of pre-cut Romaine for an easy salad, or eat it alone for a satisfying, spicy meal.

NUTRITIONAL POWER PUNCH: You already know they're packed with fiber and protein, but black beans also have another b: B vitamins. One serving contains 64 percent of your recommended daily intake of folate, and 28 percent of your B1.

You'll need:

- One (1) Minute Rice Ready to Serve! Brown Rice bowl (or similar)

- One (1) 15.5-ounce can black beans

- One (1) 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with zesty mild green chiles

- Can opener

- Microwave-safe container

To make it:

1. Prepare the rice according to package directions.

2. While the rice cooks, open the black beans and tomatoes. Pour half of each can (with the liquids) into the container; discard the rest of both. Add a squirt of water to top it off.

3. When the rice is finished, microwave the bean/tomato mixture for one minute.

4. Mix the rice with the beans and tomatoes. If there's salsa or sour cream in your office fridge, mix in a dollop of each.

Total calories (as prepared): 448

Total cost (as prepared): $3.18

Tuna Melt Without the Mixing (for $3.79)

OK, so there's ONE sandwich, but it's not a boring ham-and-cheese. Get your gooey cheesy fix without all the mixing with this microwaveable tuna melt.

NUTRITIONAL POWER PUNCH: Tuna's packed with protein and omega-3s--this you know. But it's also got loads of potassium, an essential mineral for heart and muscle health--and it can help lower blood pressure, too.

You'll need:

- One (1) English muffin

- One (1) Starkist Tuna Salad lunch-to-go (or similar pre-mixed tuna salad pouch)

- One (1) mozzarella string cheese

- Microwave-safe plate

To make it:

1. Open the tuna package, discarding the crackers (or saving them to crumble in your homemade soup). Put the tuna on the plate.

2. Tear the cheese into pieces, and top it as strings on the tuna.

3. Toast the English muffin.

4. Microwave the tuna for just long enough to melt the cheese.

5. Spread the tuna and cheese on the muffin.

Total calories (as prepared): 370

Total cost (as prepared): $3.79

The World's Fastest Homemade Soup (and it's just 376 calories)

Soup from a can's got a ton of problems—it’s loaded with sodium, is low on nutrition (especially filling protein), and most important, the broth usually resembles the contents of a runny nose.

You can do better, and you don't even need a stove. Just buy a rotisserie chicken the night before, and tear off a bunch of the meat. Bring it to work with the other ingredients listed, and you can have chicken taco soup in a matter of minutes.

You'll need:

- 4 ounces rotisserie chicken meat, without skin (about the size of your palm)

- One (1) 14.5-ounce can corn kernels in water

- One (1) 15.5-ounce can chicken broth (low sodium)

- One (1) 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with zesty mild green chiles

- Three or four tortilla chips, crumbled

- Can opener

- Microwave-safe container


- One (1) small container pre-diced onions (find them near the fresh salsas in the grocery store)

To make it:

1. Drain the corn and tomatoes.

2. In the container, mix the broth and chicken. Add in half of the corn, half the tomatoes, the onions, and tortilla chips. Discard the rest of the tomatoes and corn (or save them for beans and rice).

3. Microwave the mixture on high for 2-3 minutes.

Total calories (as prepared): 376

Total cost (as prepared): $8.50 (but that includes the whole chicken!)

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