A dietitian’s top picks for healthy local lunch spots

Kait Fortunato, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – A lot of nutrition articles dish out the importance of packing your lunch when heading to work. Preparing and bagging your own lunch gives you more control over what you eat and helps you ward off temptation from less healthy options close to your office.

While I am a supporter of packing a healthy, satisfying lunch, there is something to be said for taking a break and going out for lunch every once in a while.

For starters, going out for lunch can be a stress reliever. Rather than eating at your desk, you can get some fresh air and perhaps spend time with a friend or co- worker outside the office.

Grabbing the occasional bite to eat also helps add variety to your meals so you don’t get bored and overeat later in the day.

And contrary to popular belief, it is very possible to make healthy choices, especially in the D.C. area where new and health-conscious restaurants open every week.

Here are some of my favorite D.C.-area lunch spots, and my picks for a healthy, balanced meal.

Sweet Green: I love Sweet Green for more than its nutritionally dense salads — Sweet Green supports local farmers and uses organic ingredients, as well.

This beloved D.C. spot also rotates in seasonal ingredients and new menu items to keep the menu dynamic. I am currently loving the District Cobb, which is full of protein, like grilled chicken and hard-boiled egg, healthy fats (avocado) and nutritionally-dense veggies, such as the kale base.

Another favorite menu option is the Spicy Sabzi, a fiery and satisfying vegetarian salad that uses quinoa for fiber and protein.

Starbucks: Starbucks is a great option if you are pressed for time, since the coffee shop has most lunches ready to go.

The Bistro Boxes at Starbucks are great for variety if you are tired of the typical salad or sandwich. The boxes have a nice blend of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and protein to help keep you full.

Buyer beware: don’t be tempted by the menu’s sugary coffee beverages. A sweet, steamy latte is fine as a fun treat in moderation, but not as a lunch option. Despite the caffeine content, sweetened beverages can leave you feeling tired in the afternoon.

Whole Foods Market: Shopping at Whole Foods for a week’s worth of healthy groceries is wonderful, but the store is sometimes overlooked as a convenient lunch spot.

The salad bar and hot bar are great options for a satisfying lunch. Here’s a tip: Fill your plate with a base of vegetables to optimize the amount of fiber and nutrients in your lunch. Then add a serving of whole grain carbohydrates — such as quinoa, beans, sweet potatoes or whole wheat noodles — and top it off with a source of protein or healthy fats. I also love using hummus as my dressing.

Chipotle: Another responsibly-sourced restaurant that takes pride in serving “food with integrity,” is very easy to find in the region.

And while the burritos at Chipotle tend to leave us feeling overly stuffed, the burrito bowls are great for maximizing flavor, without leaving you weighed down.

Start your bowl out with a base of brown rice or lettuce. Then fill it with a source of protein, such as chicken or beans. Add in salsa to your liking for extra flavor, and top the bowl with guacamole for some healthy fats.

These bowls are filling and full of flavor — perfect to help you power through your afternoon.

Roti: Roti, a Mediterranean-focused grill, has a menu filled with flavorful foods and dependable, quality ingredients.

For a healthy lunch, I love the pita pockets or the salad topped with chicken kabobs, which are full of flavor and are very tender. If you don’t eat meat, you can fill your selection with fresh vegetables. Everything can be topped off with a yogurt-based sauce and sides, such as red cabbage slaw, Spanish eggplant and hummus. Eating here will help you look forward to lunch.

Jamba Juice: Often times my clients who are pressed for time, or those who are not that hungry, want to grab a quick smoothie as a meal alternative.

Having a blended lunch can be a good option if you choose wisely. Be careful to get a smoothie made solely of fruit and juice. Any additional sugar can cause you to crash later in the day or get hungry again soon.

I like to choose from the “Fit

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