3 Summer Lunch Ideas Under 500 Calories

If you’ve ever tried counting your calories, you know it can be exhausting—especially if you’re limiting yourself to what you can and cannot eat to stay within your calorie “limit.” No matter the reason for counting calories, there’s absolutely no reason to deprive yourself of the nutrients your body needs to fuel itself for the rest of your day—or at least until dinner.

To help those of you who are watching calories this summer, we asked Tracy Lockwood, a celebrity registered dietitian in New York City and founder of Tracy Lockwood Nutrition, for some new low-calorie lunch recipes. Here are her favorite options, but remember when it comes to eating and working out, “listen to your body, and eat intuitively—it knows what it needs,” says Lockwood.

Vegetarian taco salad

If you’re trying to cut back on calories but can’t quite cut out tacos, this is the perfect recipe for you. In total, this recipe makes six servings, meaning you can use it to easily meal prep for the week, share with friends at the office or bring it to a weekend cookout.

“Each individual serving provides 208 calories, 12 grams of fat, eight grams of fiber, 22 grams of carbs and five grams of protein,” says Lockwood. “For added protein, chicken can be a great addition.”

There are two essential parts to the salad, both simple and quick to make.

The first part is the vinaigrette. For this, you’ll need one cup of fresh pico de gallo (or salsa), three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, two teaspoons of raw honey, ¾ teaspoons of sea salt, ¼ teaspoon of chili powder and a pinch of ground black pepper. Combine these ingredients into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

The second part is the salad. To make, you’ll need eight cups of chopped romaine lettuce, one can (15 ounces) of unsalted pinto beans, one cup of thinly sliced radishes, one-third of a cup of fresh, finely chopped cilantro, one avocado cut into cubes and one ounce of crumbled whole grain tortilla chips.

Prepare your salad by mixing all of the ingredients into a large serving bowl (or Tupperware if you’re packing your lunch or meal prepping), add in the vinaigrette (if you’re packing for later, you might want to put it in a smaller container and add it to the salad later to prevent the salad from getting soggy), garnish with a tortilla and enjoy!

Gluten-free cauliflower pizza

No matter how much we would like to, eating pizza for lunch every day isn’t the best idea. But this cauliflower pizza offers a healthier, delicious alternative. 

Just like the vegetarian taco salad, this recipe is perfect for meal prepping or sharing. Two slices come in at about 213 calories, seven grams of protein, 11 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbs and six grams of fiber.

To make, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and gather the ingredients: three cups of coarsely chopped cauliflower, one tablespoon of olive oil, ¼ teaspoon of sea salt, one-eighth teaspoon of ground black pepper, ¼ cup of ground flaxseed meal, ¼ cup of brown rice flour, ¼ cup of arrowroot flour, two tablespoons of nutritional yeast, about half a teaspoon of garlic powder and two tablespoons of tahini paste.

“In a food processor, pulse the cauliflower until it has created fine, rice-like bits. Then, transfer into a bowl and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Spread cauliflower on a prepared baking sheet and roast 20 minutes, tossing halfway through and smoothing back out on baking sheet,” says Lockwood.

After you roast the cauliflower, combine the flaxseed meal, rice flour, arrowroot, yeast and garlic powder in a large bowl. Add the cooked cauliflower and toss to combine. In a small bowl, whisk together tahini and 2 tablespoons of water. Add the tahini mixture to cauliflower, then knead by hand to create a compact ball, Lockwood says.

Next, place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Place the cauliflower ball on top, then lay a second piece of parchment paper on top of the ball. Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll the ball into a 9-inch circle. Put it in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the edges are crispy.

Once you remove the crust from the oven, add your desired toppings. Lockwood suggests pesto, zucchini, mushrooms, pine nuts, tomatoes, cheese and red onion. After topping your pizza, put it back in the oven for about five minutes to heat it, then eat it!

Avocado chicken salad

To make a low-cal, simple chicken salad, you will need ¼ of an avocado, two tablespoons of plain yogurt, one teaspoon of lemon juice, ¾ cup of pre-cooked shredded chicken, a slice of tomato, a handful of lettuce and one whole wheat English muffin.

Once you gather the ingredients, mash together the avocado, yogurt and lemon juice until it’s mixed well. Add the chicken, keep mixing, then serve on top of the English muffin (toasted or untoasted, either works!) and garnish with the tomato and lettuce.

This comes in at about 425 calories and 39.6 grams of protein, 14.9 grams of fat and 8.3 grams of fiber. Talk about a power lunch.

Chelsea Dowling works in consumer public relations in Chicago. She loves coffee, friends, Golden Doodles and chips and salsa (in no particular order). Her ideal day starts with a walk along Lake Michigan and ends with either a HIIT class or homemade Old Fashioned.