As the weather turns, it’s time to swap summer salads for something more warming, and the High Street has a range of new seasonal lunch options. But which is the healthiest?
CAROLINE JONES asked Azmina Govindji, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, to assess a selection.
We then rated them — with some surprising results.
EAT SPICY & SMOKY BEAN CHILLI – 8/10
EAT SPICY & SMOKY BEAN CHILLI
From £5.95. Per 360g serving: Calories, 319; saturated fat, 0.5g; protein, 11g; sugar, 7.7g; salt, 2.3g
EXPERT VERDICT: Made with sweet potato and red peppers and served with red, brown and wild rice, this provides 8.3g fibre — almost a third of your daily needs, which helps with digestion. Brown and wild rice are more slowly digested than white, while red rice contains antioxidants — compounds that help defend cells against damage.
The brightly coloured vegetables have a range of nutrients, including vitamin C from the red pepper, vital for keeping skin and blood vessels healthy, and beta-carotene from the sweet potato, which helps your immune system function. It’s also suitable for vegans and low in saturated fat.
CAFFE NERO ROASTED BUTTERNUT & BALSAMIC RED ONION TARTLET – 3/10
CAFFE NERO ROASTED BUTTERNUT & BALSAMIC RED ONION TARTLET
£3.95. Per 140g serving: Calories, 297; saturated fat, 9.9g; protein, 7.6g; sugar, 4.6g; salt, 0.6g
EXPERT VERDICT: The good news is that butternut squash is the first ingredient on the list — the highest-quantity ingredient — and its bright orange colour provides beta-carotene, which is important for vision and a healthy immune system.
However, you’re unlikely to feel full after eating this, as there’s very little fibre (less than 2g per tartlet), and it’s a pretty small portion of food — so think about adding a mixed salad with some protein such as nuts, as well as wholegrain carbohydrates such as a granary bread roll, to make this more balanced.
A serving of this provides half a woman’s daily limit of saturated fat, so don’t butter the bread, if you add it.
GREGGS CREAMY CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE SOUP – 4/10
GREGGS CREAMY CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE SOUP
From £1.90. Per 300g serving: Calories, 129; saturated fat, 0.3g; protein, 8.1g; sugar, 6.9g; salt, 1.5g
EXPERT VERDICT: Studies suggest that soup can fill you up more than solid foods, but, even if you’re watching your weight, this creamy chicken breast and chunky vegetable soup is far too low in fat, sugar and calories for a main meal.
Yet this serving still provides a quarter of your maximum salt intake for the day. Have it with a wholegrain sandwich with some protein in it, such as cheese or fish, and some fresh fruit, to make it a more filling and varied option.
COSTA RED THAI CURRY POT – 6/10
COSTA RED THAI CURRY POT
From £3.95. Per 275g pot: Calories, 285; saturated fat, 6g; protein, 5.4g; sugar, 6.6g; salt, 1.5g
EXPERT VERDICT: The good news is that, for a meal made with coconut milk, this is not too high in saturated fat. There’s a colourful mix of babycorn, red pepper, green beans and spinach — providing vitamin C, which contributes to healthy skin and blood vessels, and vitamin A, helping to keep your immune system working properly, as well as fibre.
But there is not enough veg to provide even one of your five-a-day.
White rice and red curry sauce make up 87 per cent of this meal, and there’s very little protein — just 5.4g. Compare that with a chicken breast (30g to 40g), or half a can of kidney beans (more than 9g).
LEON LENTIL MASALA – 8/10
LEON LENTIL MASALA
£4.95. Per 363g serving: Calories, 463; saturated fat, 9g; protein, 12g; sugar, 4g; salt, 2.2g
EXPERT VERDICT: Lentils are a nutritious, vegan source of protein, and research suggests they can help keep blood sugar levels steady — particularly important if you have type 2 diabetes.
This dish also contains carrots, butternut squash and kale — all sources of nutrients including beta-carotene and iron.
With brown rice as the first ingredient, I would have hoped for more fibre (you get around 5g), but the good news is more than half of the fat is the healthier, unsaturated type, plus it’s low in sugar. The rice, lentils and soya beans add a little protein, so serve with tofu, fish or chicken to boost levels.
COSTA BOLOGNESE MAC & CHEESE – 4/10
COSTA BOLOGNESE MAC & CHEESE
£3.95. Per 270g serving: Calories, 481; saturated fat, 11g; protein, 23g; sugar, 6.2g; salt, 1.5g
EXPERT VERDICT: On the plus side, you will get iron from the beef in the Bolognese, which helps reduce tiredness and fatigue, and calcium from the cheese, which helps build strong bones and teeth.
The tomato sauce provides potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure — and most of the sugar in the meal appears to be coming naturally from the tomatoes.
However, this macaroni cheese, which is topped with a layer of Bolognese, contains more than a third of a woman’s daily maximum of saturated fat.
It will certainly fill you up, but it’s not the healthiest.
PRET SMOKY SWEETCORN CHOWDER – 6/10
PRET SMOKY SWEETCORN CHOWDER
From £3.60. Per 370g serving: Calories, 219; saturated fat, 1.5g; protein, 7.89g; sugar, 8.9g; salt, 2.7g
EXPERT VERDICT: At just over 200 calories per serving, this is not enough on its own for lunch — but the ingredients are nutritious. Sweetcorn makes up around half the soup. This, with the other array of veg, means you will get at least two of your five-a-day. Sweetcorn is an excellent source of fibre, to maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation.
You also get onions, cannellini beans, red pepper and leeks, providing a range of vitamins and minerals such as potassium and beta-carotene. However, at 2.7g of salt [more than the amount in five bags of ready salted crisps], you’re almost reaching half your daily limit without even having taken in enough calories to sustain you for a main meal.
ITSU KOREAN CHICKEN RICE BOWL – 6/10
ITSU KOREAN CHICKEN RICE BOWL
£7.99. Per 460g serving: Calories, 556; saturated fat, 3.1g; protein, 29.7g; sugar, 19.5g; salt, 3.47g
EXPERT VERDICT: This dish of chicken breast marinated in miso (a Japanese sauce made from fermented soya beans), served with wholegrain brown rice, seasonal greens, teriyaki and spiced coconut sauce, provides a good serving of protein from the chicken and half of your daily magnesium (a mineral that helps turn the food into energy), thanks to the greens.
The brown rice will give you around a third of your daily vitamin B6, which is needed for a healthy immune system and maintaining your hormone levels.
You do, however, get more than half of your daily 6g salt limit, and surely there is no need for nearly five teaspoons of sugar in a savoury meal?
MARKS AND SPENCER PEPPERED STEAK AND STOUT PIE – 4/10
MARKS AND SPENCER PEPPERED STEAK AND STOUT PIE
£4. Per 250g pie: Calories, 575; saturated fat, 21.7g; protein, 26.7g; sugar, 11.5g; salt, 1.8g
EXPERT VERDICT: It’s great to see beef at the top of the ingredients list — almost a third of the weight of this pie is steak. This makes the pie a decent source of protein, which supports muscle growth.
The beef also contains iron, which aids the formation of the protein in red blood cells, responsible for transporting oxygen around the body.
However, there’s more butter in this pie than ale, making for a high saturated fat content — a woman would get more than her daily limit in this meal. There are also more than two teaspoons of added sugar in this lunch, probably mostly from the molasses used in the gravy.