Buying Lunch at Your Workplace Cafeteria

women eating in a cafeteria

When you have little time to prepare lunches and snacks at home, you may reach for foods at your workplace cafeteria or restaurant. Use the tips below to help you make healthy choices!

Healthy choices at the salad bar

Build a delicious salad by choosing a mix of these ingredients:

  • Leafy greens
  • Vegetables (raw, grilled or roasted)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Tofu
  • Beans (chickpea, black bean, kidney) or lentils
  • Hard-cooked eggs
  • Whole grain couscous, quinoa or barley salads
  • Tabbouleh (bulgur salad)
  • Small amounts of nuts or seeds

Add small amounts of low fat salad dressing or vinaigrette. 

Healthy choices at the sandwich counter

Build a healthy sandwich with whole grain breads, protein-rich fillings and lots of veggie toppings. 

Choose these options more often:

  • Whole grain bread, buns, pitas or tortillas
  • Vegetable fillings (lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions)
  • Roasted or grilled lean meat (beef, turkey, chicken, pork)
  • Eggs
  • Natural nut butters (peanut, almond)
  • Hummus
  • Small amounts of condiments like mustard, salsa and lower fat mayonnaise
  • Small amount of cheese 

Use small amounts of lower fat mayonnaise, condiments, dressings and sauces on your sandwich.

Healthy choices at the hot lunch counter

Cafeteria portion sizes can be large. Instead of eating the whole portion, pack up part of your meal for tomorrow’s lunch. 

Choose these options more often:

  • Dishes made with plenty of vegetables
  • Baked, grilled or steamed fish
  • Grilled chicken on a whole grain bun
  • Stir-fry dishes with brown rice or whole grain pasta, plenty of vegetables, lean meats, fish or tofu and just a little sauce
  • Lean beef, turkey or veggie burgers
  • Whole grain pasta and noodle dishes with tomato-based sauces
  • Vegetarian options (chili, baked beans, tofu, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Lower sodium, broth based vegetable soups (beef and barley, minestrone)
  • Pizza with thin whole grain crust, vegetable toppings and small amounts of cheese

Tips: Condiments, spreads, and sauces can be high in fat and/or sodium. Always ask for them on the side so you can add just enough to enjoy the taste. Look for dishes that are baked, broiled, grilled, roasted or steamed instead of fried.

Healthy choices for dessert

Enjoy a piece of fresh fruit and yogurt for dessert. Or, order a small size dessert and share it with a friend. Save cakes and pastries for special events. 

Healthy beverages choices

Satisfy your thirst most often with water. Bring a reusable water bottle to work so you can drink all day. Try these other healthy options too.

  • Sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime
  • Lower fat milk (skim, 1%, 2%), low fat fortified soy beverage
  • Plain latte or cappuccino made with lower fat milk or fortified soy beverage
  • Black, green or herbal tea
  • Coffee with milk and little or no sugar
  • Lower sodium vegetable juice

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Last Update – March 21, 2019

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