Smart Tips for Healthy Eating at the Deli
Dine at the deli often? You may be getting more fat and calories than you think.

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Picture of a sandwich Smart Tips for Healthy Eating at the Deli

Heading to the deli for lunch? If you are trying to be health-conscious, delis have plenty of nutritious options to choose from. But unless you're careful, you could wind up eating your whole day's worth of calories with just one outing.

The following guidelines can help you make healthy choices at the deli.

Build a healthy sandwich
If you are looking to order a sandwich, these tips can help keep calories under control.

Keep an eye on portion size. Delis are famous for serving oversized sandwiches with several ounces of meat and cheese, usually enough to feed two or three people.

  • Most sandwiches are made to order, so consider asking for no more than 3 ounces of meat.
  • If the sandwich is huge, eat half and save the rest for the next day's lunch.

Mind your meats.

  • Start by cutting out processed meats, such as bologna, salami, mortadella, liverwurst, pepperoni, and sopressata. These meats are very high in sodium and fat. And sandwiches made with them will have two to three times the calories as sandwiches made with leaner meats.
  • Opt for turkey or chicken breast, lean ham, or roast beef. Go low-sodium if you have the option, keeping in mind the sandwiches will still have plenty of salt.
  • Grilled chicken, if it is on the menu, is a good choice.
  • Ask for just one slice of reduced-fat cheese. One slice of regular cheese can add 100 calories and 9 grams of fat.
  • Avoid tuna, chicken, and egg salad sandwiches. Because of the mayonnaise, each one of these can easily come to at least 550 calories and 33 grams of fat.

Choose healthy breads. Opting for a roll, bagel, or croissant can double or even triple the calories of your sandwich.

  • Smart options include 100 percent whole-wheat, rye, or pumpernickel bread.
  • Pita breads are also a safe option. Choose whole-wheat if possible.
  • Be wary of wraps. One large wrap can have up to 310 calories. Ask at the counter what types of wraps they use and how many calories the wraps have. Ideally, you don't want your bread choice to offer more than 180 calories.

Bulk up with veggies.

  • Bulk up your sandwich by asking for plenty of lettuce, sprouts, peppers, cucumbers, roasted red pepper, and tomato. These will all add flavor, bulk, fiber, nutrients, and crunch for miniscule calories.
  • Ask for a couple slices of avocado. Avocado will give you a dose of fiber and healthy fat.
  • If you choose to have a vegetarian sandwich, you still need to be careful. Excess cheese and mayo can increase the calories quickly. Go for your choice of bread with two slices of low-fat cheese and piles of fresh veggies, hummus, tomato, and sprouts. Or ask for one slice of cheese, avocado, lettuce, peppers, and tomato.

Condiments count. Just one tablespoon of regular mayo has about 90 calories and 9 grams of fat.

  • If you love mayo, ask that your sandwich be spread lightly, or use a low-fat version and still stick to a small amount. You can also ask for a packet and spread it on yourself.
  • Mustard is a great low-fat, low-cal option.
  • Some delis have cranberry sauce, which can be spread lightly on bread and paired with turkey or chicken. You'll get a small dose of sugar but no fat.

Be smart with soups and salads
Most delis offer prepackaged salads and homemade soups. These can be great options when paired together or eaten with half a sandwich. Use these guidelines:

  • Salads that include fresh veggies with grilled chicken, salmon, shrimp, or sliced hardboiled eggs are healthy choices.
  • Avoid Caesar and most chef salads. These salads often have excess cheese or high-fat meats. Caesar salads are typically very high in calories due to the high-fat dressing.
  • Go for chef salads that offer turkey, ham, or roast beef with a small amount of cheese.
  • Use prepackaged dressing sparingly. One package can contain up to 300 calories. Your best choice? Drizzle on some olive oil and vinegar.
  • Go for broth-based veggie and bean soups such as vegetable, chicken noodle, minestrone, Manhattan clam chowder, vegetarian split pea, and lentil.
  • Steer clear of cream soups, bisques, and New England clam chowder.

Mind your extras and drinks
Don't ruin your healthy sandwich by grabbing a bag of chips and downing it with a soda or sweetened ice tea.

  • Stick with water, seltzer, or unsweetened ice tea to cut out excess sugar and calories.
  • If you want something crunchy, opt for flavored mini-rice cakes or a small, 1-ounce bag of pretzels.
By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist
Created on 01/31/2011
Updated on 02/02/2011
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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