The Likable Lo-Cal Diet: Lunch Time! Sandwiches 101


Stay under 1,200 calories a day, and the weight melts off. Let’s talk lunch. Specifically… Sandwiches.

Okay, so if you’ve followed the advice of previous columns, you had a nice, light-but-relatively-filling breakfast of, say, oatmeal and toast and/or fruit, which kept you down around 250 calories and neatly tided you over until lunch. That gives you about 950 calories to play with for the rest of the day. One way to look at this would be: “Okee doke, that’s 475 calories for each meal!” But another way, and the way I recommend, is to continue to…

Keep It On the Down Low

…and leave plenty of wiggle room for the rest of the day. This is because a lot can happen in the rest of the day. You could get a case of the munchies around 4:00. You could get invited out for drinks or dinner with a friend or date. You could have a miserable night out, come home and desperately crave a late-night snack to cheer you up.

And beyond the unpredictability of life, there’s the simple fact that most of us enjoy a big, hot, hearty dinner, so that’s the meal we really want to be able to splurge on. It’s also the meal that has the most hours between it and the next meal. So what I’m getting at here is that I’ve found this diet goes easiest by keeping lunch around 350 calories, 400 at most.

Now there are all sorts of lunch options, many more than breakfast, and we’ll try to hit as many as we can in the coming columns, but let’s start with the most standard lunch concept of all…

The Sandwich

Which is a pretty huge and diverse category all by itself, but we’re going to begin by focusing on the most conventional notion of a sandwich, that being luncheon meat, veggies, cheese and condiments on two slices of bread. So let’s break that down. Easy stuff first:

Luncheon Meat

You really can’t go wrong, barring any religious rules you’re following, with packages of sliced chicken breast (33 calories per 42 gram serving), ham (50 calories per 51 gram serving) and turkey (ditto).

Smoked ham dips a little below that at 45 calories, or if you have a sweet meat tooth, you can go with the honey ham for just a bit pricier, at 70 calories. You’re also pretty safe with roast beef (60 calories).

Pastrami is on the higher end, at 80 calories for 57 grams, and even turkey pastrami is still up there at 75 cal. Stray from that field, and things get dicier still. Bologna is a whopping 90 calories per slice on top of being bologna. Salami is a stunning 120 calories for a mere 30 gram serving.

Bacon, incidentally, if you’re into the whole BLT thing, isn’t as bad an option as you’d think:

  • Classic bacon: 50 calories/slice
  • Maple premium: 45 calories/slice
  • Turkey bacon: 35 calories/slice
  • Center cut: 25 calories/slice
  • Extra lean turkey bacon: 20 calories/slice

(Yes, I know, I skipped mutton. You “Princess Bride” fanatics wondering how caloric a perky MLT is will have to do your own research.)

So okay, let’s say you play it somewhere in the middle and allow about 70 calories for the meat. Now we can pile on some…


I’m generally not a big veggie guy, but I will say this for them: They know how to make a sandwich a meal. And at remarkably low calorie cost!

  • 1 leaf of lettuce: 1 calorie (!!)
  • 1 slice of tomato: 5 calories
  • 1/4 cup of green pepper (more than enough for a sandwich): 7 calories
  • 1 thick slice of onion: 15 calories

And so on and so forth. Basically, knock yourself out, particularly if you go easy on the…


As far as the decades-old mayo-mustard debate goes, I’ve always come down on the side of mayo, taste-wise, but calorie-wise, I gotta side with mustard. Even a mustard as decadent as honey mustard tops out at 30 calories/tablespoon, but if you really want to play it safe, it’s literally impossible to beat plain yellow mustard, at a mystifying zero calories. How do they do it? Dunno. Google it. Me, I’d go with something in between, like a lovely Dijon mustard, 15 cal/tablespoon.

Compare that to mayo’s 90 calories per tablespoon, or even light mayo’s 35-40. Other options like Kraft Sandwich Spread and Miracle Whip are also in the 30-35 range. You could go with low-fat mayo (15 per tablespoon) or Smart Beat (10 per tablespoon), but personally, I’d call that such a sacrifice of mayo taste that you might as well go with mustard. Your mileage may vary.

In any case, you’re free to experiment with veggie and condiment combos to your heart’s desire, and if you’re like me, you’ll probably wind up with a total for the two being around 30 calories, putting us at an estimated 100 calories so far. What’s left? Time to say…


No, sorry, I will not be covering every type of cheese under the sun, as we’ll be here all day. Nor will I touch upon the subject of head cheese. Ever. But here’s the cheesy basics:

Most of your common supermarket deli cheeses come in at around 70-80 calories per slice. I’m talking about your provolone, your pepper jack, your gouda, your colby, your mozzarella, your Swiss. Next to them, you’ll usually find some reduced fat options, which bring it down to about 60, or even 50 in the case of provolone. Then you got your perfectly square, individually wrapped options like American cheese and Velveeta, which are also 60-ish, or 50-ish if you go with the 2% milk variety, and you can even get as low as 30 per slice if you go with the fat-free version, but…have you had fat-free cheese? ’nuff said.

So again, let’s aim for the middle and estimate 70 calories worth of cheese allowance, bringing us to approximately 170 calories worth of sandwich innards. Not bad! That’s less than half our allowance for the whole sandwich, leaving us with somewhere between 180 and 230 calories for the bread…

Which we’ll cover in the next column, but if you can’t wait that long, you already have the fixin’s for a delicious salad.



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