13 Grab-'N'-Go Lunches For The Healthy Living

Photo: Courtesy of Protein Bar.
In a perfect world, you'd have a week's worth of healthy lunches packed and ready to go by Sunday night. Yet, more often than not, you probably find yourself grabbing a quickie bite and going at it at your desk. Make no mistake — there is more than one way to define fast food. In fact, we've rounded up 13 spots for a grab-and-go lunch that will add time to your schedule without making you feel guilty.
The best part? Eating healthfully doesn't have to be limited to leafy greens alone (though we love those, too). From the satisfying quinoa crunch wrap at Lyfe Kitchen to Protein Bar's guac-and-roll bar-rito to the too-good-to-be-uncooked ravioli at Chicago Raw, these eats are as delightful as they are good for you. After all, despite what your paycheck tells you, it's your health that's your wealth.
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Photographed by Catrin Reyes.
A hotshot among the new guard of Middle Eastern takeaway lunch spots in the Loop, Benjyehuda has won over many devotees with its commitment to quality and simplicity. One of the most popular options is a flight featuring a trio of chicken, steak, and falafel pitas. But, for our money when we're on the run and trying to “watch it,” we'll take the chicken schwarma box with rice and romaine, loaded up with a generous array of healthful toppings like jerusalem salad, fresh chopped tomatoes, red onions, carrot salad, and Mediterranean pickles. Craving a carb? You can get the same ingredients packed in a pita, too.

Benjyehuda, multiple locations
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Photo: Courtesy of Protein Bar.
Protein Bar
You don't have to be on a diet to love Protein Bar. But, if you are, you can't go wrong with one of their signature Bar-ritos, a stick-to-your-ribs combo of quinoa, an organic or all-natural protein, and house-made sauce rolled in a low-calorie whole-wheat wrap. Our favorite? The grilled Capone. The chicken, spinach, marinara, and Parm cheese concoction may sound devilish, but it only clocks in at 510 calories. Have a sweet tooth? Go for the Greek yogurt, complete with yummy toppings. The Chia Berry may only have 220 calories, yet this protein-packed bowl of goodness will keep your hand out of the cookie jar come 4 o'clock.

Protein Bar, multiple Locations.
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Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Raw.
Chicago Raw
For raw eaters, or those simply seeking a lunchtime superfood infusion, Chicago Raw is a can't-miss destination. The expansive menu features everything from smoothies and salads to more ambitious dishes, like the collard burrito (collard leaves housing a pumpkin seed pate, seasoned with scallions, cilantro, and red pepper) and the Wild Wild Rice (sprouted black rice with tomato, cucumber, raisins, and herbs tossed in a lime dressing, served with corn relish and dessert). New to raw dining? You may want to start with the Signature Sampler Platter, featuring the spaghetti with seed-based "meatballs;" turnip raviolis with cashew cheese and marinara; and a seed- and vegetable-garden burger. You may like it so much you end up signing up for Raw Take-Away, a new weekly pickup and delivery program. Chicago Raw, multiple locations
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Photographed by Catrin Reyes.
East Bank Club Food Shop
Long before River North was a hot spot boasting untold lunch options for professionals on the run, the East Bank Club's Food Shop drew those in the know in for its impressive variety of healthful entrees, soups, vegetarian dishes, snacks...and even a nice selection of vino. You don't have to be a member of Chicago's most prominent health club to hit the Food Shop...although that salad might taste even better after a tough workout. Just sayin'.

East Bank Club Food Shop, 500 North Kingsbury Street (at Hubbard Street); 312-527-5800.
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Photo: Courtesy of Farmer's Fridge.
Farmer's Fridge
Fresh salad from a vending machine? Sure, it doesn't sound too appealing, but you'll be surprised. The credit-card-friendly kiosk churns out perfectly chilled, crisp greens (made fresh daily) in adorable little jars that turn desk-side dining into a slightly classier experience. More importantly, you can recycle them at the vending machine, making your lunch both lean and green. If you're counting calories (because who isn't after sweater season), you can check out the nutrition stats of your nosh beforehand. But, considering everything is made using fresh, local, and organic ingredients, you don't have to worry about what you're chowing down on.

If you're looking for a salad to clear your conscious of weekend guilt, go for the Detox (a.k.a. the junk-food eraser), made with organic kale, organic quinoa, sprouts, fennel, pineapple, blueberries, white beans, and cider vinegar-lemon dressing for just 300 calories. Don't work near the kiosk? Sign up for the Farmer's Fridge healthy meal delivery plan here.

Farmer's Fridge, 201 North Clark Street (at Lake); 312-229-0099.
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Photo: Courtesy of Flavor 180.
Flavor 180
A new destination setting out to "change the face of fast food" in Chicago, Flavor 180 divides its menu into "naughty" and "nice" sections. While the "nice" side contains straightforward guilt-free dishes like a salmon garden salad and white bean turkey chili, the "naughty" side is only playfully bad: It's on this half of the menu where Chicagoans can indulge in their taste for fast food without throwing the diet plan out the window. Try the jerk-chicken tacos, sweet heat salmon burger, turkey spaghetti, or a side like sweet potato fries. Not in the neighborhood? Look for one of their lunch trucks soon.

Flavor 180, 1511 South State Street (at West 15th Street); 312-291-0800.
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Photo: Courtesy of Freshii.
Perhaps the only thing more annoying than someone elbowing you in line at the salad bar to reach the grape tomatoes way in the back would be having to point out each ingredient one-by-one while a line of hungry patrons impatiently waits behind you. Well, at Freshii, you don't have to deal with either scenario, because you build-your-own salad from a nifty little check-off sheet — genius! Romaine with bell peppers, avocado, cucumber, and salmon? Done. But, just because we're salad-obsessed at Freshii doesn't mean we still don't love their bowls or burritos, such as the Spicy Thai (organic quinoa, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro, edamame, cilantro, and spicy lemongrass sauce) for 522 calories.

Freshii, multiple Locations.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lyfe Kitchen.
Lyfe Kitchen
Chef Art Smith swapped his finger-lickin' fried chicken for an unfried version (also available in a vegetarian faux-meat option) at the popular Lyfe Kitchen in River North. Every single dish on the menu has fewer than 600 calories, which is pretty astounding considering you can throw down everything from Italian sausage ravioli to a grass-fed beef burger to Mahi tacos minus the guilt. Trust, the food is so good, you just might be back for dinner.

Lyfe Kitchen, 419 North Clark Street (at Hubbard); 312-836-5933.
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Photographed by Catrin Reyes.
Kramer's Health Food and Supplements
Life in the Loop is all about multitasking, and, on that front, Kramer's Health Food and Supplements is a winner. As one might surmise from its name, it is, indeed, a health food store, so busy professionals can take the lunch hour to stock up on vitamins, supplements, and other nutritional products of their choice. Less obvious, though, is the vegetarian cafe and juice bar in the back of the store, beloved by the Loop's most health-conscious workers. The reasonable combo specials featuring various soups, sandwiches, and paninis are particularly popular.

Whether you're looking for a vegan burger; ratatouille with zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomato sauce, onion, and brown rice; or veggie, rice, and brown bean burrito, you'll leave having done your body good. Grab a veggie juice, shake or herbal elixir to go with lunch, and you just may be amped to get back to that big meeting!

Kramer’s Health Food and Supplements, 230 South Wabash Avenue (at West Jackson Boulevard); 312-922-0077.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mista.
It isn't lost on us that a pizzeria doesn't scream "healthful lunch." But, Mista, with its devotion to largely organic and fresh ingredients, is about as far from your typical Chicago artery-clogging deep-dish joint as you can get. Founded by the Davino family, whose dedication to fresh ingredients can be traced back to patriarch Luigi Davino's philosophy at his early 19th century Taylor Street bakery, Mista offers stellar thin-crust concoctions like the Heart Smart — sauce, organic baby spinach, organic roasted vegetables, organic mozzarella, sea salt, and extra-virgin olive oil.

If you're on the move, though, you may want to try one of the wraps: The Mista wrap, for example, features organic field greens, roasted chicken, organic granny smith apples, organic dry cherries, roasted macadamia nuts, provolone cheese, and a signature dressing.

Mista, 2921 North Broadway Street (at West Oakdale Avenue); 773-698-6688.
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Photographed by Catrin Reyes.
Taza Café
There's no shortage of Middle Eastern spots trying to woo the Loop lunch crowd, but, for many, Taza stands head and shoulders above the competition based on authenticity, freshness, and price. To keep power players energized, Taza offers an expansive menu of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern apps, sandwiches, and plates. If you're looking to power through all the way to a post-work workout, try the grilled chicken salad (a garden salad topped with grilled chicken and a house vinaigrette), or the spicier chicken schwarma salad...or be just a little indulgent with a sandwich version of the latter, served in a pita with Jerusalem salad.

Taza Café, 176 North Franklin Street (at Lake Street); 312-201-9885
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Photographed by Catrin Reyes.
Sultan's Market
A Chicago classic, Sultan's Market is so popular that one might wonder why it doesn’t have locations all over. As it is, there are two, so those looking for a healthy lunch on the go in Bucktown and Lincoln Park are most in luck. Frequently named to media lists for both quality and value, it's also a favorite of many notable local foodies, including Alpana Singh. It’s hard to miss here, and the spicy chicken schwarma sandwich is one of, if not the, best in the city. But, if you're trying to be really healthy, you may want to stick to the salad bar, loading up on marinated artichokes, dolmades, and crisp bell peppers, or the Mediterranean-style tilapia — a wonderfully flavorful six-ounce filet with seasoned tomatoes, onions, and lemons.

Sultan’s Market, multiple locations.
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Photo: Courtesy of The Chicago Diner.
The Chicago Diner
The Chicago Diner was founded on a simple, inexorable truth: Even the staunchest vegetarians occasionally want a Philly steak and cheese fries. (Or something that tastes damn similar.) While seitan-this and black-bean-that may be relatively common these days, that certainly wasn't the case when the diner opened back in 1983. Hugely, and longly, lauded by local critics, publications and, most importantly, vegetarians of all stripes, The Chicago Diner is the perfect go-to spot (and to-go spot) when you're craving gyros, wings, chili, quesadillas, or even a country-fried steak (battered seiten topped with gravy and served with mashed potatoes and pesto-sauteed vegetables), minus the meat.

The Chicago Diner, multiple locations.