How healthy is your meal deal?
As the Welsh government clamps down on cheap lunch promotions that are often high in fat, salt and calories, we reveal tips for choosing the most nutritious options
Meal deals may be a quick and convenient way to grab lunch on a budget, but these combinations of a main, snack and drink can have high levels of fat, sugar and salt. So much so that the Welsh government has announced plans to restrict unhealthy meal deals from 2025 in its anti-obesity drive.
The good news is not all meal deals are unhealthy, and the amount of nutrients changes dramatically depending on which elements you choose: a sandwich vs a salad; fruit vs a chocolate bar; full sugar fizzy drink vs water.
Registered dietitian Juliette Kellow reveals how to make the most out of your meal deal, from following NHS advice to deciphering the food labels.
How to choose a healthy meal deal
Make sure you include the five main food groups
The NHS Eatwell guide recommends that every meal contains a combination of vegetables and fruit, starchy carbohydrates, protein, dairy and oils. So for your carbohydrates choose a sandwich with brown bread, although wholemeal or granary are best. Alternatively, consider a salad with couscous or bulgur wheat.
Tuna, egg, falafel, beans, lentils or prawns in a salad or sandwich are your protein, and fruit or vegetable sticks make up the snack. A yogurt or the cheese filling in a sandwich is the dairy component.
More like this
Check the traffic light food labels
Look at the labelling on the front of the pack to see if the nutritional information is colour coded. The colours – green, amber and red – tell you at a glance if the food has high levels of calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt. Opt for foods that have mostly green and orange on the label. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity – the higher up the ingredient is in the list, the more there is in that product.
In a pasta salad, pasta should be listed first, and hopefully the vegetables (such as sweetcorn and tomatoes) next.
It will also give you an idea of how many additives, sweeteners and sugars there are in the product as they should be listed last.
Add up the final meal deal calorie count
Most products will list the percentage of reference intake (RI), which is the guideline for how much of each nutrient we should be eating each day. These are: 2,000 calories, 70g of fat, 20g of saturates, 260g of carbs, 90g of sugars, 50g of protein and less than 6g of salt.
Add together the RI on each of your three items – the meal deal’s total should provide about a third of the daily guidelines for each of those food groups and 33 per cent of your daily calories.
How to spot if your food is high in fat, salt and sugar
Arm yourself with the guidelines so you know what makes food high or low in fat, sugar and salt – this should help you pick a healthy meal deal at a glance.
Less than 3g per 100g is low fat
More than 17.5g per 100g is high fat
Less than 5g per 100g is low sugar
More than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Less than 0.3g per 100g is low salt (or 0.1g sodium)
More than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Be aware of hidden salt
Meal deals can be high in salt because many of the components, including bread and sandwich fillings such as ham, can be considered processed, if not ultra processed food, and are high in salt.
Remember, if you add in crisps you’re adding more salt. Stick with fresh fruit, vegetable sticks and choose water over soft drinks.
Like this? Now check out...
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.