Lunch Break: The Healthiest Quick Lunches from DC Food Trucks

Your best options from popular trucks like DC Empanadas, Rolls on Rolls, and more.

By: Jazelle Hunt

We all have those days when a comfortable lunchtime is just not in the cards—when we’re forced to work through lunch or take our brown bag to the nearest bench. Luckily, Washington has a host of reliable mobile kitchens with great options for when tableware proves cumbersome.

Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, took a look at the nutritional value of some of these portable eats. Check out your best bets for a wholesome meal even when you can’t be too dexterous.

DC EMPANADAS
Dubost points out that while baked empanadas are preferable to deep-fried ones, the fried ones aren’t totally off-limits. “If they are fried, just monitor your portion size, or pair one with a salad to balance it out,” she says.

• Mr. Miyagi: The simple, well-rounded empanada includes chicken and veggies and is served with a ginger teriyaki sauce. Dubost says you should request white meat—“it has just as much protein but less fat”—and keep the high-sodium teriyaki on the side.

• Tio Asher & Hong Kong Phooey: Both empanadas are vegetarian and packed with nutrients. “They both have lots of great veggies, and you’re hitting a lot of food groups,” Dubost says. “Tofu and black beans are great sources of protein and fiber, plus the cilantro is a nice touch with good, full flavor.”


SOMETHING STUFFED

• The Bell: The ingredients of this pocket—lemongrass, pickled daikon, carrot, and chicken—are lean, but the flavor is bold. And the chicken is free-range—although our expert says there’s no scientific evidence to suggest this affects nutrition, it’s always a plus to have quality options.

• The Chickadee: This free-range chicken item comes with carrots, scallion, and hoisin barbecue sauce. Dubost says to keep the sauce on the side to avoid the added sugar of barbecue sauce.

• Van’s shrimp dumplings: “I like that you have the option to have them steamed,” Dubost explains. The stuffed dumplings also pack green onions, garlic, cilantro, vermicelli noodles, and ginger. “Ginger is a great root to cook with, it has anti-inflammatory properties, and obviously it tastes good. And shrimp is high in protein and low in saturated fat.”

ROLLS ON ROLLS
This truck specializes in kathi rolls, a popular Indian street food that we might call a wrap. Rolls on Rolls also gives you the freedom to build your own kathi, topped with cabbage and your choice of house-made chutney. Our expert says to go for the chickpeas and mixed vegetables. It’s unclear what goes into the chutneys, but she recommends looking for fruit-based options. “I like that they use whole-wheat wraps—most people don’t even get one full serving of grain, and half your servings should be whole grains,” she says.

CHOUPI CREPES & FRENCH STYLE WAFFLES
Here’s the savory crepe Dubost would snag for lunch if she visited this Arlington-based cart: Egg, mushroom, spinach, bell peppers, onions, feta cheese, strawberries, and almonds. She explains that eggs are a complete and satiating protein that no longer deserve their poor reputation, and points out that mushrooms are also rich in essential nutrients, contrary to popular belief. Leafy green spinach provides iron, feta offers much-needed calcium and vitamin D, and almonds have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease—and provide a nice crunch, too.

SANG ON WHEELS
We asked Dubost for her opinion on this popular truck’s Asian empanada (or curry puff or samosa, depending on what country you’re in). Sang’s is filled with curried potatoes, vegetables, and beef. “Potatoes have gotten a bad rap in recent years, but they’re really healthy and provide B vitamins, fiber, and high levels of potassium—more than bananas, actually,” Dubost explains. “Curry is an antioxidant that tastes good. Beef is okay, but you should have lean cuts, and I’m not sure what they use.”

Be mindful and ask questions about the prep methods—if items are fried in healthier oils like sunflower or soybean that should weigh in how much you decide to eat.

Overall, our expert says you should order your meals in the context of your whole day and the physical activity you do, no matter what you decide to grab. But even more important, eat mindfully, even if you’re not able to eat comfortably.

“There’s research to say that staying in tune with your eating, without distractions, helps reduce portion size and therefore how many calories you eat. I would encourage people to appreciate what they are doing,” Dubost recommends. “It helps to have a more satisfying meal.”