Healthy Fast Food Choices

While it is best to eat home-cooked meals when you can, there are times we all must eat on the go.  If you are concerned about eating healthy, or you are trying to lose a few pounds, and fear convenience foods, you have good reason to be apprehensive.  Most foods we find in restaurants and fast food joints are full of unhealthy choices.  Searching through a nutrition database like, will do nothing short of depress you when you realize just how bad it all is.

For instance a Bruegger’s Softwich, western wheat breakfast sandwich has 820 calories, 58 grams of fat (89% of daily value), and 1480 mg of sodium (62% of daily value).  Half of a 12″ Domino’s pepperoni and sausage deep dish pizza has 1160 calories, 64g of fat (98% DV), 3040 mg of sodium (127% DV).  D’Angelo’s Steak Bomb sub has 670 calories, 33g of fat (51% DV), and 1904 mg sodium (79% DV). The list goes on.

Eating out has been a huge contributing factor in the obesity epidemic.  Most fast food, and even what appears to be healthy restaurant food, is loaded with fat and calories.  In addition, restaurant food is very high in sodium (used as a preservative) and saturated fat (the worst kind of fat, besides trans fats).  Many fast food meals can contain up to a full day’s worth of sodium, if not more, as well as anywhere from 50-80% of your daily fat intake.  And as for calories, keep in mind the “average” person (which means very little, but let’s use it as a marker, anyway) is supposed to consume 2000 calories a day to maintain weight.  Eat 500 calories a day over what you need and you gain one pound per week.  See how easy those calories can creep up on you when one meal out of the house can cost you 1400 calories, alone.

While you may not think you eat out all that much, you probably eat away from home more than you think.  Eating out is more than eating in sit-down restaurants with servers.  It’s every time you go through the drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning, Subway or McDonald’s at lunch time and pizza and Chinese food for take-out dinners.  Many people eat two out of three meals a day from a drive-thru or fast food place.  Not only is this adding on the pounds (and high cholesterol and blood pressure), it is also quite expensive on the wallet, which is another reason to reduce your fast food meals.

Ideally, the amount of food we eat away from home should be limited, however, we all have to eat on the go from time to time.  Here are a few tips I recommend for optimal eating-on-the-go.

1.  Don’t be afraid to ask for it your way.  Sally-“…Am I high maintenance or low maintenance?”  Harry- “You’re the worst kind.  You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance…” [scene from "When Harry met Sally"]

Not only do I love this movie, but I love to use Sally Albright as a role model for restaurant ordering.

“…But I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it’s real; if it’s out of the can then nothing…”

Whether in a restaurant or at McDonald’s, think about how you can make your meal healthy and ask for it that way.  I often rush off in the morning and don’t always have time for breakfast at home because I am too busy getting the kids off and running for the day.  So if I have to buy breakfast out, I ask for eggs with no butter, egg whites if they have them. I ask for bread that has the most fiber and always tell them to hold the cheese.  You can take a high-fat, high-calorie breakfast sandwich and make it healthy by asking for exceptions.  Most drive-thru’s that serve breakfast foods usually have English Muffins.  Ask for one with no butter, and add an egg with no cheese.  You will be at around 250 calories, and about 9 grams of fat.  Not bad!  If you need a little extra (since breakfast is an important meal) get sliced apples or a yogurt with it.

2.  Remove the fat!  Fat is essential and a very important part of our diets, but the fat we usually find lurking in our restaurant food isn’t the kind of fat we want.  It comes from fatty, processed meats, salty cheese, and fried foods.

Look at items you would want to order and see how you could remove the fat.  Get grilled chicken rather than crispy, ask for vinegar rather than mayonaise, hold the cheese, and stay away from anything fried.

3.  Stick to places that have deli-style foods rather than fried-foods.  For lunch/dinner foods, D’Angelos and Subway are great options.  Just stick with grilled items and lean meats, as both places have their share of greasy, fatty foods, as well.  Get wraps instead of a lot of bread, ask for grilled meats and grilled or fresh vegetables.  Better yet, find a local deli as they will have fresher meat, better tasting vegetables, and you’ll be supporting your local neighborhood businesses.

4.  Get a salad as long as it has green lettuce and not a lot of added fats. Some places have so-called salads, but they consist of iceberg lettuce, cheese, and salad dressing (with maybe a tomato or cucumber slice thrown in there).  Not my idea of a really nutritious salad.  At a minimum, romaine lettuce will do.  Ideally, go for a mixed green salad.  Also, always get the dressing on the side and add as little as possible.

5.  Choose broth-based soups over cream-based soups.  Minestrone, vegetable, chicken noodle are all good choices over broccoli cheese or clam chowder.  You’ll save a few hundred calories sticking with broth-based.

6.  Think outside the bun.  Yes, I know, Taco Bell slogan, but very true.  There is nothing wrong with lunch consisting of fruit, soup and salad instead of a burger and fries.  Choose a few small, healthy items and put them together to create a filling meal.  And as for Taco Bell, beans are very healthy, full of fiber and protein, and low in fat.  Go for a bean burrito on a soft taco shell with 350 calories, 9g of fat, 8g of fiber and 13g of protein (though the sodium is very high, as beans are usually preserved in salt).

Bottom line, you will have a hard time eating any food on-the-go that is low in sodium.  But avoiding additional fat and calories can be attained and will help you stay a little healthier, if you must eat out.  However, above all, try to work on eating out less and preparing food at home, more.  Home-prepared foods really are much better for you.

See upcoming blog on “How to Eat More Home-Made Foods Despite a Busy Schedule”.


About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

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