Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight, or who just makes a habit of eating healthful, wholesome food, knows to steer clear of fast food restaurants. Those double-decker cheeseburgers, fried chicken sandwiches, french fries, and milkshakes can wreak havoc on your best intentions.
Sometimes fast food restaurants are unavoidable. If you’re on the road and there’s nothing else available, or your children are clamoring for the toy inside the kids’ meal, you might not have any alternate food options.
But that doesn’t mean you have to cave or cheat. Here’s our guide to eating healthy at fast food joints!
Tex-Mex Is Tempting…But It Can Also Be Healthful
Stopping at a fast-casual tex-mex place like Chipotle, Qdoba or Moe’s? Skip the burrito, the guacamole (it costs extra, anyway!), and any soup or salad that comes in a dish made out of a deep-fried tortilla.
Burrito bowls can be a good choice, though, if you skip the rice, cheese, and sour cream. Load up on beans, a lean protein like chicken, and fajita veggies. To boost the flavor of your bowl, add in low-cal extras like cilantro, Pico de gallo or salsa, and black olives.
Yes, You Can Eat At Burger Joints
As long as you’re very careful about your order, not even hamburger places are off-limits. Opt for a plain burger without mayo or “special sauces,” and ask for extra lettuce, tomato, and red onion.
Or try a grilled chicken sandwich, again with extra veg. Mustard adds a kick without adding calories, but be careful with ketchup, which is loaded with sugar and salt. Another option here is to go bun-less and have your burger wrapped in lettuce.
If you find yourself at Wendy’s, try their famous chili — a large is just 310 calories and will fill you up. Their baked potatoes can also be good choices, as long as you limit toppings.
A word to the wise: don’t be fooled by chains’ healthy-sounding options, like salads. While some fast food salads fit into a healthy lifestyle, others are calorie bombs. Anything with fried chicken, creamy dressings, and high-fat extras like nuts or crunchy noodles should be on your blacklist.
Go for kid-sized foods:
A very easy trick to start implementing when you’re ordering fast food is going for a kid-sized meal. These mini meals are an easy way to stick to smaller portions and fewer calories.
- Choosing a kids-sized meal can save you 200-300 calories.And you’re not missing out on the “good stuff.” Most kids meals still come with similar products to the standard menu options. In addition many fast food restaurants offer a side or small piece of fruit.
- Choose small sandwiches as well. Ordering a “double hamburger” or even a “triple burger” will have 2 or 3 times as many calories as a single patty burger.
- Also, skip the option to super-size your meal or make it a “large”. Even though it seems like a great deal, you’re just adding more calories and fat to your overall meal.
Go for the salad option:
Many fast food restaurants are now offering many more foods outside the typical burger and fries. Salads are a newer choice that may offer you a little extra nutrition and save you some calories.
- Salads are a great choice because you’re including a serving or two of vegetables which are naturally low in calories.
- Do watch out for high-calorie toppings and dressings. Items like bacon bits, cheese, croutons or fried protein (like fried chicken) can really put the calories over the top. Read nutrition labels (if available) to help you identify if a salad will be a healthier option or not.
- Choose salads with grilled protein, low-fat dressing on the side, and a lot of fresh vegetables.
Choose a lower-calorie main dish:
Sandwiches and nuggets are a popular option at fast food restaurants. Choose the best option to keep your calories moderate.
- Try out a snack wrap. Many restaurants now offer small wraps with a piece of grilled chicken inside. They’re low in calorie (about 300 calories) and small which is perfect for portion control.
- Most fast food restaurants offer chicken nuggets. A 4 or 6 piece order are actually somewhat low in calories – about 200 calories. In addition, some restaurants offer grilled nuggets for an even lower calorie count.
- Stick to a plain hamburger or cheeseburger. When you don’t have multiple patties or toppings, these sandwiches are actually moderately low in calories – right around 300 calories.
- If you have the option, do half of a sandwich instead of a whole sandwich and pair it with a side salad or a piece of fruit. Also ask for whole wheat bread if it’s available.
- If you’re ordering a sub, try going for a whole grain bread and ask to make it “lower carb” by scooping out some of the doughy part of the bread.
- Divide your meal into two or three smaller portions, and bring some of it home to eat the next day.
Always go for grilled over fried:
Another easy way to automatically make a fast food meal a bit healthier is choosing grilled or baked items over fried items.
- Studies have shown that fried foods are not only higher in calories and fat but can also raise your risk of heart disease and type two diabetes if eaten regularly.
- Choosing a grilled option can save you 100-200 calories per sandwich. Instead of the fried chicken sandwich, opt for the grilled chicken version instead.
Build a better breakfast:
Fast food restaurants are known for a good breakfast. Plus, many serve breakfast all day long. Choose a better meal to start your day off on a good foot.
- Breakfast sandwiches and wraps should be simple. Stick with an egg, cheese and a lean protein like ham or Canadian bacon. Or choose a sandwich with egg whites only. Try to avoid sandwiches on croissants, bagels or made with sausage or bacon.
- Another great breakfast option now available is oatmeal. Watch out for the added brown sugar, but a few nuts or dried fruit is OK.
- If you’re interested in something cold, try fruit and yogurt parfaits. These offer a little protein and fiber and are a great breakfast option.
Pick low-calorie drink options:
Fast food restaurants now offer a whole host of beverages to go with your meal – anything from sodas, to coffees and even smoothies. However, some of these drinks are quite high in calories and can put you over your limit.
- Drinking sugary drinks is associated with many chronic disease, such as type two diabetes and heart disease.
- Stay away from regular sodas, sweetened juice drinks, sweetened teas, sweetened coffee drinks, smoothies, milkshakes or chocolate milk.
- Instead of these types of higher calorie beverages, go with low or no calorie beverages. Water is always a great choice, but you can also try diet sodas, unsweetened tea, unsweetened iced coffee or diet lemonades. Some of these may have some artificial sweeteners but they are low or no calorie.
- Drinking artificially sweetened drinks will satisfy your sweet craving, but it will not help to reduce it. In order to reduce your craving for sweet beverages, choose unsweetened options, such as coffee and tea, sweeten them yourself, and gradually reduce the amount of sweetener.
Pizza can be an indulgence, but there are some healthier options. Most weight loss programs for women don’t explicitly forbid any food but advise making modifications and exercising portion control.
Some chains offer “garden” varieties; in general, the more vegetables you can pile on your fast food offerings, the better!
If you have a choice between thin and thick crust, thin crust is the clear winner.
Either way, keep your intake to one slice, but be wary of sodium levels, and work to consume less sodium in the rest of your day’s meals.
Get Your Sandwich On
If you bypass the meatballs and melted cheese, sub shops can be relatively healthful. Turkey breast is a safe bet, especially paired with a whole wheat roll, fresh veggies galore, and mustard instead of mayo.
Naturally, you should also say “no thank you” to any combo meal that would add chips, a cookie, or a soft drink to your lunch. Drink water instead, or choose low-fat milk for the calcium.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you’re on the go, so you can feel good about your choices at fast food joints!