Over the last few decades, fast food chains, those walk up and order type of restaurants, have made moves to satisfy the desire for healthier options. Today you can order salads with lower calorie dressings, grilled chicken sandwiches, baked potatoes and six inch subs on whole grain breads. And healthier beverages are available. Read more about drinking healthier non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages in restaurants.
Another plus, kid’s meals today are healthier too with healthier sides and served with low fat milk, unless you ask for a different drink.
Despite this handful of positive changes and the fact that you can eat healthier fast food meals if you try, the truth is that fast-food meals are generally high in calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium. They’re also lower in healthier sources of carbohydrate than desirable – light on vegetables unless you have a salad as a main course or side, fruit is missing in action (as in most restaurants) and there are no whole grains to speak of.
But fast food restaurants actually can make healthy restaurant eating easier than at sit down restaurants. No foods are set before you at your table before you order. Thus no food to resist! You don’t have to wait for your food. It’s order and eat. You can order food in various portion sizes, from kid’s to small to jumbo. Plus, the nutrition information for fast food restaurant foods is readily available. Learn more about the nutrition information currently available from restaurants today [link to this Q in section 1 – the Q about nutrition information. Another convenient source for fast food nutritional info is Eat Out Eat Well’s [link] free companion app Eat Out Well – Restaurant Nutrition Finder [link] which you can download to your mobile device.
Here’s a few tips to put into action:
Minimize Fried Foods. Better yet, skip them all together: Offset one fried food with a grilled or non-fried item. For example, opt for a small order of French fries (or share a medium order) with a no-frills hamburger or a grilled chicken sandwich.
Don’t let the fat sneak in: Be mindful of all the ways fat can sneak into your meal. In fast food restaurants minimize or avoid cheese, bacon, mayonnaise and “special sauce” (which are often mayonnaise-based.
Limit Sodium: Fast-food meals can send your sodium count skyrocketing. The sodium count ticks up as foods are coated in salty batters or as pickles, special sauces, bacon, cheese, and salad dressing are added. Not to mention the salt shaker used on French fries or salt on bags of chips and other crunchy snack foods.
Have a Plan: The fine art of preplanning is a bit easier in fast-food restaurants. You aren’t greeted with a menu to peruse and tempt your taste buds. You know only too well what’s on the menu board. A healthy practice is to decide what you’ll order before you cross the threshold or hit the drive-thru speaker.
Control Your Portions: The portions can be small as long as you order using the words small, regular, junior, small, or single. Skirt around the words that mean large portions: giant, super, jumbo, double, triple, big, and extra-large. A single hamburger has between two and three ounces of meat, just about the right portion for lunch or dinner.
Eat Mindfully: Monitor your pace of eating. Make sure you take at least 15-20 minutes for a meal. Avoid drive-thru windows – they partner eating and driving. Not a good combination for your weight or your safety.
Read my Washington Post Nutrition Q&A column (3/15) Fast Food Doesn’t Have to Be a Diet Killer to learn more.
To learn more about all aspects of healthy restaurant eating, including much more about healthy eating at fast food restaurants, get a copy of my book: Eat Out, Eat Well – The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant. Consider downloading the free companion app Eat Out Well – Restaurant Nutrition Finder to your mobile device.