Making Better Choices at Fast Food Restaurants

posted Feb 14, 2011, 1:28 PM by H. Connor   [ updated Feb 15, 2011, 6:44 AM ]
Why? It’s fun to go out to eat. And sometimes you’re just too busy to make a meal. Just be careful—restaurants are businesses. When you order more food, they make more money. Some make a big deal out of larger portions. Others offer “value meals” at an attractive price, but with extra calories lumped in.

How? For those times when fast food is the only option—or when you want to take a break from cooking at home—there are some simple things you can do to cut calories and to limit fat, salt and sugar in your choices.

Start Smart: Learn what to look for on the menu. Watch for low-fat options like au jus (in its own juices), baked, broiled, fresh, grilled, poached, lean, roasted, or steamed. Avoid foods served au gratin, buttered, breaded, creamed, fried, crispy, or sautéed.

Side Note: Ask for all sauces and salad dressings on the side so that you can control how much your kids use.

Set Some Aside: Bring food storage containers with you. When your order arrives, portion out enough for now, and then store the rest for later. Restaurant portions can be large, so you can save money and avoid the temptation to clean your plate.

Eat Like a Kid: There’s no rule against ordering a kid’s meal for yourself. You’ll get less food—and fewer calories—for less money.

Learn to Share: Teach your kids to share their meals with their brothers, sisters and friends. They’ll learn a lesson and get healthier portions.

Easy on the Sauce: There are lots of hidden calories in mayo, sour cream, salad dressing and other sauces.

Choose Chicken: When in doubt, a grilled, baked or broiled chicken breast (not breaded or fried) is a healthier choice.

Veg Out: Ask for tomatoes, lettuce, onions, or other veggies on sandwiches.

Sub In: Order a side salad or baked potato instead of fries. A large order of fries can have 500 calories!

And to Drink: Go with water, 100% fruit juice, or fat-free and low-fat (1%) milk instead sugary, high-fat drinks.

Down Size: It may seem like a good “value,” but there are lots of extra calories and fats in those super sizes. Regular sizes are usually the better portions.

Treat Yourself: Dessert is fine once in a while. Try low-fat frozen yogurt or sherbet instead of ice cream. Add sprinkles instead of caramel sauce or hot fudge.

Don’t Double: Most burger patties are well over a single serving (2 – 3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards). Go with a single burger, and resist the urge to add bacon.

Mexican Food: Order vegetarian refried beans (made without bacon or lard), or plain black beans. Choose soft tortillas (like the ones used for burritos) instead of fried taco shells. Replace the cheese or sour cream with salsa or guacamole.

Pizza: Order a thin-crust with extra veggies. Go easy on the cheese and meats. Before you eat, use a few paper napkins to blot the extra oil. You’ll cut some fat right off the bat—and you’ll never miss it.

Italian Food: Avoid creamy sauces and pesto on pasta. Instead, try marinara sauce or pasta primavera. Pasta portions can be hearty—try sharing or taking some home.

Chinese Food: Order steamed rice instead of fried rice. Try boiled, steamed, broiled or lightly stir-fried dishes. Pile on the vegetables. Avoid deep fried and egg dishes, and go light on the salty sauces.

Burger Night: Try the regular or kid-sized portion. Load up on lettuce and tomato, and try to skip the cheese.

Breakfasts: Choose a small whole-wheat, high-fiber muffin, bagel or toast. Replace the bacon or sausage with ham (it’s leaner). Watch out for fruit juices that are loaded with added sugar. Say, “Fresh-squeezed, please.”