Eating Healthy Fast Food: Does it Even Exist? - Part I
When you need to eat on the run, you may find yourself at a fast food restaurant and wonder if there are any healthy options available. “Eating healthy fast food” may sound like an oxymoron - doesn’t one contradict the other? Not at all!
Below are some of the best choices when eating at a fast food restaurant. Note that options will vary in different eating establishments and in different parts of the world. We’ve done our best to cover sub shops, burger joints, Chinese and Mexican restaurants, steak houses, chicken places, seafood restaurants - the most common fast food places found almost everywhere today.
Healthy Fast Food Options at Burger Restaurants
There is no shortage of burger joints around the world, some better known than others. Eating a meal consisting of a burger, french fries, and soda pop in these places can easily add up to 2,000 calories to your daily intake! (That’s for the large size portions; if you went with small you might save a couple hundred calories.)
Better choices would be a grilled chicken sandwich with mustard, no mayo and a side salad without dressing (or you can dip your fork in the dressing for each bite instead of pouring it directly on your salad). If you really, really, REALLY want a burger, opt for a “junior” sized one. Most of them are right around 300 calories (that’s better than a big burger with 700 calories, right?). If small “wrap” sandwiches are available, most of them contain only 250-400 calories each. Ask for it without cheese and mayo and you’ll save even more calories. Obviously, go for grilled rather than breaded and fried meats.
Healthy Fast Food Options at a Sub Shop
This one is easy! If whole wheat bread is available, go for that first and foremost. Opt for lean meats like turkey, chicken or fish (not fried, and not smothered in mayo). Forgo the cheese, but load on the veggies! Ask for lots of lettuce, tomato, onion, olives, cucumbers, peppers, and other raw vegetables - for that matter, you could have just a veggie sub instead of the meat and save a fair amount of calories. If you want to moisten the sub, ask for hot sauce, vinegar or mustard instead of mayo or oil. A 6-inch veggie sub on whole wheat bread is less than 250 calories. A 6-inch turkey is just under 300 calories. Not bad! Most of these places also offer salads if you want to skip the bread.
Healthy Fast Food Options at Chinese Restaurants
Another easy one, if you know what to ask for. Most Chinese restaurants offer meals cooked a certain way (which usually includes a lot of oil and sodium), but they are usually very flexible about modifying the dish to your tastes. For example, you can request a vegetable stir fry with a little bit of broth instead of oil. Or steamed seafood and vegetables with plain rice. Look carefully at the menu choices, and then think about removing breading, oil, and excess sodium. Other good options are their delicious soups! One cup of wonton soup has only 150 calories, and egg drop soup has less than 100 calories. It’s an easy way to eat relatively healthy and limit calories.
Healthy Fast Food Options at Mexican Restaurants
Think about the main components of Mexican restaurant meals: beef, chicken, beans, rice, tortillas, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa. Only a few of those things carry hefty calories and fat. When eating at a Mexican restaurant, lean more toward fresh vegetables, rice, and lean protein in the form of meat or beans. Use salsa for extra flavor instead of cheese and sour cream. Definitely enjoy some guacamole - it does contain liberal amounts of fat but it’s a GOOD fat that’s heart healthy and satisfying.
Some good Mexican restaurant meal options: crunchy taco, 170 calories - soft taco, 200 calories - bean burrito, 320 calories - a side of pinto beans and cheese, 180 calories - chicken taco salad, 350 calories - chicken enchilada, 250 calories. (Note that calorie counts can vary widely depending on the restaurant and serving size.)