No matter how healthy we try to be, there will always be times — at the airport, on road trips — when we have no choice but to take advantage of the inexpensive convenience of fast food.
“The minute you opt for fast food, you’re vulnerable,” says Lisa Gosselin, Editor-in-Chief of Eating Well Magazine. “You’re generally hungry, you’re pressed for time and you walk into this environment where everything is trying to make you eat and spend more money.”
While the big chains have enhanced the quality of their menus, it’s hard to really know which items are really healthy. It’s only until the end of the year when the FDA will require all major food outlets to post caloric values on all menu items.
In the meantime, here are some fast-food tips and healthier picks at the top chains to help you get the healthiest bang for your buck.
Taco Bell: Order tacos “al fresco.” They’ll skip the cheese and sauce and give you a fresh tomato, onion and cilantro salsa on it, instead.
Burger King: The Whopper Junior has 360 calories compared to the 670 calories and 40 grams of fat of the Regular Whopper.
Wendy’s: Opt for the small chili at just 210 calories. The sour cream and chives potato is a healthier option than their burgers.
Subway: Split a sandwich with a friend. Or if you go for the 6-inch veggie delight sandwich — with just 230 calories – have it all to yourself. It also costs less than $4.
McDonald’s: Rather than a Grilled Chicken Sandwich, choose the smaller honey mustard-flavored Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap. It’s just 250 calories and 8 grams of fat. Pair that with the snack size Fruit and Walnut Salad, and a bottle of water and you have a meal for less than $4.
Here are some good tips to follow no matter where you stop:
It pays to be organized. “If you’re going on a two-and-a-half hour drive, you can guess where you’re going to want to stop,” says Gosselin. She suggests checking online menus of any of the fast-food chains along your drive. “Many have nutrition and calorie counters…to help you avoid last minute temptation.”
Be Cautious With Salad
One trap is assuming salad is the healthier — or cheapest — option. Toppings are where the calories and fat hide so instead, opt for flavorful ingredients like grilled chicken, but skip the dressing and croutons.
Choose Foods With “Staying Power”
Foods with the similar caloric values don’t necessarily keep you full for equal lengths of time. They may not be equally healthy, either. “If you’re choosing between an Egg McMuffin and oatmeal [at McDonalds], they may have around the same number of calories, but the oatmeal is going to give you a lot of healthy fiber and it’s going to be much lower in saturated fat,” says Gosselin.
Choosing foods high in protein will also keep you full longer. Experts say, go ahead and order that double burger once in a while. Just skip the cheese and mayo. Scooping out some of the bun can also shed another 200 calories from the sandwich.
Save With Kids’ Portions
Remember: Adults aren’t restricted from ordering Happy Meals. “One of my favorite strategies is to order from the children’s menu,” says Gosselin. “For instance McDonald’s Happy Meal now has apple slices, a smaller portion of fries and low fat milk. It’s an economical choice and you can give the toy to a kid.”
Watch For Sodium
Always watch out for high levels of sodium when eating out. “Some entrees have as much as 900mg to 100mg of sodium and that’s almost half as much as you should be eating all day,” says Gosselin.
What are your Money-Saving Fast Food strategies? Get in touch on Twitter @Farnoosh, using the hash tag #FinFit.