When life gets busy, eating at fast food restaurants can sometimes become a necessity for their convenience. Between work, errands, family events and social obligations, families find themselves on the run and in need of somewhere to stop for a quick meal.
Fast food restaurants often get a bad reputation because of their high-fat, high-calorie and high-sugar options. However, with a little thought and planning, you can make healthier choices that will help support your weight management goals and nutrition plan.
Planning Ahead at Fast Food Restaurants
Choose Your Restaurant Wisely
There are healthy options and not-so-healthy items at all fast food restaurants. Spend some extra time determining where you plan to go that will have items on the lighter side. For example, one fast food restaurant may have more items you can customize, such as swapping a regular bun for a lettuce bun or choosing grilled chicken instead of fried chicken. Some menus will simply have more variety than others, so do a little bit of comparison searching while you’re on the go rather than simply stopping at the closest fast food restaurant.
Choose Your Meal Ahead of Time
You don’t have to wait until you get to the restaurant to decide what you want to eat. Browse the menu ahead of time to pick an option that will support your weight and health goals. This will alleviate the decision-making paralysis that often accompanies the drive-thru or indoor register while other people are waiting behind you to order.
Fast food doesn’t have to mean you eat it fast. People often eat in the car while driving or walking if they’re on the move. This can throw off your hunger and fullness signals, making it harder to know when to stop eating. Try to eat slowly and mindfully during all your meals and listen to your body. It may take a little extra effort with fast food, but the effort is worth it.
Watch Your Portion Sizes
Fast food portions can be big! Restaurants often supersize them at a very low cost. Once you’ve gotten your food, take a few minutes to cut the meal in half and save some for later. You can also order a smaller size to eliminate temptation and storage issues.
Watch the Extras
Burger sauces, salad dressings, butter and condiments can add hundreds of calories to your meal. Ask for these items on the side or try measuring out less than half to use on your food.
Healthier Fast Food Choices
What can you eat at a fast food restaurant? Here are some ideas.
- English Muffin Breakfast Sandwich: An English muffin has fewer calories than a croissant or bagel breakfast sandwich. Proteins like egg, ham and turkey sausage are lighter than bacon or pork sausage.
- Egg Bites: These are a mix of eggs, cheese and possibly meat. They’re a low-carb favorite
that packs a lot of protein into smaller portion sizes.
- Yogurt Parfait: These can be nutritious choices, but look for a parfait that has low-fat and/or low-sugar yogurt with granola and fresh fruit.
- Morning Drinks: When ordering a coffee beverage that isn’t “black,” ask for a sugar-free syrup and/or low-fat milk. Limit sugary juices like orange and apple juice and ask for water instead.
Lunch and Dinner:
- Plain Hamburger or Grilled Chicken Sandwich: These have less fat and calories than a fried chicken sandwich or a loaded burger with a ton of extra toppings and condiments.
- Fries: Everything can be okay in moderation. Choose a smaller size instead of a large, or better yet, substitute a side of fruit or a small salad.
- Salads: These can be great choices that help you eat more veggies, but not all fast food salads are created equal. Opt for grilled chicken instead of fried and order a lighter dressing such as vinaigrette instead of ranch, honey mustard or thousand island.
- Soups and Stews: These can be great ways to add fiber and protein to your meals. Try to limit the creamier soups, such as broccoli and cheese or baked potato, as they have extra calories and fat. Instead, look for chili, chicken noodle or minestrone.
- Lunchmeat Sandwiches: Visit a local sandwich shop and try a lean turkey or ham sandwich loaded with extra vegetables. This can be a quick way to eat heathy!
- Drinks: Watch your drinks! Sodas, juices and sweetened drinks are very high in sugar and calories. Opt for sugar-free drinks, or better yet, water.
Eating healthy at fast food restaurants is possible when you have a plan. Try not to make a habit of eating at them, but when you do, know that you have lighter options available when you put a little extra thought into ordering.