Fast food restaurants decorate nearly every corner of urban America. Wherever we turn, there’s at least three nearby establishments ready to serve up a speedy meal. We know these places aren’t known for their healthy food choices, so why do we continue to eat there?
Why We Love Fast Food
It is estimated that one in four Americans visit a fast food restaurant daily. According to a USDA report, we’ve largely increased the amount of meals we eat away from home over the past few decades. In 1972, this number was 34%. In 2006, it had increased to almost 50% (half).
To sum it up, these numbers are mostly from an attraction to speed and convenience. Busy schedules don’t leave us much time for cooking. It’s easier to hit up a drive-thru line, roll down your car window, order from a menu board and pay a few bucks for quick and tasty food.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that 92% of people interviewed ate at fast food joints because of time. 80% said they’re easy to get to. Still, only 20% said they felt as though these joints offered nutritious options. So the question stands: can they be healthy?
Sometimes Healthy…But in Moderation
Many orders from fast food restaurants can be modified to a semi-healthy state with careful consideration. First, you have to read the menu details. Several U.S. states and cities have passed menu labeling policies that require calorie counts and lists of ingredients used.
Don’t just gloss over this information; read it carefully. Sometimes a grilled chicken sandwich (bread and all) can have fewer calories than a salad. Most options are listed or categorized as “light” if they have 500-600 calories or less. For healthier food, look for these items.
You’ll also want to follow a few basic tips of the trade. Opt for grilled meat vs fried meat, and be choosy with your condiments. Most ketchup, BBQ and specialty sauces are loaded with sugar and calories. Mustard and many low-fat dressings are lighter choices. If you’re choosing among sides, fruit and veggie cups are of course healthier then fries, onion rings or chicken nuggets. Most restaurants also offer limited-ingredient side salads with far less calories.
Another obvious choice is to pass over the super-size option, and skip the coke or juice for ice water instead. We often don’t think much about the nutritional value of our beverages, but calories from drinks, toppings and extra servings add up very quickly.
Other healthy eating tips:
- Limit fast food to once per week but preferably less
- Consider fast food a “special” occasion meant for indulgence
- Pack healthy home snacks for when you’re on the road
- Learn to menu plan and meal prep for added convenience
- Don’t fall victim to clever marketing tactics or apps
- Eat substantial and satiating foods to ward-off hunger and cravings
- Explore tools like HealthyDiningFinder.com or GoodFoorNearYou.com
For more tips on understanding health and fast food, CLICK HERE.