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Too busy?  Late for a practice?  Another meeting?  Only way to eat is to go through the fast food lane.  Oh well, maybe they will have a quick healthy option.    

fast food meal bag

We know fast foods are usually high in fat, calories and sugar and many are also high in sodium.  Eating these frequently can have long-term consequences on our health increasing our risk of chronic diseases and obesity.  But when you are too rushed for time fast food seems to be the only option.  How can you eat healthy at fast food restaurants?  Some of the restaurants do have some healthier choices. With us buying more healthy choices and asking for additional healthy choices, they may start providing better options.  Start now to make healthier choices by following these guidelines:

  • Fill up your sandwich, salad, or bowl with vegetables, whole grains, beans, and/or seafood or other low-fat proteins.  Limit sugary items and high-starch items.
  • Aim for getting whole grains.  This is not easy as many fast food restaurants do not offer any whole grain options. For breakfast choose oatmeal. Other meals ask for a whole-grain bun or wrap.  The more people ask, the more likely it will appear on the menu. 
  • Small portions– choose the smallest portions.  Calories add up quickly.  Check out the calorie amounts on sandwiches, French fries and other fried food. Go with the smaller portion. 
  • Think non-sugary drinks.  Order water, low-fat milk, unsweetened tea, plain coffee, or sparkling or mineral water. Avoid the sodas, super coffee drinks, milkshakes and other sweetened drinks. Many have 600+ calories.   
  • Favor healthy side dishes.  Instead of French fries pick a side salad with low-fat dressing, baked potato, mini-carrots, fruit bowl or a fruit and yogurt option to your meal.  You can change a kid’s meal to have a fruit bowl, applesauce or sliced fruit.  At some places you can choose an apple, orange, corn on the cob or baked potato chips. 
  • Opt for grilled items instead for fried.  You will cut calories and fat.
  • Opt for a green salad with grilled chicken, shrimp, or vegetables.  Only add half the salad dressing or use on the side.  This will cut back on added fat, salt and sugar.  Skip salads in deep-fried shells or with breaded or fried ingredients.  To cut the calories reduce or skip the cheese and croutons. 
  • Decide to eat healthier.  You don’t have to take what comes with your sandwich or meal.  Ask for healthier options and substitutions. Busy day ahead, pack some mini-carrots and fruit, buy a salad or small sandwich, and you have a healthy meal. 

 

Salad with chicken, strawberries, nuts, oranges. Seasonal foods.
Seasonal Salad

If you see few or very limited healthy options at your favorite fast food restaurant, ask for them. The more people who ask for them the more likely the restaurant will provide some healthier options.  Calories add up quickly at fast food restaurants, so keep portions small. Enjoy your meal!

Author:  Pat Brinkman, Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator

Reviewer:

References:

Sparks, D. (2019) Fast Food: Tips for choosing healthier options.  Mayo Clinic.  Available at https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/fast-food-tips-for-choosing-healthier-options/

Tufts University. (2018). Healthy Fast Food Choices?  Health & Nutrition Letter, Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, 36(12). 1&3

Jiao, J; Moudon, AV; Kim, SY; Hurvitz, PM; Drewnowski, A.  (2015).  Health Implications of Adults’ Eating at and Living near Fast Food or Quick Service Restaurants. Nutrition and Diabetes 5(7) e171. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4521173/

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