In an ideal world, every meal we ever eat would be effortlessly healthy. Every bite would be the perfect balance of healthy carbs, proteins and good-for-us fats.
We’d also live on the beach and never have to do laundry again.
Unfortunately, the real world isn’t ideal. Most of us don’t live on the beach, laundry is a fact of life and occasionally you find yourself in a fast food restaurant.
Healthier fast food choices are easier than you think
While there’s nothing we can do about the beach or the laundry, we can help you make smarter, healthier decisions when you find yourself standing in line for your lunch or dinner
Follow some basic rules, and even if you can’t call your fast food meal healthy, it can be far healthier. And sometimes healthier fast food is all you can ask for.
1. Say no to ALL fried foods:
The most important rule for picking healthier fast food is to stay far away from the fried foods. And that means everything from sides through entrees.
You don’t need us to tell you that French fries, onion rings and mozzarella sticks aren’t the best choices. But things aren’t so clear when it comes to that chicken sandwich or crispy chicken salad. After all, chicken must be better for you than a fully loaded burger.
Right? No, not necessarily when it’s fried chicken. For example, a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese weighs in at 530 calories and 41 carbs. But their Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich has 570 calories and a whopping 64 carbs!
Frying a healthy food is the fastest way to make it unhealthy.
2. Watch the sauce:
Frying may be the fastest way to make something unhealthy. But the second fastest is to cover it in sugary sauces or dressings made with junk oils.
Wraps with ranch, sandwiches with “secret sauce,” sides with ketchup and salads drowned in dressing all have more fat, calories and carbs than you might realize.
Stick with mustard on sandwiches and burgers. And use olive oil on salads. Or if you’re stuck without many choices, dip your fork into your dressing before grabbing up the lettuce. You’ll get the taste without all the extra sugar and junk fat.
3. Don’t blow it with your drink:
Lemonade, fruit drinks, iced tea, and diet sodas may seem like healthier options. But don’t be fooled. Every one of them can sabotage your efforts to have a healthier fast food meal.
Opt for bottled water, soda water, plain tea or even black coffee with a dash of cream instead.
4. Ask for lettuce rather than a bun:
Some fast food joints have started offering burgers and other sandwiches wrapped in large lettuce leaves rather than on a bun. This is a great way to slash extra calories and carbs right off the top.
In and Out Burger calls their lettuce wrapped burgers “protein style.” And Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. offer the “quarter pounder low-carb little thickburger” off their Trim It menu.
But even if the restaurant you’ve stopped at doesn’t have it on the menu, ask if you can hold the bun and get a few extra lettuce leaves instead.
5. Pick the healthiest version of your meal:
Burgers: When ordering a hamburger pink a single, not a double, specialty or deluxe. You’ll slash a significant amount of unneeded fat, calories and carbohydrates from your meal.
For example, at McDonald’s if you choose a single hamburger instead of the Quarter Pounder you will be eating 230 fewer calories, 15 fewer grams of fat and 8 fewer carbs. And regardless of the restaurant, you’re going to find that kind of difference when you go for the basic burger over any of their specialty options.
Ask them to load up on extra veggies, and skip the ketchup, sweet relishes and sweet sauces which contain corn syrup. Plus, don’t forget that most commercial mayonnaise contains junk oils and sugar. So consider skipping it too.
Chicken:When choosing a chicken sandwich always pick the grilled version rather than the fried. Ask for extra vegetables on top. And hold the honey mustard and other sweet sauces for a healthier fast food version.
Subs: If you’re stuck eating at a sub place choose the half a sub or 6-inch size. Pick a leaner cut of meat, such as turkey, ham or roast beef. And choose just one meat, instead of a combo.
Or even better, just order a veggie sub instead. Add cheese for some filling protein. And if they offer avocado, feel free to add it. In fact, avocado is a delicious, healthy and filling addition to just about any sub.
Choose mustard instead of dressing or specialty sauces. And have them add a sprinkle of herbs and pepper for an added pop. Finish off your sub with some olive oil if you like.
Salads: When choosing a salad avoid adding breaded and fried chicken. Go with grilled chicken or an all veggie salad, instead.
And watch those toppings. It’s easy for a salad to transform into a carbohydrate bomb if it’s loaded down with sugared nuts, croutons, tortilla strips and heavy dressings.
If you have options, pick sunflower seeds or plain nuts and a sprinkle of cheese instead. And top it off with olive oil and vinegar, or a vinaigrette-based dressing in a pinch.
Sometimes eating at home just isn’t in the cards. If you find yourself on the go and need to grab some fast food don’t panic. With a few careful choices, you can build a healthier fast food version that won’t leave you feeling queasy and full of guilt at the end of your meal.