Staying Healthy While Eating Fast Food: Working With The Menu You Have
If you were to look at my Pinterest account, you would most likely make the false assumption that I am one of those “highly organized, pack my lunch for work, make efficient use of Tupperware, plan my meals out by the time and day, health-conscious kind of people” who remembers to toss almonds and string cheese in my bag before leaving for work in the morning. I have all of the lists. I have the cook-in-bulk recipes. I have the schedules and calorie counts by dates and hours. I even have the workout plans and accompanying high protein and energy snacks. In fact, Pinterest has allowed me to accumulate all of the meal planning and weight management techniques people pay nutritionists and health coaches thousands of dollars for with a few clicks of the same button.
Unfortunately, despite all of my planning and pinning and glorious trips to Whole Foods where I convince myself that today is the day that I become one of those people, I am not.
My mornings usually consist of making coffee, responding to emails that I’ve received since falling asleep, puttering around my apartment looking for my right heel that has succeeded in disappearing since the day before, and trying to look put together while surviving on about five hours of sleep. Sound familiar?
So, most mornings, I am more than content to let my plastic containers and sandwich bags gather dust while the lettuce wilts in loneliness in my fridge.
What options does this leave me with most days? Eating on the go and trying to find healthier options and fast-food chains.
Our selections have improved over the years due to health concerns over fast food offerings (Who can forget SuperSize Me?), alarming trends in childhood obesity, and legislation requiring chains to list calorie counts of all items listed on the menu.
Chick Fil-A, Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain, Corner Bakery Café, and Chipotle all offer healthier menu options with fresh, responsibly sourced ingredients and low-calorie contents. For those who aren’t terribly concerned with some of the health concerns of processed meats (deli cuts), Subway also has an abundance of choices and even offers the option to opt for packaged apples over chips.
But, what do you do when you don’t have the healthiest menu to choose from? Work to make healthier decisions with the menu you have in front of you:
1. Go Breadless. Yes, this may sound messy and might not be the best option for a car ride, but removing the roll or bun from a sandwich drastically reduces the calorie count. If possible, ask for extra lettuce and make your own lettuce wrap for your burger or chicken sandwich.
2. Choose Grilled Over Fried. Most menus offer a grilled chicken option of their fried chicken sandwiches. Always choose the grilled option – the less fried anything you have, the better.
3. Skip Sauces And Dressings. Yes, sweet and sour sauce and ranch drizzled over anything is delicious. But, sauces and dressings pack a lot of calories and depending on just how much of either you use, you may be sabotaging the healthier option you originally chose by piling it on.
4. Check The Nutrition Facts. Sometimes, the salad or a seemingly healthier option is, in fact, higher in calories than the 250 calorie hamburger on the menu. Check the nutrition facts before ordering to make certain your choice is actually the best. If the nutritional information is not listed, many apps such as the Fast Food Calorie Counter App can save the day and provide you with the information and content you need.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask. We live in an ever growing health-conscious society and the most informed people about a fast food restaurant’s menu are the employees. Ask if there is a healthier option not listed on the menu or something they might recommend. Many chains have “secret menus” and options not formally listed on the screen above the counter. Some employees might even recommend a smaller portion pairing from the kid’s menu or a breakfast item. Be open to trying something new.
And don’t worry. Keep pinning. One day, we may just have the time to plan our meals out with as much dedication and precision as our careers. For now, I’ll leave it on the back burner - you know, the one on my stove that never gets used for meal prep.