Trimming calories and fat from fast food

April 20, 1999

Fast-food restaurants seem to be multiplying around town, and the number of choices for take-out foods in grocery stores is growing, too! That's because nearly 25 percent of our meals are now eaten away from home.

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Despite good intentions, when time is short, we are likely to opt for the restaurant or take-out stop that offers food the fastest.

Fortunately, chain restaurants and local fast-food eateries, with a reputation for food high in calories and fat, are making an effort to trim both calories and fat from some of the choices on their menus. Customers who choose carefully can eat out without damaging their resolve to eat healthfully. If nutritional information isn't readily available, don't be shy. Ask for the information before you decide what to order.

Opting for grilled or baked choices, rather than a crispier version, can reduce calories and fat. A grilled sandwich may actually be lower in calories and fat than a trip to the salad bar.


Choose a vegetable side dish, such as baked beans or a vegetable salsa, to cut calories and fat even further. Baked or mashed potatoes will have fewer calories and less fat than fried potatoes, unless you overload them with extra butter, sour cream or cheese.

Skipping sauces, asking for dressing on the side or assembling your own sandwich also can save calories and reduce fat.

Skip jumbo meals and reconsider combos that offer a small savings but may add hundreds of unplanned calories. Cost savings are important, but so are the calories and fat saved. When tempted by the cost savings offered with giant-sized sandwiches or beverages that seem bottomless, we may not stop to think that pennies saved may add pounds. Learning to be satisfied with a smaller serving may help ease weight problems. Junior versions of popular sandwiches can satisfy most of us. Splitting a larger sandwich or an order of fries with a friend can help trim calories and fat.

Fast food can be a good choice for a quick meal, but that doesn't mean eating at the same restaurant every day. Choosing different fast-food restaurants is a wise idea, rather than settling for the same menu every time you are in a hurry. Alternating a sandwich shop with burgers, Mexican food, chicken or fish adds variety to your menu and will likely include a greater variety of vitamins and minerals - and can trim calories and fat, too.

Although a large beverage can be filling, it should not be used as a substitute for foods that provide vitamins and minerals the body needs. Choose milk or juice rather than a high-calorie soft drink that may be high in caffeine. Ordering a smaller beverage or asking for water saves calories and also reduces the cost of eating out.

If you'd like some quick meal ideas you can fix and eat at home instead of eating out, send a self-addressed stamped (33-cent) business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Office, 1260 Maryland Ave., Hagerstown, Md. 21740.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County - University of Maryland.

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