Make healthful choices with fast food

March 25, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE/ Special to The Herald-Mail

Many of us rely on fast food to help manage our hectic lifestyles, whether it's for a quick lunch, a no-mess meal while on the road or an easy way to get dinner on the table for a busy family.

For a long time, fast-food menus mainly consisted of high-fat, high-calorie food items. Today, many fast-food restaurants offer healthful menu items in addition to the traditional burger, fries and soft drink. From grilled chicken sandwiches and broiled fish to salads and fresh fruit to low-fat milk and smoothies, we now have a wide variety of healthful items from which to choose.

But rules of healthful nutrition still apply:

  • Keep portion sizes small. If the fast-food restaurant offers several sandwich sizes, pick the smallest one. Choose a regular or child-size hamburger, which has about 250 to 300 calories. Skip the large serving of french fries or onion rings and go for a smaller size.

  • Ask for mustard or reduced-fat mayonnaise on your sandwich. Request salsa with your meal instead of shredded cheese and nacho cheese sauce. Try to avoid special dressings, tartar sauce, sour cream and other high-calorie condiments.

  • Choose a more healthful side dish. Take advantage of the healthy side dishes now offered at many fast-food restaurants. Instead of french fries, choose a side salad with a low-fat dressing; a baked potato; a fruit bowl; a fruit-and-yogurt cup; applesauce or apple slices; mandarin oranges; corn on the cob; steamed rice; or baked potato chips.

  • Go for the greens. Choose a large entree salad with grilled chicken, shrimp or garden vegetables along with fat-free or low-fat dressing served on the side. Watch out for high-calorie salads such as those made with creamy pasta or topped with breaded chicken or other fried toppings. Skip the salad extras such as cheese, bacon bits, croutons and fried chips.

  • Choose the grilled items. Fried and breaded foods, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish fillets, are high in fat and calories. Select grilled or roasted lean meats, such as turkey breast, chicken breast, lean ham or lean roast beef.

  • Watch what you drink. Order diet soda, water, low-fat milk, unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water or mineral water. Steer clear of shakes and other ice cream drinks, as these can contain more than 1,000 calories and all of your saturated fat allotment for the day.

    When choosing fast foods you can eat nutrient-rich foods. Be careful in your choices, selecting the foods higher in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients but lower in calories.


Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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