Making healthier fast food
Making healthier fast food choices is easier if you plan ahead by checking the nutritional guides that most chains post on their websites. But if you don’t have the chance to prepare, you can still make smarter choices by following a few common sense guidelines.
Healthier fast food ordering guidelines
Keep your eye on portion size. Many fast food meals deliver enough food for several meals in the guise of a single serving. Avoid supersized and value-sized items, and go for the smallest size when it comes to sandwiches, burgers, and sides. You can also find more reasonable portions on the children’s menu.
Focus on grilled or roasted lean meats. Avoid fried and breaded items, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish fillets. Choose turkey, chicken breast, lean ham, or lean roast beef instead. Grilled skinless chicken is usually your best bet.
Pay attention to the descriptions on the menu. Dishes labeled deep-fried, pan-fried, basted, batter-dipped, breaded, creamy, crispy, scalloped, or au gratin are usually high in calories, unhealthy fats, and sodium. Same with items in Alfredo or cream sauce.
Don’t be afraid to special order. Many menu items can be made healthier with a few tweaks and substitutions. For example, you can ask to hold the sauce or dressing or serve it on the side. Or you can request a wheat bun for your hamburger or whole-grain bread for your sandwich.
Don’t assume that healthy-sounding dishes are always your best option. For example, many fast food salads are a diet minefield, smothered in high-fat dressing and fried toppings. This is where reading the nutrition facts before you order can make a huge difference.
Tips for keeping fast food calories under control
Be careful when it comes to condiments and dressings. When choosing items, be aware of calorie- and fat-packed salad dressings, spreads, sauces, and sides such as sour cream. Mayonnaise- and oil-based sauces in particular add a lot of calories. Try holding the mayo and asking for a packet of ketchup or mustard you can add yourself—controlling how much you put on your sandwich.
Stick to zero-calorie beverages. Soda is a huge source of hidden calories. The average large soda packs around 300 calories, which can quickly gulp up a big portion of your daily calorie intake. Shakes are even worse, with up to 800 calories and a day’s worth of saturated fat. And don’t be fooled by lemonade and fruit drinks, which add calories and sugar without much in the way of nutrients. Order water, diet soda, or unsweetened tea instead.
Be wise about sides. Watch menu items that come with one or more side dishes. Sides that can quickly send calories soaring include fries, chips, rice, noodles, onion rings, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Better bets are side salads with light dressing, baked potato (easy on the toppings), fresh fruit cups, corn on the cob, or apple slices.
Pass on the French fries. Do you really need those fries? A sandwich or burger should be plenty filling on its own. Or if your meal doesn’t sound complete without fries, choose the smallest size (which can be 400 calories less than a large serving).
Skip the bacon. It’s always tempting to add bacon to sandwiches and salads for extra flavor, but bacon has very few nutrients and is high in fat and calories. Instead, try ordering extra pickles, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, or mustard to add flavor without the fat.
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