The Fast Food Cheat Sheet – Make Your Next Stop a Healthier One!

Taco Bell. McDonalds. Subway. Taco Bell. These are a few of my favorite fast food restaurants. Most people think of Taco Bell and McDonalds as disgusting entities responsible for America’s obesity epidemic (A recent study even suggested that obesity has a higher mortality rate than smoking making it the number one cause of preventable death in the US). I completely disagree.

People have more choice than ever in the food they consume! We have to stop blaming a business for acting as a business. Besides, McDonalds starting incorporating healthier food options by adding salads to the menu in 2005. Ever since then it seems like nearly every fast food joint is adding options for the “healthy fast food crowd”.

Fast food doesn’t have to be extremely unhealthy and can be a convenient option if you simply do not have the time to prepare a lunch. Life gets crazy sometimes and as humans we’re meant to adapt to survive. Get educated on fast food! Here are some tips for eating at fast food restaurants that could help you save calories and not stray too far away from your healthy diet.

DISCLAIMER: I am not encouraging you to eat fast food. By all means, aim for nutritious, whole-food, self-prepared meals. I just know that sometimes I must resort to fast food when working 60+ hours a week. You also have to understand that my body, as a 25 year old male with an extremely high metabolism, will probably handle some of these foods better than most others. Anyways, here we go!

Subway  is probably the best fast food restaurant in the business when it comes to giving people autonomy in creating their meal (Chipotle is a close second). With calorie content and information listed right on the menu, it’s easy to choose options that fit into your diet. I suggest the Rotisserie-Style Chicken on 9-Grain Honey Oat with no cheese or dressing. Get it toasted with every vegetable for a total of 380 calories. Regardless of which sandwich you choose, omit the cheese and dressing and opt for every vegetable you can to save calories and savor flavor.

Chick-Fil-A  is the only fast food restaurant to offer grilled chicken nuggets (12-count of regular nuggets at Chick-Fil-A are 400 calories, while a 12-count of grilled nuggets are 200 calories). This was a popular one in Iowa and I’d often see families bring children around. These grilled nuggets offer a fantastic healthy alternative for all ages.

Taco Bell  has a Fresco menu where everything is under 350 calories. When you order “Fresco Style”, they will replace the cheese, creamy sauces, sour cream, and/or guacamole with pico de gallo. This can save you over 200 calories per meal!

Starbucks  “Skinny” menu uses non-fat milk and no-sugar sweeteners as a healthy caloric alternative to traditional coffee with cream and sugar.

Red Robin  made their name by offering unlimited fries with any meal. Woah, dangerous! Now, they have listened to healthy eaters and allow you to substitute fries for unlimited broccoli or unlimited side salads. While I wouldn’t recommend non-stop eating, broccoli will only run you about 50 calories a plate. I know, I know – it’s not fast food, but I’m just trying to help everyone out here!

Removing the tortilla alone at Chipotle saves you 300 calories. Go for the burrito bowl on your next visit. Although they tend to give you more food (= higher calories), you can save by splitting your burrito bowl in half for two delicious meals.

McDonalds is the fast food staple of America. Here, it’s all about quantity. I have seen my brother chow down three Big Macs and a Large Fry in one sitting. Opt for the smaller burger as opposed to the Big Mac. Ask for sandwiches without sauces and cheese. While the salads are not the healthiest salads on earth, they are still better than most other value meal options on the menu.

So the next time you forget to pack a lunch or simply feel starved on the go, remember these tips. If you need any further advice on your favorite restaurants, don’t hesitate to ask me. Below, I’ve listed eight general healthy tips for dining out.

  1. Substitute English Muffins for Bagels
  2. Pass on Cheese (approx. 100 calories)
  3. Choose water instead of soft drinks
  4. Grilled Chicken instead of fried or “crispy” chicken in salads and wraps
  5. Substitute high saturated-fat toppings like mayonnaise, cheese & sour cream for guacamole and salsa
  6. Choose healthy sides that restaurants are now offering instead of French fries, such as applesauce, cottage cheese, fresh fruit, side salad, etc.
  7. Try to consume coffee as natural as possible (“black” coffee). Sugar, syrups, sweeteners, creamers, and whip cream can add hundreds of calories
  8. Go for a hamburger or grilled chicken instead of deep fried proteins. Frying elevates saturated fats and trans fats (i.e. Burger King Flame Grilled Chicken Sandwich – 19 g. of fat compared to the Original Chicken Sandwich – 40 g. of fat)

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