Fast Food for Forgivable Feasting
By Jessica Cho, HealthCorps Summer Intern 2019
Does your mouth water at the thought of a juicy burger or a serving of crispy, golden fries? I know mine does. An easy way to satisfy this craving? Fast-food. Ready in what seems like the blink of an eye, fast food is usually made with precooked or preheated ingredients and is prepared in bulk. Though enjoyed by millions, it is often criticized for its calorie and fat heavy content, offering little nutritional value. Most people are already aware that a diet sustained regularly on fast-food is a recipe for poor health outcomes. But, that’s not to say we shouldn’t be able to enjoy a quick trip to the drive-thru on the infrequent occasion!
The very first fast-food hamburger chain in the US was White Castle, opening in 1921. One of the most successful fast-food chains to date, however, was started by the McDonald’s brothers in 1948. Now McDonald’s is present in 126 countries and 6 continents around the world. Not only has fast-food been around for a while, but it has continued to globalize.
Healthier Menu Options
Even though you may think that a trip to a fast-food restaurant is completely a lost cause in terms of keeping in line with your health goals, it isn’t! There are healthier options that exist that don’t just mean sticking to salads or wraps. Because let’s be real, you didn’t go to Wendy’s for a bowl of lettuce, which actually isn’t as healthy as you may think. Be aware of the following menu options for the greater good of your health and for a less guilt-inducing fast-food experience.
Artisan grilled chicken sandwich
This sandwich option contains 380 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 36 grams of protein. Going for a grilled chicken option over fried or crispy is always a healthier bet. Compare this to a double-quarter pounder with cheese which comes in at 770 calories.
Steak Fresco Soft Taco
This meal contains just 150 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 10 grams of protein. Choosing “fresco” options is a good way to avoid consuming the unnecessary fatty sauces that often bring the “healthy factor” of a meal way down.
Spinach, feta and cage-free egg-white breakfast wrap
This breakfast choice contains 290 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 19 grams of protein. Along with your cup of coffee, it’s a good option for a morning on the move. Starbucks also offers “bistro box” meals that are all less than 500 calories and a good source of fiber. Each box includes healthy carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats, and a serving of fruits or vegetables. Already prepared, they’re great for those grab-and-go moments.
If you’re like me, and simply can’t resist a serving of nuggets, order these to satisfy your chicken craving with little remorse. This meal option has 140 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 25 grams of protein. Pretty good deal! For a heartier meal, go for the grilled chicken cool wrap which contains 350 calories and 13 grams of fat.
Lentil quinoa broth bowl with chicken
Panera, while still fast-food, offers a greater selection of balanced meals. This savory broth bowl contains 380 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 32 grams of protein. It’s likely to fill you up and even add some nutritional value to your day. Along with the lentils, quinoa, and chicken, it’s also prepared with brown rice, tomato sofrito, fresh kale, spinach, and lemon in an umami soy-miso broth. Mmmm!
Sometimes eating healthy means keeping things simple. This beef and broccoli meal is simply tossed in a ginger soy sauce and just like that, it’s ready to devour! This dish is 150 calories and contains just 7 grams of fat. Yes, please!
Steak burrito bowl with fajita vegetables, black beans, and fresh tomato salsa
This hearty dish comes in at 325 calories, 7.5 grams of fat, and 30 grams of protein. Not too shabby! Take control of your meal by adding the ingredients you want while omitting the fattier, unnecessary add-ins.
6-inch turkey breast sandwich with nine-grain wheat bread
There’s nothing like a sub to fill you up and hit the spot. This option has just 250 calories and 3 grams of fat. Customize your own sandwich or choose from Subway’s “Fresh Fit” menu for other healthier options.
Pro-tip: Don’t be embarrassed or feel awkward when ordering from the kids menu- if you can. Satisfy your craving for fast-food while opting for smaller portion sizes to control how much you consume (it’s easy to get carried away). Remember that healthy eating isn’t only about nutritional value, but also how well you portion your food.
Healthier Chain Options
It’s always best to know what kinds of ingredients go into your meals to ensure there aren’t any unwanted secret surprises. If you’re looking for a healthy, but quick bite, a great way to monitor what goes into your meals is to go to places that let you select your own toppings and add-ins. This way, you can opt for healthier ingredients and portion your food accordingly. Some of my personal favorite fast-food chains are ones that allow you to build-your-own-bowl, a trend that has really taken off. In addition to more well-known “create it yourself” chains like Chipotle (Mexican), Subway (deli-style sandwiches), Chopt and Sweet Green (Salads), there’s now a plethora of additional different styles out there. Now you can make your own Korean, Japanese poké, Mediterranean bowls, and more! Whenever I visit one of these chains, I’m always excited by having the power to put together exactly what I want to eat. Google some places like these near you. Stay in control and give new flavors a try!
Although it’s definitely not a good idea to eat fast food on a regular basis, we tend to get busy and need things on the go or simply just want to satisfy a craving. Either way, it’s okay! If you do choose to go to a fast-food restaurant, make a conscious effort to select healthier options. They exist! But everything in moderation. That’s key. My fast-food weakness? McDonald’s chicken nuggets, a side of fries, and an oreo McFlurry. Every day? Certainly not. On the special occasion? Why yes please, pass the fries! After all, if you’re a sucker for fast food like I am, it’s okay to go all in and indulge as long as you maintain a healthy diet most days and don’t make a habit out of it.
If you want more information on portion sizing and how to eat mindfully, please visit Portion Distortion.