It’s important to learn how to make more health-conscious choices when eating out, especially at fast food restaurants. Yes, it is possible to eat fast food and keep it healthy as long as you take the time to check the nutritional content of all your favorite fast food meals. This is especially important if you have a specific dietary concern, like diabetes, health problems or are trying to lose weight.
By going into a fast food restaurant unprepared, you risk giving into temptation and making unhealthy food choices. Making common-sense and health-conscious decisions can go a long way. For instance, did you know that a salad (yes, a salad) can be very bad for someone trying to maintain a low fat diet if it’s smothered in high-fat dressings. Somehow, we look at the salad and think, “I can’t go wrong with all of these fresh vegetables!”, but then you go and add all those toppings; fried meats, fatty sauces, and so on and so forth. You have to make sure that your toppings are grilled and light, otherwise, your salad is no better than that double cheeseburger!
Another important consideration is your serving size. Be sure to not keep eating just because the food your ordered is more than you anticipated. Rather, pack some of it up and save it for later or the next day or order smaller portions next time.
Quick tips for healthy eating at fast food restaurants
As much as we try and say we’ll never step foot into a fast food restaurant, with our busy lifestyles, sometimes it’s inevitable. Follow the tips below and you’ll never have to worry about going into a fast food restaurant ever again!
- Be careful with your decisions when choosing food from the menu. Don’t just order something because the picture looks tasty, but pay attention to what’s written under or beside the picture—what it is you’re actually eating. So, what sort of dishes should you make an effort to avoid? Any food with the words: “deep-fried”, “pan-fried”, “creamy”, “batter-tipped”, “scalloped”, “breaded” – can you see a pattern in the type of foods you should be avoiding? All of these foods are very high in calories and contain a lot of unhealthy fats and sodium. When picking your meal, opt for meals that contain more vegetables and stick to the leaner meats.
- Eliminate sodas from your diet completely. You have no idea how many calories are jam-packed in your soda (actually, some people do and they still drink soda with their meals!). Did you know that a seemingly innocent 32 ounce cup of cola is packed with more than 425 calories!? That’s approximately one quarter of your daily calorie intake. Still want a drink with your meal? There’s nothing better than regular H2O, but if you’re looking for something a little tastier, add some lemon with your water or order unsweetened ice tea.
- Avoid those dressings! Even though a salad may appear to be your healthiest choice, even that can be cleverly packed with calories and other unhealthy fats with fatty dressings and fried toppings. While a grilled chicken sandwich seems like a healthy choice, pack it with two spoonfuls of mayonnaise and you have yourself a bad and unhealthy choice. Better condiment choices would be ketchup or mustard, but you still want to control how much goes into your sandwich. Remember, too much of anything is unhealthy.
- Don’t be embarrassed to ask for special orders. For instance, if the grilled chicken sandwich you ordered comes with mayonnaise, and a large handful of French fries, you can always tell them that you don’t want mayonnaise with your sandwich and you want to replace the French fried with a salad. Go one step further and instead of those unhealthy dressings, ask for olive oil and vinegar in your salad instead. If the dish you chose is usually prepared in a lot of oil or butter, steam or broil the food instead.
- Pay attention to the portion of your dish! On average, a single fast food dish can contain anywhere from 1000 calories and up so it’s important that you don’t choose a meal that is too large. Instead of opting for fries, go with a salad and keep all your portions small or medium—that means no large or double portions! If the meal is large enough for two, share a dish with someone else, whether it’s your colleague at work or your husband; or let the restaurant pack half the food and take it with you for later.
Fast food is generally already high in sodium so pay attention to how much salt you eat. Salt is one of the main factors that cause high blood pressure among other health issues. Don’t make things worse by adding even more salt to your food.
As tempting as they are, try to stay away from buffets. While buffets seem like a cheap way to eat a lot, in the end, you’re eating more calories than you should/need. Buffets encourage us to eat more than we would usually—so if you do end up going to a buffet, choose foods that aren’t drained in dressings, pick boiled and steamed over fried. And most importantly, don’t go back to the buffet for seconds—of course, this is the whole point of going to a buffet, so at least wait for 15 to 20 minutes before going for seconds to make sure that you’re really hungry.
- Take it slowly. So many people swallow down their food without chewing it properly. Never rush your food. This will also help you to pay attention to the food you eat so that you can stop eating the moment you feel full.
Finally, think of eating out as a treat. If you know that you’re going to be eating out, prepare in advance and eat light the day before (and after). Even though moderation is the key, planning ahead of time and making health-conscious decisions regarding the food you order can go a long way to help you maintain your health and keep your calorie count under check.
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