How to Find Healthy Choices on Fast Food Menus

At only 210 calories, McDonald's Fruit and Walnut Salad is a great fast-food choice. image by

Fast food, by its very nature, evokes visions of burgers and fries, expanding waistlines and sodium overload. Lucky for today's consumer, most fast food chains have wisened up to the current health concerns and conditions that many American face. Read on to find out how you can still enjoy your favorite fast food hangout without breaking the calorie bank.


Step 1

Stay away from items that contain words like "fried," or "breaded." Even if these words are not present, order any protein items naked (i.e. a humburger, not a cheeseburger, a grilled chicken sandwich, not a friend chicken sandwich), in other words, where you can actually see the meat.

Step 2

Focus on sauces, or a lack thereof. When it comes to salads, try a low-fat version of your favorite dressing or opt for a balsamic vinagrette. For sandwiches and burgers, ask for sauce on the side or light options for fixings like mayonaisse. Utilize mustard and horseradish (note, not horseradish sauce) whenever possible. If you can, try to avoid barbeque sauce altogether, as it's full of sugar.

Step 3

Order only one "guilty" menu item if you must splurge at a fast food joint. If you get the burger, get a side salad. If you get fries, get the grilled chicken sandwich on wheat bread.

Step 4

Try ordering your food protein style (lettuce serves as a substitute for bread), or use only half your bun, eating your burger or sandwich almost like you would a tostada.

Step 5

Substitute calorie-laden cheeses or "special" sauces with spices and salsa-like sauces.

Step 6

Remove half the shredded cheese from atop your taco, salad, chili or other fast food menu item. You won't even notice the difference, especially if you like a topping like salsa.

Tips and Warnings

Pay attention to what your item comes in: is it wrapped in an extra-large four tortilla? Could you have asked for a whole wheat tortilla instead? Is your taco salad encompassed within a huge, deep-fried shell? Ask to have your salad in a normal bowl. The best tip anyone can provide anyone else when eating sensibly at a fast food restaurant is to plan ahead. Look up the chain's nutritional information online and plan your meal before you step inside the restaurant and compulsion sets in. If you know you're going out to dinner at a fast food chain later in the day and are worried you won't be able to resist temptation, eat sensibly throughout the remainder of your day. That way you can savor one item that you were really looking forward to, without stressing out all day long about it. Remember that today's consumer has more choices than ever when it comes to fast food menus. Try out a few of the alternatives to fries and find something else you like that you could see yourself enjoying from time to time. Don't assume that you can predict a menu item's caloric value based simply on its name. Many fast food hamburgers have far less calories than their seemingly healthy chicken alternatives. And be warned that some desserts have more calories than even the biggest value meal.

Things You'll Need

Nutritional information

About this Author

Nellie Day is a freelance writer based out of Hermosa Beach, Calif. Her work can regularly be seen on newsstands, where her specialties include weddings, real estate, food and wine, pets, electronics, architecture and design, business and travel. Day earned a master's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.

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