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Avoid the Fast Food Conundrum

I was recently asked about the best fast food picks for someone on the go. I started to put a list together, but I kept running into obstacles that made me think, “I just can’t recommend this!”

As I searched the fast food landscape, every single item I considered possibly adding to the “OK list” clocked in at over 1,000 mg of sodium (1,500-2,300 mg a day max is recommended). At one establishment, the “grilled chicken breast fillet” listed 12 other additives, not including the onion powder, paprika and garlic powder and at another, the roster of ingredients in a sandwich bun took up 8 lines on an 8 ½ X 11 PDF!

As a nutritionist and heath educator, I believe that healthy weight management isn’t just about calories in and calories out, or the fiber or protein content of a meal. It’s also about quality, nutrient rich, unprocessed food - not just how the nutrition facts label reads, but also what’s in the food, where the ingredients came from and how it was made. And that’s where fast food misses the mark.

So if you’re traveling and may be stuck in a “health food desert” I recommend packing some nonperishable snacks so you won’t be caught in a fast food trap. My favorite choices are:

  • Nuts - one quarter cup, about the size of a golf ball, provides about 160 calories
  • Unsweetened dried fruit, especially figs - 4 figs only pack about 100 calories and they're filled with fiber, about 4 g (20% of the daily recommendation)    
  • Dried veggies (like Just Tomatoes, etc. - I love the crunchy carrot bits) - 1 oz (a quarter of the tub) has 100 calories and 6 g fiber
  • Individually wrapped dark chocolate squares - about 50 calories each

If you’re traveling several hours on a highway, you’re out of food, and the only options you see just off the exits are fast food, pull into a gas station instead. Here you can usually uncover a handful of healthy gems among the sea of energy drinks, snack cakes and chips, like:

  • Fresh fruit (they nearly always have bananas)
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Low fat string cheese
  • Nuts 

Or if you can, seek out a quick service restaurant that serves made to order food from fresh ingredients such as:

Fajita Burrito Bowl – as for half the usual rice portion, black beans, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, lettuce and guacamole – 380 calories

Pei Wei
Thai Dynamite with Shrimp (order “stock velveted” which means cooked in stock instead of thick, oily sauce) with a half portion of brown rice – 420 calories
Au Bon Pain
Large Vegetarian Lentil Soup, ‘Au Bon Portions’ Hummus & Cucumber – 360 calories

Do you eat on the go often? If so, what types of options do you rely on?


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