The statistics on obesity in the United States are shocking. More than a third of U.S. adults are obese or at risk, and children with at least one obese parent face a 70 percent chance of becoming obese as well.
Experts attribute these statistics in part to a fast food culture pushing larger and larger portions of unhealthy food. Fortunately, this trend is beginning to reverse itself, but navigating menus can be confusing and difficult. Finding the Healthiest Fast Food Dinner is not easy, but with a little education and some menu awareness, we can make better choices no matter where we happen to be ordering from.
Fast Food Nutrition
An ideal menu would include nothing but lean meats, nutrient-packed fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This menu is rarely available, though, and 24-hour fast food establishments usually are. Fast food will never be the most nutritious option, but there are ways to cut back while still satisfying your hunger.
The key is to understand what the healthiest choices are and where the calories, excess sodium and fat come from. If the restaurant does not have a nutrition facts breakdown available, use these tips to avoid unnecessary calories and fat:
-Skip the cheese. Cheese is a calorie-dense food and many of those calories come from saturated fat. To top it all off, it is usually processed and packed with sodium. Leave it out and you drop several grams of fat and more than 100 calories.
-Leave off the sauce. Whether it is mayonnaise, Thousand Island or another ‘special sauce, it is packed with calories and fat and has almost no nutritious value.
-Choose whole grain when available. Despite the popular rise of ‘primal’ and low carbohydrate diets, a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found obese individuals lost more belly fat when their diet included whole grain carbohydrate sources. Whole grains are processed slower and keep you full longer.
-Choose turkey, chicken or fish when available. All three choices are lower in calories and fat than beef or pork.
-Skip the value meal and order a salad or sandwich only. Have water for a drink. This approach is healthier and saves money.
A Healthy Fast Food Dinner is not impossible. A good rule of thumb at a fast food chain is to look for a lean protein source with as many fruits and vegetables as possible.
Kids are picky eaters, which is why the average burger and fries place only offers a handful of items on their kid’s menu. True Healthy Fast Food Kids Meals are hard to find, but to avoid a junk food meal, look to the regular menu. The options are more varied, easier to modify, and potentially healthier. Just be sure to reduce the portion size so it is appropriate for your youngster. If your child insists on eating a specific kid’s menu item, try these tips to increase the nutrition quotient:
-Order fruit instead of fries. Not all chains offer this, but if apples or applesauce is available, order this instead of fries or onion rings.
-Avoid soda, and order regular instead of chocolate milk.
-As with adult meals, skip the cheese, mayo and special sauce.
Surprisingly, McDonalds Chicken McNugget Happy Meals are one of the healthier fast food options for kids. When ordered with apples instead of fries and low fat milk for a drink, this menu item comes in at just under 400 calories, with about 12 grams of fat. Another lower calorie, lower fat option is the Filet of Fish sandwich without the sauce or cheese.
Contrast these choices with the Double Cheeseburger Mighty Kids Meal at over 800 calories and almost triple the fat. If your child really wants a burger, try the regular hamburger, which is inexpensive and only has 250 calories.
Good Restaurant Options
The Best Fast Food Dinner may not come from a traditional restaurant at all. Starbucks has nutritious choices from vegetable boxes to the Chicken and Hummus Bistro Box, which only has 270 calories and 8 grams of fat.
If you prefer a quick restaurant meal, try a Carl’s Jr. turkey burger. The Teriyaki Turkey burger is filled with flavor and only has 470 calories; ditto for the Guacamole Turkey Burger. For chicken lovers, try the Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich. This option comes on a honey wheat bun and has 570 calories with the American cheese and Santa Fe sauce. Eliminate both and you lose about 160 calories. Burger lovers who insist on beef can order a Famous Star by itself. What is left is a charbroiled burger, lettuce, tomato and ketchup.
The Healthiest Fast Food Dinner is an elusive concept, but by choosing lean proteins and eliminating excess fat and calories, dinner on the go does not have to be a dietary disaster. Making these simple choices on a regular basis adds up to a big caloric deficit over time.