Leah Cassella, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian and member of the Penn Bariatrics team, shares her tips for making informed decisions when fast food is your go-to on a busy day.
Planning ahead is key to staying on track with your healthy eating goals and behaviors. This will help you to stay in control of your choices throughout the week.
Keeping healthy staples around can save you from having to rely on fast-food on busy nights. Some basic protein staples to have on hand include frozen black bean burgers, turkey burgers, tuna packets, precooked chicken breasts and canned beans. Healthy sides to keep around include frozen whole grains, frozen vegetables and canned fruit in its own juice.
You can also prep items for the week ahead, including batch-cooking proteins in your slow cooker, roasting vegetables, hard-boiling eggs, and washing and slicing vegetables and fruit to snack on.
But of course, there will be times that we can’t plan for.
Lucky for us, a lot of fast-food restaurants are offering healthier options on their menus. Take a look at their menus online for the nutrition information before you head in to make an informed decision.
Here are some options for when you are on the go and want to stay on track:
Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap: This wrap provides 300 calories and 21 grams of protein. Hold the ranch dressing and save 50 calories and 110 milligrams of sodium.
Egg White Delight: This breakfast sandwich will start your day off with 18 grams of protein to satisfy your hunger. By swapping out the whole eggs for egg whites and bacon for Canadian ham, the sandwich clocks in under 300 calories.
Tip: Look for items on the menu that are listed as grilled, steamed, or roasted to choose leaner proteins. Avoid items described as crispy, crunchy, breaded or fried to avoid extra fat and calories.
Chili: Protein and fiber are key to helping you feel full and satisfied. At just 250 calories, one large bean-packed chili will provide you with 23 grams of protein and 5 grams of filling fiber. You will also get 20 percent of your daily iron intake.
Veggie Burger: This veggie burger provides 2.5 grams of saturated fat vs. the 11 grams found in a Whopper. Skip the mayo and you get 21 grams of protein for 310 calories. Take off half the bun and save 60 additional calories.
Tip: Incorporating more meatless meals into your diet is a great heart-healthy option to cut down on the amount of saturated fat you take in.
Grilled Chicken Nuggets with Superfood Side Salad: The grilled chicken nuggets are protein packed at 25 grams per serving. They provide just 140 calories and 3.5 grams of fat vs. the original nuggets, which will set you back 260 calories and 12 grams of fat – not to mention more than double the sodium! Pair the nuggets with a Superfood Side Salad to get 50 percent of your Vitamin C for the day.
Power Veggie Bowl: To reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates, get the bowl without the rice. You’ll end up with 310 calories, 11 grams protein, and 12 grams of fiber thanks to the black beans in the bowl.
Tip: You can order your meals at Taco Bell “Fresco Style” to swap out mayo-based sauces, cheeses, sour cream and guacamole with pico de gallo and reduce fat by up to 25 percent.
Salad with Sofritas, Black Beans and Fresh Tomato Salsa: This meatless meal gets its 16 grams of protein from tofu and black beans. You’ll also get 11 grams of fiber to help you stay fuller longer. This item is high in sodium, so it’s good to be mindful of your salt intake for the rest of the day.
Chopped Salad: This is a great way to pack a lot of veggies into one meal. Load up on spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers and ask for extra! Add a protein – egg, grilled chicken or turkey are lean choices – and oil and vinegar for dressing. The final product is a satisfying, quick and healthy option.
Tip: Add healthy fats such as avocado or olives to aid in fullness.