Like most of us, you likely have a very busy life and it is probable that sometimes you find yourself at the mercy of fast food restaurants. The question is what you do when standing in line at a burger joint or a fast Italian restaurant that does not provides you nutrition information on the menus. Well, don’t panic because here are some ideas about how to survive the food and calories of fast food restaurants.

Challenges when eating at fast food restaurants

When trying to eat healthy at a fast food restaurant, you are going to encounter 4 main challenges:

  1. Meals are high in fat and calories. Restaurants love to use oils or shortening to fry; butter and cream to create sauces; salad dressing on salads; sour cream on baked potatoes; cheese or cheese sauces on sandwiches; butter and cream to make desserts. Keep in mind that the wrong types of fat raise your cholesterol.
  2. Meals are high in sodium. The high sodium content comes from salt. Ingredients like soy sauce, meat tenderizers, broth, ham, or bacon; use of prepared canned food such as soups and vegetables; and salad dressings. Too much salt may increase your blood pressure, a major risk for high blood pressure.
  3. Meals are way too high in protein. This is particularly true of steak houses, delicatessens, sandwich shops and burger joints.
  4. The portions can be way too large. Many times we think that more food means greater value. Unfortunately, this often leads to overeating.

Having said that, you can master some skills to survive these 4 challenges when at the following type of restaurants:

Burger fast food restaurants

When at a burger joint, instead of ordering the typical meal consisting of a burger, French fries, and a soda, order any of the following:

  1. Regular single patty burger
  2. Grilled chicken sandwich
  3. Veggie burger
  4. Grilled chicken salad
  5. Egg on English muffin with lean ham or Canadian bacon
  6. Grilled chicken strips

Order low-fat or fat-free dressing for your salad and definitely avoid the creamy sauces. You can also discard the bread that comes with the burger or the sandwich.

Chicken restaurants

When at a fast food restaurant avoid foods that have the word deep fried, breaded, or crispy and go for:

  1. Skinless chicken without the crunchy stuff
  2. Grilled chicken without the skin
  3. Grilled chicken salad with dressing on the side. Do not order croutons, cheese or burger
  4. Side salad. Do not order coleslaw as it is loaded with fat and sugar.

Quick Mexican restaurants

Stick to healthier choices such as brown rice, whole black beans (not refried as they have a lot of fat), salsa or pico. Avoid extras such as sour cream, cheese and tortilla chips. Choose:

  1. Veggie burritos
  2. Chicken soft tacos
  3. Rice and beans

Quick Italian restaurants

Pizza is usually the start in fast Italian restaurant menus. You can make your pizza healthier by following these tips:

  1. Order the thin crust pizza
  2. Ask for half the cheese and hold greasy meats like sausage and pepperoni. You can order Canadian bacon.
  3. Order extra vegetables on the pizza.
  4. A side salad with dressing on the side is a great way to fill up on veggies and go lighter on the pizza.
  5. Instead of greasy pizza you can order pasta (if possible whole wheat). Order tomato sauce instead of the creamy alternative. If you order meat balls with your spaghetti, keep in mind that the meat will not be the leanest; it will be high-fat meat.

Fast Asian restaurants

Chinese restaurants can be tricky because although they are a better source of vegetables, they have a lot of fat and sodium (salt). Look for dishes that are steamed, roasted, or broiled. The following are your best options:

  1. Clear broth soups like egg drop, wonton, hot and sour, or miso without the crunchy noodles.
  2. Meat or seafood and steamed veggies.
  3. Brown rice instead of fried or white rice.
  4. Avoid soy sauce; it is too salty.
  5. Try eating with chop sticks. It will slow you down so you can’t eat too much at one time.

Restaurant salads

While salads may seem like the perfect choice when eating out, be very careful. You may end up with a salad on your plat that packs all the calories you need for the whole day. So, when at the salad bar, follow these tips:

  1. Get the low-fat dressing on the side and dip your fork into the dressing and then into the lettuce.
  2. Vinaigrettes are a good choice for your salad.
  3. Avoid croutons and bacon. Use a little cheese if you like it.
  4. Add nutritious vegetables to the salad. Look for beets, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and green beans.

Here are some Fast Food Facts

Last word

Many fast food restaurants are making nutritional information available in brochures and on their Web sites. Healthy eating is all about making choices, watching portion sizes, and knowing what is in the food you are eating. Fortunately, more and more fast food restaurants are making it easier to eat more healthfully. When possible, eating at home gives you a better choice of the food you eat.


I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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