In the past when we thought of fast foods restaurants — like McDonald's or Burger King — a picture of greasy fries, burgers, and sugary sodas came to mind. We imagined a line of cars at the drive-thru waiting patiently to receive grease stained bags, passed through the window from a lady with a headset. Nowadays we see commercials of a gorgeous skinny girl holding a burger that’s bigger than her head, piled with beef, cheese, onions, bacon, lettuce, bacon, tomatoes and more bacon that she barely takes a bite of. I’m usually thinking, “ugh what a waste of good protein!” (And, how come those burgers never look like that in real life?! Hmm?) Yes, I’ve had one of those burgers, and it tasted pretty good! Then afterward…I checked the restaurant's website for the nutritional content, and discovered I ate half of my calories in one meal. (Thank goodness I eat more than 1200 calories…but that’s a completely different blog!)
Although this burger may be OK every so often, we know that we should not eat like this every day, yet we don't always have the time to cook up a healthy meal. If cooking a meal doesn’t fit into your schedule on some occasions, there are some healthy alternatives that most fast food restaurants including McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's now offer. You just have to do your homework and know what you are going to order before you get there.
Quiz time! So of these two meals from McDonald's, which would you order if you are watching your macros, but also wanting a healthy protein packed meal; a small regular cheese burger with an order of small fries or a grilled McWrap with chicken and bacon with and order of small fries? If you picked the grilled chicken and bacon McWrap, you would have picked the one with the higher calorie and fat content. The cheeseburger and fries are 520 calories, 22g of fat, 17g of protein and the wrap is 710 calories, 30g of fat but it has 38g of protein. So if you could remove the mayonnaise from the wrap and replace it with mustard you may have a winner! On the small burger if you remove the cheese you will do even better. But, who wants a cheeseburger without cheese? Not me.
So, if you're counting calories and your macronutrients, just be careful of the condiments and toppings that you add to your sandwiches. Most restaurants will make the sandwich your way with the condiments you want. Just remember to check it out before you leave to ensure it has been prepared correctly. At sandwich or sub shops like Subway or Jimmy John's, it’s basically the same scenario that condiments will make the difference. Mayonnaise and cheese aren't bad, you just have to fit them into your calorie and macronutrient budget.
I recently found out that a very popular Cajun fried chicken restaurant called Popeye's has blackened chicken tenders. I tried them and they were very tasty. For 3 it was 170 calories and 2 grams of fat and 26g of protein. The same breaded and fried were 310 calories, 15g of fat and 28g of protein. Now if you are also monitoring your sodium and cholesterol, you must take that into account with ALL fast foods. Most are ridiculously high in both. Google foods and check that nutrition information as they may push you above your intake goal.
Many people like to choose salads at fast food restaurants thinking this is the best choice. Did you know that you could take a perfectly healthy salad and add a lot of calories and fat to it by over doing it with dressings, croutons and cheeses? Ingredients that are not being weighed or measured as you're adding them to your plate, typically have calories that add up fast. In the end, you would have been better off getting the grilled chicken with veggies, mustard and fries.
If fast food restaurants aren’t for you, there are plenty of grocery stores that now have hot delicatessens where they prepare grilled chicken with fairly healthy side dishes like green beans, mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes. (Yes, don’t forget the carbohydrates) All you do is take it home, light some candles, and you have an “almost” home cooked meal.
Of course, the best option is to plan and have great home cooked meal, but we all know life happens and you might not be able to do this sometimes. Just remember, there are plenty of delicious alternatives that you can choose from when you're in a pinch. With all the different options and choices most fast food restaurants are offering, you will never have to skip a meal or settle for an unhealthy substitute, unless you want to.
Nutritional information for popular fast-food restaurants: