By: Wendy Wu, R.D., M.S.
Priorities. Priorities. Priorities. Not all of us have the time or know-how to prepare our own lunch for work. So most of us rely heavily on what’s available to us in the neighboring restaurants. Since I worked in Jamaica Estates (Queens), New York I didn’t have the luxury of fresh foods from Pret A Manger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Japanese Sushi/Sashimi, Chiptole, or Baja Fresh. Instead, I was surrounded by McDonald’s, KFC, Deli’s, Chinese take-out , Pizza Joints, Mexican Food, and Subway sandwiches. If you have to eat out and want to watch what you eat, the following post will be of help to you. I’ll give you some tips on how to eat out but also eat smart.
There are always healthier options in fast food restaurants, you just have to know what and how to order.
1) Burger Joints like McDonald’s:
-Single Patty Hamburger w/out cheese or sauce + Small Salad w lightly drizzled balsamic or lite Italian dressing (try not to use the entire pack)
-Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap (skip the ranch dressing if you can)
-Grilled Chicken Salad with lightly drizzled dressing
-If you insist on fries, ask for a small fresh batch without salt (they might give you a look but if more people asked then maybe they’ll have a unsalted batch readily available; give the people who want salt a packet on the side)
-Water or small soda (if you must)
*The McDonald’s sweet tea is a killer! A 32oz Large (standard size) has 17 packets of sugar!!!! Can’t compare to a large coke that has 22 packets though. I suggest a small size or drinking it once a week if at all.*
2) Fried Chicken places like KFC:
-Original recipe chicken. Max: 3 pieces (I know the skin is the best part so I won’t ask you to peel it off-but if you can…do it)
-small mashed potatoes w/ a little gravy, corn on a cob, potato salad or cole slaw (if you can, sweep the mayo aside)
-water or small soda (if you must)
-Low sodium turkey or ham sandwich with tomato, lettuce, and a slice of pickle on a whole wheat bread (skip the mayo and cheese-if you must, choose mozzarella or Swiss cheese)
-Veggie burgers are surprisingly delicious. Give them a try.
-Yogurt or cottage cheese+ box of fresh fruit
4) Chinese Take-out:
-Steamed white meat chicken with broccoli or mixed veggies
-Tofu with veggies and garlic sauce
-Eggplant with garlic sauce
-Stir fried noodles with shrimp or chicken and extra veggies (tell them to add $1 extra) with No salt and No MSG.
*Ask for sauce on the side (if possible) and brown rice
*Opt for the hot and sour soup which is freshly made with tofu and veggies. Egg drop has artificial coloring and wonton soup base is pure MSG.
*Always tell them Less or No salt, and No MSG. Make it a point! Tell them soy sauce is enough for flavor and that the last time your ordered, it was too salty. They just worry that you’ll return the food if it’s not tasty.
5) Pizza and Pasta:
-Half the amount of cheese
-Whole Wheat Pasta with tomato sauce. For added protein, ask for a little mozzarella cheese on the pasta and have them bake the dish (opt out of creamy white sauces).
-Sauteed broccoli with whole wheat penne in garlic and a little bit of olive oil
-Spaghetti with clams (garlic and oil or tomato sauce)
-Skip the oil drenched garlic bread-have a plain roll or bread stick instead
-Grilled Chicken or shrimp soft taco with tomato and lettuce
-Grilled Chicken or shrimp salad
-Ask for “Fresco” style (no dairy) tacos
*A scoop of Rice and Beans, Salsa and Guacamole are healthy choices
*Limit Sour Cream and Cheese
-6 inch lean meat (chicken breast, roast beef, turkey or ham) sandwich loaded with veggies on whole wheat bread
-6 inch veggie sandwich on whole wheat bread
*Skip the mayo and cheese (if you must-add one or two slices of mozzarella or Swiss)
*Ask for pepper and red vinegar for flavor
In a nutshell:
-Choose lean meat
-Avoid high fat sauces (mayo, creamy sauces, creamy dressing), Salt, Sugar and unwanted additives (food coloring/MSG)
-Load up on the veggies and fruits
-Choose low-fat cheeses like mozzarella or Swiss
-Portion control. Variety of small orders is better than one large order (ex: single patty hamburger + side salad vs. one huge 3 patty burger loaded with cheese and mushrooms)