It can also take quite a bit of willpower to go for the healthful food choices when everyone around you has trays full of fries, burgers and milkshakes.
“When we have multiple choices and we’re hungry, we tend to lead with taste and go with the unhealthy options,” says Ginn, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She adds that this is especially true when you’re on the road and off your normal eating schedule. You’re also more likely to be tempted by value-sizing, and “deluxe” or “mega” anything.
Indeed, a supervisor at a McDonald’s in the District said that very few patrons deviate from traditional fast-food fare: “We keep adding more healthy items to the menu, but it doesn’t seem to change what people order, which is chicken nuggets, hamburgers, french fries, the filet of fish, the McRib. We added the apple slices [in kids’ Happy Meals], but they don’t seem to be very popular.”
If you can marshall the self-control, though, nutrition experts offer some suggestions for eating healthfully when faced with drive-thrus, value menus meal deals and the like.
Keep it simple.
A lot of the calories and sodium in fast-food meals come from “sub-recipes: the sauces, dressings, marinades,” says dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic, director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic. She notes that salad dressing packets typically contain as many as four servings, which can negate any nutritional value of the greens. “When you put it all together in one restaurant meal, it can really add up.” So avoid anything labeled “deluxe,” “double” or the like, and stick with a small, plain hamburger or grilled chicken sandwich. Hold the Swiss, mayo, special sauce and other extras to avoid extra calories, saturated fat and sodium. Also, opt for water instead of high-calorie soft drinks or other beverages.
Think beyond burgers.
One of the biggest trends in fast food these days is chains that offer a wider array of food options, such as Panera Bread, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Noodles and Company. At such places, “a majority of foods are really pretty good,” says Steven Aldana, an expert in chronic disease prevention who writes the Stop and Go Fast Food Nutrition Guide. He suggests mapping out the most nutritious options along your route and then planning stops accordingly. Once you’re there, it’s still important to order wisely, avoiding such high-fat, high-sodium add-ons as cheese, bacon and mayo.