I recently discovered that fast food has its very own day – November 16! While fast food often gets a bad rap for being high in calories and fat, a couple of recent studies found it doesn’t stack up so badly compared to other dining spots. In a study out just last month comparing fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Jason’s Deli to fast-food ones like McDonald’s and Taco Bell, researchers reported that fast-casual entrées averaged significantly more calories than fast-food entrées (760 vs. 561 calories). And a 2015 study showed that calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium intakes were similar for both fast food and full-service restaurants but both were higher than meals eaten at home.
But fast food doesn’t have to spell diet disaster. These restaurants offer a wide variety of options so by making wise choices you won’t break your calorie budget and get a wholesome meal that contributes essential nutrients your body needs. Each of the following meal examples provides at least three of the five MyPlate groups with fewer than 500 calories.
- McDonald’s: Egg McMuffin + Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait (440 calories)
- Wendy’s: Jr. Cheeseburger + Garden Side Salad (490 calories)
- Taco Bell: 2 chicken soft tacos + black beans (400 calories)
- Long John Silver’s: Baked Cod Meal (460 calories without hushpuppies or butter on the corn)
- Jack in the Box: Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad with low-fat dressing (375 calories)
When you pair your meal with a low-calorie beverage like water, diet soda or coffee or tea sweetened with a low-calorie sweetener like, aspartame, you won’t add any extra calories.
Of course, you can also create “copycat” fast food items in your own home in less time than it takes to jump in the car and make your way through the nearest drive-thru. Consider these three possibilities.
- This Bacon & Egg Grilled Cheese Sandwich weighs in at just over 400 calories. Add a cup of frozen blueberries and your total is 480 calories.
- Whip up a taco salad with lettuce, frozen grilled chicken tenders heated in the microwave, tomatoes, 2% low-fat cheese, canned black beans and canned corn dressed with a light ranch spiked with some salsa and topped with a few baked tortilla chips. (450 calories)
- Create an easy Roast Beef and Veggie Wrap made with deli beef and broccoli slaw in just 10 minutes. Add a light yogurt for dessert and you’re right at 500 calories.
Whether you’re eating fast food out or making it at home, the key is to right-size portions and up-size nutrition by choosing a smaller sandwich or even a kid’s meal, opting for the smallest serving of fries or a side salad and adding dairy and fruit to the meal like low-fat milk and cheese or light or plain yogurt and fresh, frozen or canned fruit.
Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Dallas. She serves as a nutrition communications consultant to a variety of food and nutrition organizations, including the Calorie Control Council. She is passionate about promoting fact-based food and nutrition information to help people enjoy nutritious eating. Follow her on Twitter @NevaRDLD and check out her blog at www.NevaCochranRD.com.