Fast Food. What to order when you’re on the go.

Sometimes you have to. You just do. You’re out doing errands, it’s past lunchtime and the kids are starting to whine—something needs to be done immediately before the wheels really start to come off. My friend recently told me that her mother used to pack sandwiches in the car for everyone if they’d be out-and-about during a mealtime. If you are one of those mothers, stop reading here. If you’re like me, and what I assume to be a large majority of parents who sometimes find themselves stuck while out doing errands, I will crumble directly atop my own healthy laurels and order something quick.

I bet you didn’t think they exist, but in order to make the best choices, I actually am one of those people who go home and look up the nutritional value of food from convenience restaurants. And guess what? There are items out there that aren’t horrible for you. Ok, they may not be organic. And they may not contain the daily allotment of fiber or leafy greens that you were hoping for…but hey, they will satisfy your (and your kids’) hunger and are a much better choice than fried chicken from a gas station (the epitome, I think, of the unhealthiest thing one could possibly eat).

Try out these menu items next time you’re on-the-go. Oh, and by the way, this information didn’t come directly from the FDA (although the nutritional values are accurate). When I’m weighing the “taste vs. how-will-I-feel-after-I-eat-this” factor, these are just my humble recommendations.

McDonald’s
Breakfast:

  • The Egg McMuffin is only 300 calories and 12 grams of fat. Honestly, this is the best overall choice of all the breakfast offerings out there from any fast food restaurant. Ask for picante sauce on the side (normally served with the breakfast burritos), sooo good.
  • 3 Hot Cakes with syrup (no margarine) is around 500 calories and only 9 grams of fat. Not a ton of nutritional value, but it keeps the fat and calories on the lower end of the scale.
  • If you order the sausage burrito without cheese, you can get away with a very affordable 250 calories and 12 grams of fat.

Lunch/Snacks:

  • A single hamburger or any of the grilled snack wraps (excluding the MacWrap) has between 9-11 grams of fat, 250-270 calories and offers 12-18 grams of protein, not bad.
  • The 4-piece chicken nuggets aren’t great, but they’re not the worst either, offering 190 calories and 12 grams of fat (only 2 grams saturated fat). But be careful which sauce you choose! The Creamy Ranch sauce has 22 grams of fat in the sauce alone!
  • Any of grilled chicken salads are between 220-280 calories and around 6-9 grams of fat. Choose dressings wisely—the Caesar and Ranch are high in fat content (15-18g) but the other options are actually pretty decent (and they are all Paul Newman, yummy).
  • When ordering for the kids, always choose the apple slices over the french fries (which offer zero nutritional value whatsoever) and opt for the low-fat milk over apple juice (don’t they get enough juice already?).

*Don’t Be Fooled: The grilled chicken sandwiches contain almost twice the amount of carbs and 30% more sodium than the above choices.

Dunkin Donuts
Breakfast/Snacks:

  • The Egg & Cheese Wake-Up Wrap has only 180 calories and 10 grams of fat (order it with egg whites instead and save 4 grams of fat).
  • Bagels with cream cheese are a good source of protein for kids, but deliver a ton of unnecessary carbs for adults. Just stay away from the salt bagel (not like any kid would ever order that) because it has an unheard-of 3420 grams of sodium!
  • The Ham & Cheese Flatbread Sandwich has 320 calories and only 11 grams of fat, while the other two flatbread sandwiches offer 18-20 grams of fat.

*Don’t Be Fooled: The low-fat blueberry muffin has a whopping 450 calories, 12 grams of fat and 77 grams of carbs (that’s more than the dreaded bagel which has gotten a bad rap for years!) And did you know that ONE munchkin is 60 calories and contains 2 ½ to 3 ½ grams of fat—EACH! Think of that before you pop a couple of those bad boys in your mouth next time.

Burger King
Breakfast:

  • The Ham Omelet Sandwich is only 270 calories and 11 grams of fat.
  • If you ordered the Ham & Egg Breakfast Burrito without cheese, you could get away with around 260 calories and 12 grams of fat.
  • The Pancake Platter with syrup is about 330 calories and only 4 grams of fat.  Again, not a ton of nutritional value, but it’s very low in sodium unlike some of the other savory breakfast options.

Lunch/Snacks:

  • The 5-piece chicken tenders are 230 calories and 11 grams of fat, and if you include the BBQ or Sweet and Sour sauce, you can still come in under 300 calories.
  • A single hamburger, Whopper Jr. or Chicken Whopper Jr. (without mayo and cheese) or the BK Burger Shots (2) will run you about 260 calories and 11 grams of fat each.
  • Tendergrill Garden Salad only has 210 calories and 7 grams of fat but their options for salad dressings (each one containing an additional 200 calories and 17 grams of fat minimum!) turns this good deed into a bad one—unless you get the Fat Free Ranch, which of course, tastes like Fat Free Ranch.
  • The pick of them all? A single order of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese is only 160 calories and 5 grams of fat. It’s not just for kids!

*Don’t Be Fooled: Sauces contain a lot of hidden fat and calories! The Zesty Onion Ring dipping sauce has 15 grams of fat, as does the Ranch dipping sauce. Oh, and their Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich has just as many fat grams and calories as a double cheeseburger.

Taco Bell
Lunch/Snacks:

  • When you order it “fresco style”, the regular cheese and sauce are replaced by a flavorful combo of tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Every item on this menu is under 8 grams of fat and between 150-340 calories. (My favorite happens to be the Grilled Steak Soft Taco which is the lowest in fat and calories containing 4.5 grams and 160 calories).
  • The Gordita Chicken Supreme and Gordita Nacho Chicken aren’t terrible coming in at 270 calories and 10 grams of fat…fine if you’re having just one as a tide-me-over.
  • The Cheese Roll-Up has only 200 calories and 10 grams of fat, but an impressive 9 grams of protein. Add some hot sauce on there and it’d probably be pretty tasty.
  • Pintos and Cheese has 180 calories, 7 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. This one is about as healthy as you can get at Taco Bell.

*Don’t Be Fooled: Completely avoid all salads here or anything from the “Volcano” menu which are all between 700-1000 calories and have a whopping 32-62 grams of fat.

Without stating the obvious, try to keep your fast food intake limited to “emergency snacks” that you can use as a hold-over until you have access to healthier options. And for both you and the kids, try to balance out the sodium intake with a cleansing water beverage instead of juice or soda.

On a side-note-safety-issue: Even when crunched for time, please don’t eat and drive. As we all know, kids need all kinds of stuff while they’re eating (napkins distributed, juice boxes punctured, ketchup packages opened, fallen food retrieved) which can be difficult and dangerous to perform while on the road—not to mention while you’re trying to eat, too! Take five minutes and pull into a parking space so that you can accommodate their needs and get a few bites in yourself. Anyways, have you ever tried to eat a taco while driving? Hello grease stains, arrrgh!

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