Fast Food: Diet Disaster or Healthy Option?

This is probably no surprise to regular Our Lady readers but the phrase, “let’s just hit the drive thru,” is rarely uttered in our family.  However it may surprise you to hear that we grab some version of fast or convenience food at least once a week.  Yep, it’s true. I am sorry it has taken so long to get around to the subject of eating out when we do it so often.

I would be willing to bet that eating restaurant food is one of the top 5 reasons people give for gaining weight.  I also guess the convenience and social aspect to dining out is major contributor to dieters “falling off the wagon.” I have found the challenge of learning how to eat out to be an exciting puzzle.  This post is going to be specifically tailored to those on-the-go meals we grab because we are traveling, busy, forgot lunch, or feel to tired to cook.

Over the last few years consumer demand and government regulations have driven many restaurant chains to make their nutritional information available to customers.  Some provide calorie counts for their entire menu right next to the item description in their menus.  Some have created sub-menus for nutritionally conscious customers.  Many now offer a version of their menu available by request that has specific information about their menu items.

In our early weight loss days I spent some time getting to know the websites of places we already visited and reading their nutritional information.  I even created a few cheat sheets to giving us the option of eating an unplanned meal on the go.  I am a bit of a nerd on this subject and find it fascinating to study menus.  I have learned that there are some jaw dropping calorie bombs but there are also offerings much lower in calories and fat than I would have guessed based on the descriptions provided.

My motivations for studying menus is pretty simple.  We didn’t begin our weight loss journey to find temporary fixes for our obesity we had to learn how to live.  We enjoyed eating out so it was important for me to learn how to continue without sabotaging our progress.

I strongly encourage all my readers to spend some time getting to know the nutritional information for places their family enjoys grabbing a quick bite.  You many find some easy swaps for your usual order but you may also find that your family would be better off eating somewhere else.  I hope learning a little bit more about how our family eats on the go makes our changes seem a little less radical and a little more attainable.

Our Lady of Second Helpings Favorite Convenience & Fast Foods:

Deli Roasted Chicken - Not a restaurant but this totally qualifies as fast food. Pick up either a hot roasted chicken or baked chicken pieces from your local grocery store (about $5).  To make it a meal combine with a bag of  frozen veggies with light sauce (about $4).  Once at home toss the vegetables into a microwave safe container to cook. In the time it takes to put plates and forks on the table the veggies will be heated and dinner is ready!

A bag of steam in the bag vegetables with light sauce

Subway Sandwiches - This chain advertises as a healthy fast food and I think it is completely warranted.  I like to order from their Fresh-Fit options and ignore the other choices.  If I am in the mood I order cheese but often skip it.  I also skip any mayonaise or mayo based sauces.  After packing on all the veggies (except red onions) and a shot of honey mustard and I am a very happy camper.  We have started ordering an english muffin sandwich with egg whites and a baggie of apple wedges for the Little Helping, he really likes them.  Sometimes we add baked chips and share them but not always.  Our family can eat on-the-go in cities across the country for about $15 and be completely on track.

Subway Sandwich

Subway Fresh Fit - Turkey Breast & Black Forest Ham

Panda Express - This national chain has what they call the Wok Smart menu.  All the Wok Smart entrees are 250 or less calories per serving.  By pairing one or two of these lower calorie items with their steamed veggies we get a huge volume of food, great for those “hungry” days.  This chain like many others also offers a selection of high calories items so stay away from the fried items.  Their popular Orange Chicken is 420 calories before adding any side dishes.  If you have a hankering for Orange Chicken check out my recipe for Orange Ginger Chicken.

Entrees under 250 calories at Panda Express

A few of the tasty reduced calorie options at Panda Express

Starbucks - Recently Amber Dusick of, “Parenting, Illustrated with Crappy Pictures,” posted Going out to eat, before & after kids. She was poking fun at going through the drive-through while her kids are sleeping in the backseat.  I snickered at her witty delivery because like all of her posts it is funny because it is true.  Sometimes Little Helping is asleep but I still need to grab a quick bite on the run.  This is the one time I really appreciate the convenience of a drive-through window.  I am fortunate to have several Starbucks stores with drive-through windows in my region. Stopping at the coffe giant can be a little more pricey than a burger chain but I can order a quick hot breakfast or lunch that doesn’t infuse my car with the smell of stale french fry grease.  The menu is pretty extensive. My favorite Spinach & Feta Wrap (with egg whites) is under 300 calories and has almost 20 grams of protein.  The selection may vary by location but this is another handy way our family can eat while traveling and not worry about hidden calorie landmines.

Starbucks Feta Wrap, Breakfast Sandwich, and Oatmeal

Starbucks breakfast options are good all day! Spinach & Feta Wrap, Egg Sandwich, & Oatmeal with toppings

These are just a few of the places we stop into from time to time.  With a little detective work grabbing a quick bite to eat can fit nicely into a healthy lifestyle.  Look up your favorite spots online and if you don’t see any nutritional information send them a polite email.  The more requests they receive for this information the more it will be made available and could go on to influence menu options in the future.

Links to Nutrion Information Pages Mentioned above:

Panda Express Nutrition Info

Starbucks Nutrition Info

Subway Nutrition Info

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