By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES

Chances are – you’re part of the 80% of Americans who’ve eaten at least one meal in a fast-food restaurant in the last month.  Fast food restaurants are everywhere – here are 10 tips for enjoying fast food while keeping your weight loss goals in mind.

1) Make up your mind. Decide what you are going to order before you enter.  This has the same benefit as grocery shopping from a list.  When you walk in prepared to buy a small hamburger and a side salad, you’ll be less tempted when you smell that devilishly delicious fast food.

2) Think about your drink.  Water is always the best option (and free when you just ask for a cup instead of paying for a bottle). Many popular drinks like soda are laden with extra calories and carbs. Opting for water, sparkling water or unsweetened iced tea is a good way to save on calories. HINT: Watch out for coffee drinks – where extra calories and carbs easily slip into oversized sweetened caffeinated beverages.

◊ Orange mango smoothie (16 oz) 260 calories, 1.5 gm fat,
◊ Frappucino Java Chip (16 oz) 320 calories, 7 gm fat,
◊ Caffe latte with non-fat milk (16 oz) 130 calories, 0 gm fat,

3) Be a kid again. Look at the kid’s menu.  The “small” size hamburger along with a side salad and a piece of fruit makes for a great meal.  This will help satisfy your craving and spare you some calories and carbs.

◊ “Kid size” hamburger  – 250 calories, 9 gm fat
◊ “Adult size” hamburger –  410 calories, 9 gm fat

4) Find the healthy choices.  No matter what kind of restaurant it is, there’s almost always a healthy option–  vegetable salads, grilled meats, broth-based soups, and smaller portion sizes are just some examples of ways you can enjoy fast food without overindulging.

5) Watch out for red flags. Words to watch out for include: super-sized, double-meat, crispy, fried, special sauce, smothered, melt, smothered and stacked. Any option that’s described that way is definitely something to avoid!

6) Sharing is Caring. Look for someone at your table who might want to share.  Want some fries? Share them!

7) Have It Your Way. Don’t be afraid to ask for changes to your meal. Customizing your meal is a great way to save calories. It is okay to switch out the bread and remove unwanted sauces. Doing this can prevent having one meal turn into a days worth of calories!

◊ Chicken avocado melt on focaccia:  770 calories, 43 gm fat
◊ Chicken flatbread with veggies:  330 calories, 7 gm fat

8) Sauce on the Side.  Don’t assume that salad dressing is on the side.  Ask. And also, don’t assume that the packet that you’re given is calorie-free.  It could be an additional 200 or more calories—so check the label and use only what you need instead of pouring it all over your salad.

9) Grilled over Crispy. Ask how dishes are prepared. If there is a choice between a grilled and crispy option, choose grilled. Otherwise, you may end up with lots of unwanted fat and carb calories.

◊Asian crispy chicken salad – 420 calories, 22 gm  fat
◊ Asian grilled chicken salad – 270 calories, 9 gm fat

10) Make your own Fast Food. Create your own “fast food” collection in your fridge or pantry so you won’t feel stuck and forced to make less healthy choices (the money you’ll save!)  Some quick ideas for grab and go meals include:

Boiled eggs, overnight oats, peanut butter on bread, almond milk smoothie, fruit and nut bar, Greek yogurt, snack bags of almonds, fresh fruit and low-fat snack cheese

Now, enjoy!   

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