Drive-through options that won't sabotage your diet
By Kelli Bamforth
Drive-through dining is inevitable. Despite our best efforts to evoke the spirit of Betty Crocker with daily home-cooked dinners, sometimes busy summer schedules including work, kids, family and some semblance of a social life means we’re crunched for time. When this happens, it’s easy to head for the nearest drive-through or pick up the phone for Chinese takeout or pizza delivery.
But you don’t have to throw away your efforts to eat healthy along with the greasy bag in which your food comes. Many fast-food places now tout healthy-ish items on their menus, and if not, with a few substitutions here and there you can enjoy a quick meal that won’t send the scale into panic mode.
Taco Bueno – tacobueno.com
This eatery’s Bueno Choice menu boasts several options, most coming in at 200 calories or less. Available items include tacos and chicken tortilla soup. These menu choices sacrifice calories by removing the cheese – but don’t fret, you can still add plenty of salsa so as not to sacrifice taste. I usually stick to two soft chicken tacos and a side of black beans, for a complete and filling meal at only 480 calories and 12 grams of fat. If you’re not watching carbs, I highly recommend the black bean burrito, which makes for a great vegetarian option at 440 calories and 10 grams of fat.
McDonald’s – mcdonalds.com
Your best bet here is the salad menu. Contrary to popular opinion, salads don’t automatically equate to healthy eating. Between croutons, cheeses and high-fat dressings you can consume more calories in a salad than you could with a traditional burger and fries. But McDonald’s Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken is doable: with an estimated three cups of greens, protein in the form of chicken and beans, plus additional veggies like corn and tomatoes, the salad alone is only 290 calories and 8 grams of fat. Tip: use only half of the southwest dressing and save yourself an additional 50 calories and 3 grams of fat.
Panda Express – pandaexpress.com
I would eat Chinese food every day if I could. My favorites aren’t the healthiest choices: crab rangoon, crispy breaded chicken in a variety of high-fat sauces, white rice… you get the picture. But for days when I need a Chinese fix and don’t want to sabotage my entire day, I head to Panda Express and stick to a Panda Bowl, which includes one side item and one entrée. I skip the steamed rice and instead opt for mixed veggies, a stir-fry combination of broccoli, zucchini, carrots, cabbage and string beans. Their healthiest entrée items are indicated by the Wok Smart symbol and include such items as kung pao chicken, mushroom chicken and (my favorite) beef with broccoli. Even their worst Wok Smart option brings your meal total to only 310 calories and 14.5 grams of fat.
Dominos – dominos.com
Pizza is often the go-to choice in my house for quick and easy meals. But instead of opting for the fat-laden MeatZZa Feast, I spend a few extra bucks and build my own pizza. My favorite is thin crust with their regular tomato sauce. I skip the regular cheese in favor of feta and parmesan (I’m a cheese hound) and add chicken, and then liberally add veggies like mushrooms, spinach and red peppers. A quarter of this delicious pizza only sets me back about 290 calories and 13 grams of fat, and adding a side salad means I’ve got a complete meal with the entire day’s worth of recommended veggies. The best part is having leftovers the next day … pizza for breakfast, anyone?
If these restaurants aren’t your cup of tea, here are some easy (and sometimes obvious) tricks you can use while drive-through dining to save your waistline:
- • Opt for grilled versus fried whenever possible.
- • Substitute the fries for a side salad or fruit.
• Never pay the extra 40 cents for a large combo meal – stick to the smallest size possible. Or skip the combo meal entirely and order a sandwich only.
- • Remove the top half of the bun and make your sandwich open-faced, which will shave off 50 to 100 calories.
- • Skip the sugary sodas and opt for water instead. While you can eat somewhat healthy on the go, these tricks won’t save you from sodium. Drinking extra fluids, especially water, will help eliminate some of that bloat.