Whether you are too busy to shop and cook, your friends and coworkers drag you out to eat, or you just really crave certain flavors, you might find yourself stopping by some restaurants pretty regularly. It is actually not a big problem for your waistline…as long as you order well! Here are some tips for the most popular quick service restaurants.
Mexican (Think: Taco Bell, Chipotle)
Mexican food is not even sneaky; you usually know it is adding inches to your waistline while you are eating it…but it tastes so good! Choose wisely, and you can have your beans, and eat them, too. Don’t be sidetracked by claims of “local” or “freshly sourced” ingredients; it’s good to know where your food comes from, but portion size and choice of ingredients is just as important for weight loss.
Look for: tacos (they’re small); naked burritos (skipping the tortilla); fajita or grilled veggies; extra lettuce and tomatoes as toppings; salsa; black or pinto beans; chicken or steak instead of ground beef.
Run from: Chips as an appetizer or side or in nachos or salads (an order of chips from Chipotle has 540 calories); tostada shells; oversized tortillas/burritos (a Chipotle tortilla has 320 calories and 50 grams of carbs); too much rice, cheese, or guacamole.
- Taco Bell Pintos ‘n’ Cheese (190 calories) or Black Beans (80 calories and 5 grams of fiber).
- Taco Bell Mini Skillet Bowl (180 calories), al freso with guacamole and cheese or steak.
- ½ order of Chipotle Salad or Burrito Bowl with chicken or sofritas, black or pinto beans, fajita vegetables, salsa, brown rice OR cheese, and guacamole (total 800 calories; half is 400 calories and lets you have another meal later!).
- Chipotle Salad or Burrito Bowl with chicken or sofritas, black or pinto beans, salsa, and fajita vegetables (360 calories and 29 grams of carbs).
Bakery/Café/Sandwiches (Think: Panera, Starbucks, Subway)
They may promise fresh ingredients, bread baked daily, and sandwiches made to order, but what do you get at bakeries and sandwich restaurants? You may end up with sugar, starch, and fat, unless you are careful! Luckily, you can usually get away with a healthy and filling meal.
Look for: Extra vegetables on sandwiches; salads with light dressing; broth-based soups with vegetables; lean proteins such as grilled chicken breast and egg whites; fresh fruit; low-calorie drinks such as decaf unsweetened green tea.
Run from: Too much bread (baguettes, tortillas, and bagels are all culprits); fatty deli meats (salami, bologna); creamy soups (a bowl of Panera’s New England Clam Chowder has 570 calories and a days’ worth of saturated fat); baked goods (muffins, pastries, sweet rolls, and cookies often have more calories than you need in a meal, and more sugar than you should have in a day); and sugary drinks (unless you really feel the need for 530 calories and 67 grams of sugar from Starbucks’ Venti White Chocolate Mocha).
- Starbucks’ “Favorite Foods under 350 Calories,” although they do not distinguish “low-calorie” from “healthy,” since chocolate cake pops and spinach, egg white, and feta breakfast wraps both make the list.
- Starbucks’ Protein Boxes.
- Panera Low-fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup with 140 calories, 17 grams (!!) of fiber, and 7 grams of protein.
- Panera fruit cups, Steel Cut Oatmeal, and Yogurt Parfaits.
- Panera half-size salads.
- Subway Veggie Delite or any Fresh Fit Chopped Salad with Subway Vinaigrette or oil and vinegar.
- Subway Egg White and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich (330 calories and 20 grams of protein)
- Subway soup – any 8-ounce bowl has under 200 calories.
Burger Joints (Think: McD’s, BK)
Burger joints are the epitome of fast food, but you can usually do pretty well at one for breakfast or lunch or dinner.
Look for: Small burgers (if you just gotta satisfy that craving!); side salads with light dressing; grilled chicken on salads or sandwiches (considering skipping the bread that comes with the sandwich); oatmeal, English muffins, egg whites, and fresh fruit at breakfast.
Run from: Great deals that tempt you to order way more food than you need, such as meal deals and cheap additions of fries and a drink; double and triple burgers (a Double Whopper from Burger King has 900 calories); milkshakes (a small McDonald’s milkshake has 75 grams of sugar); biscuits, croissants, sausage, and bacon at breakfast; French fries, hash browns, and onion rings; mayonnaise and creamy sauces; and fried or crispy chicken and fish.
- McDonald’s Cheeseburger (300 calories, 15 grams of protein) with side salad with balsamic vinaigrette (50 calories), apple slices (15 calories), and/or cuties (35 calories).
- McDonald’s Egg White Delight McMuffin (260 calories, 16 grams of protein).
- Burger King Veggie Burger with no mayo (310 calories) or Grilled Chicken Sandwich with no mayo (360 calories).
Chinese (Think: Panda Express)
Load up on veggies and chicken, and skip the mounds of noodles, rice, aand breaded protein – you’ll do much better!
Look for: Vegetable-heavy dishes, especially steamed; stir-fried or steamed skinless chicken, fish, shrimp, and tofu and tiny portions of steamed brown rice.
Run from: Noodle-based dishes such as chow mein (Panda Express Chow Mein has 80 grams of carbs) and ramen soup; steamed white rice and fried rice (80+ grams of carbs per side order); high-carb preparations such as “crispy,” sweet and sour, and orange chicken, beef, fish, and shrimp (Panda Express Beijing Beef has 470 calories and 24 grams of sugar).
- Panda Express Szechuan Tofu (170 calories), Mushroom Chicken (220 calories), or steamed Ginger Fish (200 calories).
- Panda Express Hot and Sour Soup Cup (120 calories) or Mixed Veggies (80 calories).
- Panda Express fortune cookies (20 calories each!).
Pizza/Italian (Think: Pizza Hut, Domino’s)
Pizza and pasta aren’t your ideal weight loss combination, especially when you add in some breadsticks and garlic bread! Stay on your toes, though, and you can get satisfaction without guilt.
Look for: Thin-crust pizza with extra veggies; marinara sauce; side salads; light or no cheese; grilled chicken and anchovies for toppings;
Run from: Pepperoni, bacon, and sausage toppings; pasta (they just serve too much!); wings and creamy dipping sauces; breadsticks, knots, and garlic bread; meatball and other cheesy meat subs.
- Domino’s Brooklyn Style 14” pizza with olives, tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, onions, and anchovies (280 calories per slice).
- Domino’s Classic Garden Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (70 calories)
- Pizza Hut Large Thin and Crispy Veggie Lover’s Pizza (230 calories per slice).
Chicken and Seafood Seafood (Think: Chick-Fil-A, KFC, Red Lobster, Long John Silver’s)
How can foods as healthy as seafood and chicken turn into a 1,000-calorie meal with a load of saturated fat and carbs? Batter them, fry them, and serve it with gravy or butter and fried potatoes or fettuccine with creamy alfredo sauce, and you will be well on your way. You can do better!
Look for: Broiled, baked, or grilled skinless chicken, fish or shrimp; steamed vegetables and side salads; grilled chicken salads; and cocktail sauce (sorry, not cocktails!), lemon, and light dressings.
Run from: Battered, fried, or popcorn chicken, fish or shrimp (KFC’s Extra Crispy Chicken Breast has 530 calories); chicken nuggets, fingers, and strips; coleslaw (KFC’s Coleslaw has 170 calories), fried sides (French fries and onion rings); mashed potatoes and gravy; biscuits; butter and buttery and creamy sauces, dips, and dressings; and platters (how could a “platter” be good for weight loss…?).
- Chick-Fil-A’s Side Salad and Chicken Noodle Soup (total under 200 calories).
- Chick-Fil-A’s Grilled Nuggets (140 calories and 25 grams of protein).
- KFC’s green beans, corn, and Kentucky Grilled Chicken Thigh (total under 250 calories).
- Red Lobster’s “Lighter Fare” menu – 600 calories or less when your side is a salad with light dressing (cut it further by skipping buttery sauces).
- Red Lobster’s Shrimp Scampi (230 calories) or Blackened Catfish with steamed broccoli or asparagus, grilled zucchini, or a side salad.
- Long John Silver’s baked cod (160 calories per piece) or shrimp (25 calories for 3 pieces).
- Long John Silver’s sides of corn or seasoned green beans.