If you're anything like me, during the week I just can't get it together long enough to cook a healthy meal or eat at a real restaurant. It's easy to eat healthy at home when I have time—I buy a lean cut of meat and grill it with sage leaves and lemon, pairing it with roasted potatoes with olive oil and rosemary. It's also pretty easy to choose wisely when eating at what my grandmother used to call a "sit down" restaurant, because the menus are usually varied enough to allow for healthier choices. Most restaurants will gladly substitute a salad or steamed vegetables for potatoes or rice, or prepare a meal grilled with no sauce.
It's the times when I need a quick meal and have to get straight back to work that fast food comes in; then, it's just too easy to visit the drive-thru.
Believe it or not, it is possible to choose wisely when eating at fast food chains, although it can be a bit harder. The trick is to remember portion sizes and to check for fat calories and saturated fat grams. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet contain no more than 65 grams of fat, and of those, no more than 20 should be saturated fat grams.
In researching this column, I went on the hunt to find fast food that wouldn't pile on the pounds. All the information below comes directly from the restaurants' brochures.
Arby's Typical Choice: An Arby's large roast beef combo with large curly fries and a large chocolate shake contains 1,990 calories, 65 grams of fat (29 saturated fat grams). Better Option: Beef 'n' Cheddar sandwich combo with medium curly fries and a medium coke—total calories, 1,050; fat grams, 45 (sat fat grams, 11). Best Option: Regular roast beef combo with small home-style fries and a 12-ounce Coke—total calories, 720; fat grams, 34 (sat fat grams, 6).
KFC Typical Choice: A two-piece meal (extra crispy breast and wing) at Kentucky Fried Chicken with macaroni and cheese, baked beans, biscuit and a large Pepsi contains 1,750 calories, 69 grams of fat (20 grams of sat fat). Better Option: Original recipe chicken breast (with skin), mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw, biscuit and a medium Pepsi—total calories, 1,060; fat grams, 44.5 (sat fat grams, 11). Best Option: Original recipe chicken breast (without skin), green beans, three-inch corn on the cob, biscuit and a small Pepsi—total calories, 670; fat grams, 16 (sat fat grams, 4).
Taco Bell Typical Choice: Taco Bell's Fiesta Taco Salad (beef or chicken), a Nachos Bell Grande and a large Pepsi contains 1,930 calories, 90 grams of fat (29 grams of saturated fat). Better Option: Taco Bell has introduced a "fresco style" option, which replaces cheese and sauce with Fiesta salsa to reduce fat. A fresco-style chicken fiesta burrito, two fresco-style beef crunchy tacos, pintos 'n cheese and a small Pepsi—total calories, 970; fat grams, 30 (sat fat grams, 10). Best Option: Chicken burrito supreme, chicken Gordita Baja, nachos and a medium Pepsi—total calories, 891; fat grams, 24 (sat fat grams, 7).
Subway Typical Choice: A six-inch meatball marinara sandwich on white bread, a bag of Sunchips, a peanut butter cookie and a large Coke contain 1,290 calories, 45 grams of fat (17 grams of sat fat). Better Option: Subway club on Monterrey cheddar bread with mayo, cheddar & sour cream baked Lay's chips, a chocolate chip cookie and a medium Coke—total calories, 990; fat grams, 31.5 (sat fat grams, 9.5). Best Option: Six-inch sweet onion chicken teriyaki sandwich on wheat, baked Lay's chips, an oatmeal raisin cookie and a small Coke—total calories, 800; fat grams, 14.5 (sat fat grams, 7).
Of course, there are also other mealtime options for the health-conscious—options that are not only environmentally friendly, but also support local business, like a vegetarian daily special at High Noon Café in Rainbow Whole Foods Co-op, one of Room Service's giant salads (where the dressing is always on the side), or take-out from Walker's Drive In.
Remember to watch the calories and fat that come with the addition of condiments, sauces and gravy. And limit the fried items such as chips, French fries, chicken skin and the taco-salad shell. With a bit of extra effort, common sense and thinking about your choices, you can get biggie size flavor without the biggie size calories.