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Healthier Fast Food

Healthier Fast Food

Healthier Choices… Eating On The Run

Eating on the run has become the norm these days. We grab a sweet roll and coffee for breakfast, eat take-out at our desks for lunch and pop a frozen entrée into the microwave for dinner. We tell ourselves that the low-fat, low-calorie, low-salt diet we meant to follow will just have to wait until tomorrow. But our bodies are feeling the effects (of our convenience diets) today. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, and our diets can be part of the problem—or part of the solution. We can clog up our arteries with bad fats, or help them stay open with foods which provide helpful vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. We can burden ourselves with extra pounds, or fill-up on foods which lighten our loads.

Do You Know What You’re Eating?

You’re hungry and short on time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make healthy food choices. Discover how to choose wisely at restaurants, at the grocery store, or in your own kitchen.

Quick Tips For Healthy Fast Food

When it comes to fast food, sandwich and sub-based chains are probably your best option.

Places like Subway, Quiznos, Panera Bread, Atlanta Bread, Jason’s Deli, and Au Bon Pain are ideal picks. There are certainly bad choices in these establishments, but you can always find the good ones as well. One of the best things about sub chains is that you get to call all of your own nutritional shots:

  • Go for sandwiches, subs, or wraps made with whole grain or whole wheat breads. Stay away from white bread and strictly avoid croissants (loaded with white flour and fat).
  • Choose lean protein like deli-sliced turkey, chicken, or roast beef, and avoid processed meats like bacon, ham, corned beef, sausage, meatballs, and cold cuts. Tuna or chicken salad sandwiches are fine if they are made with light mayo, which you’ll need to inquire.
  • Ask for every vegetable topping available including lettuce, tomato, onions, olives, peppers, and cucumbers, or go veggie all the way. Do not hesitate to ask for extra veggies.
  • Control your portions. Stick to 6-inch subs. For sandwiches, select the thinnest sliced whole grain bread available or remove the top piece of sandwich bread, especially if it is thick-sliced.
  • Go light on the cheese or hold it completely. Just because restaurants usually use three slices does not mean you cannot ask for one or two.
  • Avoid high fat or high sugar condiments. Mustard, light mayo, a little oil and vinegar, or reduced-fat salad dressings are your best options. Stay away from fat-free sauces and dressings as they are high in sugar.
  • Season your sandwich or sub liberally with all the available herbs and spices—NOT including salt.

Rise & Dine

Given the reality that fast food is now everywhere, it would be completely unrealistic to expect anyone to totally avoid this inescapable fixture of our modern dining landscape. Fortunately, there are a growing number of more wholesome and healthy fast food options out there.

Beeline For Breakfast!

A healthy breakfast is the perfect way to start your day. To be sure, research shows that healthy breakfasts can aid in weight loss and maintenance. With the right picks, a healthy breakfast will fuel your body through the morning and help you from overeating at lunch.

To do your breakfast right on the go, opt for:

  • Oatmeal: (now available at Starbucks, McDonalds, and several other fast food joints). If they offer nuts and dried fruit as toppings, sprinkle them on.
  • Fresh Whole Fruit: Many establishments offer apples, bananas, and berries, or packaged fresh fruit salad. Pair it with some low-fat yogurt.
  • Whole Wheat Bagels: (smallest size available) with some light cream cheese and berry-based spread or a whole wheat bagel sandwich.
  • Breakfast Sandwiches: Order your breakfast sandwich with any of the following: eggs, veggies, smoked salmon, avocados, or turkey (no cheese, bacon, sausage, or full-fat cream cheese). A whole-wheat breakfast wrap is a great option, if available.
  • Whole Grain Cereal: (Sorry, no Fruit Loops!) with 1% milk and a banana.


Avoid the muffins, pastries, donuts, croissants, and scones unless you want to be sluggish and starving midmorning. Because of the wholesome words commonly used to describe muffin offerings like “bran,” “carrot-walnut,” or “cranberry,” these no-icing jumbo cupcakes have a healthier reputation than they deserve. Some come with upwards of 550 calories and ten teaspoons of sugar!

Sensible On The Go Eats For Lunch Or Dinner

When it comes time for lunch or dinner, you can certainly still eat healthfully without sacrificing taste or satiety.

When you’re perusing the menu, keep these tips in mind:

  • Opt for fresh made-to-order salads—they are almost always available. Add lots of veggies, lean protein, and put the dressing on the side.”
  • Order whole grain or whole wheat sandwiches, or wraps, with lean protein of choice and as many veggies as possible.
  • Watch the portions. To stay on target with portions when you order, use your very own hands. Limit what you plan to eat (and ideally order) to what would fit in your two hands cupped together (minus any fruit and veggies—no need to limit those).
  • Look for “petite,” “mini,” “small”, or “half-portion” entree selections.
  • Refrain from ordering menu items with descriptions like “giant,” “grande,” “jumbo,” or “ supreme.”

Strictly Avoid These Fast Food Blunders

Avoid these unhealthy options at all times!

  • Fried foods in any form—fried chicken, fried fish or seafood, french fries or other fried potato products, and onion rings.
  • Oversized, biggie or super-sized portions; value meals. These options frequently have an entire day’s worth of calories, not to mention saturated fat and sodium. Keep in mind that you would typically have to run a full marathon to burn off the calories in just one of those meals!
  • Biscuits, croissants
  • All sugary beverages
  • Anything with excess cheese or bacon on it, especially in combination.
  • Milkshakes and dessert coffee beverages
  • Loaded baked potatoes
  • Bread sticks

Shopping For Healthy Meals

Most of us don’t have time to prepare fancy recipes—we need to get something on the table quickly. However, having some of these in stock will allow you to prepare a variety of healthy meals.

Grocery List

  • Fresh, pre-cut broccoli spears, cauliflower, asparagus, bell peppers, mushrooms
  • Cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, zucchini
  • Prewashed salad greens or shredded cabbage in a bag
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Vegetable juices (carrot, tomato)
  • Fresh apples, oranges and bananas
  • Applesauce
  • Pure fruit juices (cranberry, apple, cherry)
  • Dried fruits (apricots, dates, raisins, prunes)
  • Nuts and seeds (spreads: peanut butter or sesame butter)
  • Baked beans
  • Fresh or frozen fish (orange roughy, halibut, haddock)
  • Skinless chicken breast
  • Ground turkey or low-fat beef
  • Soups (chicken noodle, tomato, split pea, chili)
  • Spaghetti sauces
  • Frozen pizza (cheese, vegetarian)
  • Whole-grain breads and crackers
  • Brown rice, bulgur, couscous
  • Pasta (try whole wheat or spinach)
  • Tortillas (corn or flour)
  • Baked tortilla chips
  • Whole grain breakfast cereals
  • Low-fat dairy or greek yogurt
  • 1% Dairy or soy milk
  • Low-fat grated cheddar cheese
  • Non-fat sour cream
  • Salsa
  • Wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Pickles
  • Pretzels
  • Low-fat croutons

For More Information

National Restaurant Association

American Dietetic Association


WELCOA (Wellness Council of America)
17002 Marcy Street, Suite 140
Omaha, NE 68118
Phone: (402) 827-3590

©2014 Wellness Councils of America

The information contained in this brochure has been carefully reviewed for accuracy. It is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or health care provider.