How to Approach Fast Food Wisely

By: Rallie McAllister, MD

If you find that the very survival of you and your kids seems to depend on the occasional consumption of fast food, you don't have to cut it out all together; you just have to make judicious, nutritious choices.

Order Food to Go. You can reduce the associated fat and calorie content to a significant degree by eating the food at home rather than at the restaurant or atop the dashboard dining facilities in your car. Studies show that people tend to consume more food when they're eating away from their own kitchen tables. When you bring fast foods home, you can supplement the meal with side orders of fresh fruits and vegetables, saving yourself 15 to 30 grams of fat by simply foregoing the fries. Instead of guzzling the 32-ounce soda that comes with the meal, you can opt for a glass of water, saving yourself around 300 calories and several tablespoons of sugar.

Avoid Buffets. If you want to keep your fast food and your good health, avoid all-you-can-eat buffets like the scourges to humanity that they are. If this type of establishment holds any appeal for you at all, you might be able to diminish it a significant degree just by spending a few minutes in the parking lot, watching the portly patrons come and go. Chances are that you won't see too many thin, healthy looking folks frequenting these modern-day shrines to gluttony. Forego the Fries. When you're eating out, you'll have some important decisions to make. A super-sized serving of French fries may have as many as 30 grams of fat. For some folks, this is almost an entire day's supply. Are the fries worth it? If they aren't you'll need to forget the fries and stick with the leaner choices on the menu.

Stick to the "Light" Menu. Most fast food restaurants offer "light" menus and low-fat selections. You're always better off choosing from among these items. Fried foods and those served with high-fat condiments like mayonnaise, "special" sauce, and tarter sauce need to be approached with extreme caution. If the restaurant doesn't offer a light menu, your best bet is to choose salads with low-fat dressings or grilled chicken sandwiches. When it comes to ordering soups, choose the broth-based varieties rather than those that are cream-based.

Don't Be Afraid to Special-Order. Wherever you end up eating, ask for all condiments to be served on the side rather than slathered on your food by the chef, who is likely to be as indifferent to the lining of your arteries as he is to the circumference of your waistline. A single tablespoon of regular mayonnaise or salad dressing contains about 9 grams of fat and 100 calories, so you'll want to use these condiments sparingly, if at all.

Although vegetables are usually safe choices, their nutritional value is significantly diminished if they're overcooked to the point of disintegration or if they're swimming in lakes of oil or butter. Ask for your vegetables to be served plain and lightly steamed, so that they'll be reasonably nutritious and free of added fat.

Fear the Fryer. While fish and chicken entrees sound nutritionally safe, you have to pay attention to the methods in which they are prepared. The fried versions of either food put them in the same class as burgers, and drowning fish or chicken in creamy sauces or butter can demote them to the nutritional status of high-fat desserts. To ensure that they remain low in fat and cholesterol, order your fish or chicken entrees baked or grilled.

Take Charge of Your Plate. Even when you're dining at restaurants that don't offer super-size versions of their normal fare, you can bet that a "single" serving still provides enough calories for at least two meals. The average restaurant meal contains around 1500 calories, even minus the bread and dessert. Itís a good rule of thumb to leave at least a third of the meal on your plate--some for Mr. Manners and the rest for Mrs. Health. Or, you can eat half of your meal while you're at the restaurant and save the other half for the next day's lunch.

It's always a good idea to opt for smaller portions than the ones provided, and you can be fairly certain that you won't run the risk of starving. Some restaurants are happy to oblige your request for half-orders. If they aren't, you can try ordering a child's plate of the same meal. If that doesn't work, you and your dinner date can always share an entree. If you feel that you must indulge in a food that is high in fat and calories, don't make matters worse by committing the twin sins of eating the wrong kind of food and eating too much of it. As you lose weight and gain health, you'll be pleased to find that savoring just a few bites of a tasty treat is often just as satisfying as a half-pound serving. It's definitely less guilt provoking.

Rallie McAllister, MD, the author of The Busy Couples Guide to Great Sex: The Medically Proven Program to Boost Low Libido (LifeLine Press, September 2003), and Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim (LifeLine Press, September 2003), runs a family practice specializing in nutrition, wellness, and weight loss called Healthy Solutions, in Kingsport, Tennessee. Dr. McAllister is the creator and popular host of Rallie On Health, a health magazine TV show with over 1 million viewers in the five-state area of eastern Tennessee. Millions across the country also know her for her weekly nationally syndicated column called "Your Health by Dr. Rallie McAllister." Dr. McAllister lives with her husband and three children in Kingsport, Tennessee. Visit Rallie at

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