There’s no doubt about it, Americans like their fast food. Whether it’s for a quick lunch, a time-saving meal while traveling or an easy way to get dinner on the table for a busy family, Americans continue to rely on fast food to fit their busy lifestyles.

When first introduced, fast-food menus mainly consisted of high-fat, high-calorie food items. Today, however, many fast-food restaurants offer healthy menu items in addition to the traditional burger, fries and soft drink. From grilled chicken sandwiches and broiled fish to salads and fresh fruit to low-fat milk and parfaits, consumers now have a wide variety of healthful items to choose from. Follow these suggestions from the Mayo Clinic to help make healthy selections the next time you eat at a fast-food restaurant.

Keep portion sizes small. Most fast-food restaurant offers several sandwich sizes. Choose the smallest or order half of a sandwich, if available. Pass up the hamburgers with two or three beef patties, which can have more than 1,000 calories and 70 grams of fat. Instead, choose a regular or child-size hamburger, which has about 250 to 300 calories. Also, skip the large serving of French fries or onion rings and go for the smaller size. This change can save you 300 calories.

Choose a healthier side dish. Take advantage of the healthy side dishes now offered at many fast-food restaurants. For example, instead of French fries, choose a side salad with a low-fat dressing or a baked potato. You may want to add a fruit bowl or fruit and yogurt cup to your meal. Other healthy choices include applesauce or apple slices, mandarin oranges, corn on the cob, steamed rice and baked potato chips.

Go for the greens. Choose a large entree salad with grilled chicken, shrimp or garden vegetables along with fat-free or low-fat dressing served on the side. Watch out for high-calorie salads such as those made with creamy pasta or topped with breaded chicken or other fried toppings. Also, skip those salad extras such as cheese, bacon bits, croutons and fried chips that quickly increase your calorie count.

Opt for grilled items. Fried and breaded foods, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish fillets, are high in fat and calories. Select grilled or roasted lean meats, such as turkey or chicken breast, lean ham or lean roast beef.

Have it your way. Don’t settle for what comes with your sandwich or meal. Ask for healthier options and substitutions. For example, ask for reduced-fat mayonnaise or mustard on your sandwich. At a fast-food Mexican restaurant, request salsa with your meal instead of shredded cheese and nacho cheese sauce. Try to avoid special dressings, tartar sauce, sour cream and other high-calorie condiments.

Re-think your drink. Many beverages contain a large number of calories. For example, a large soda (32 ounces) has about 400 calories. A 20 ounce sports drink has about 125 calories. Instead, order diet soda, water, low-fat milk, unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water or mineral water. Also, steer clear of shakes and other ice cream drinks; these can contain more than 1,000 calories and all of your saturated fat allotment for the day.

Source: Colorado Cooperative Extension


Crispy Baked Chicken

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1 cup crushed cornflakes

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons seasoned salt

6-8 pieces of chicken, skin removed

¾ cup egg substitute

Drizzle butter in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. In a shallow bowl, combine corn flakes, flour, and seasoned salt. Dip chicken in egg substitute. Then roll in cornflake mixture. Dip again in egg substitute and roll in cornflake mixture.

Arrange chicken in dish. Bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn chicken over. Bake 10 – 15 minutes longer or until juices run clear and a meat thermometer reads 180 degrees. Yield: 4 servings

Sandra R. Cain is an Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences in Bladen County.
Making healthier fast-food choices