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SALT LAKE CITY — Have you found yourself frequently getting food at the drive-thru or curbside pickup lately? Just because you’re eating fast food doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice nutrition. You can still eat out while getting your nutrients in for the day.
By keeping a few things in mind when ordering, you can keep your meal in a reasonable calorie and fat range. When possible, try to choose options with lean proteins, healthier fats and veggies that are filling. This will help fill you up while also keeping nutrition in check.
Whether you're eating out for lunch or dinner, here are a few healthier meal suggestions at popular fast food and fast casual eateries from registered dietitians.
The Mediterranean protein bowl is an excellent healthy option. A large bowl with dressing is just over 400 calories and has 26 grams of protein. It has plenty of colorful veggies, providing you with satiating fiber. This menu item is a good source of vitamins C and A, and iron and is an excellent source of calcium.
If you're wanting more, go with the "Try 2" combo and get some chickpea and vegetable soup as well. You get plant-based protein from the chickpeas and fiber from all of the veggies. A bowl of soup will give you 30% of your daily vitamin C.
Registered dietitian Jaymar Saniatan is a huge fan of Chick-fil-A and usually gets the original chicken sandwich.
"I pair it with a side of fruit cup to balance out the healthy radar. The sandwich is actually a fraction the calories of other cheeseburgers," Saniatan said.
Another good option is the 8-count chicken nuggets, which have just 250 calories and 27 grams of protein. You can pair them with a side salad or a fruit cup instead of fries to add extra vitamins, minerals and fiber to your meal.
Think tacos can’t be healthy? Think again. Taco Bell’s fresco menu features items with 350 calories or less and all under 10 grams of fat. Opting for two steak fresco soft tacos gives you less than 300 calories and 25% of your daily iron. The steak is a lean protein choice, providing 21 grams of protein in the two tacos and just 8 grams of fat — which is low compared to many fast food options.
The black beans and rice is a great side dish to complement your tacos, adding 4 grams of both plant-based protein and fiber each, and just 170 calories. Combined all together, your meal is filling, flavorful and less than 500 calories!
Registered dietitian Melissa Nieves' favorite healthy fast food option is Panera's Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich.
"It's full of veggies (which is always a good thing), such as greens, tomatoes, cucumber peppers and red onions, and it's also full of plant-based protein from the hummus and feta cheese," said Nieves of Fad Free Nutrition Blog. "It tastes amazing and is a good source of fiber."
You can also customize the ingredients and add avocado to get those healthy fats, Nieves said.
Costa Vida has an excellent selection of build-your-own salads to choose from. For example, a small shredded beef salad with a whole grain corn tortilla, black beans, rice, lettuce, salsa fresca, tomatillo ranch dressing, guacamole and pico de gallo tops out at just under 550 calories, which is appropriate for a meal. By ditching the tortilla strips on top you’re saving nearly 150 calories.
If salads aren’t your thing, you could try building a taco instead. A mahi-mahi taco with a corn tortilla, pinto beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, lime, mango salsa and pico de gallo is also about 550 calories. It also has 27 grams of protein and nearly 8 grams of fiber, keeping you full and satisfied.
Instead of a regular burrito at Chipotle, which can easily turn into about 1,000 calories, try a burrito bowl or salad, suggests registered dietitian nutritionist Lisa Young.
"For protein, add sofritas (tofu), beans, and brown rice. Top with guacamole and now you have a healthy meal," Young said.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Cristina Svec seconds the burrito bowl at Chipotle.
"I like it with sofritas for protein, which has less saturated fat than the meat options, and ask for extra fajita veggies and half the rice (preferably brown). This way, you get less calories in a bigger portion," she said.
If you're going to McDonald's, registered dietitian nutritionist Mandy Enright suggests the hamburger Happy Meal. She said the meal is a good portion size to help keep calories, fat, carbs and sodium in check while still getting to enjoy a burger and fries.
"You also get sides of either apple slices or yogurt, plus a drink of water, low-fat milk, or 100% fruit juice. Don’t pass it by just because you think it’s for kids!" Enright added.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Paula Wesson went with McDonald's 4-piece McNuggets Happy Meal at the airport recently.
"This came with fries, Go-Gurt, and 1% milk," she said. "It provides 22 grams of protein, which is appropriate for a meal. Yes, it contains fried food, but as an occasional meal, that's OK. Everything in moderation."
Choose from a variety of salads at Wendy’s including the zesty Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad. It's a full-size salad and has 520 calories with dressing and 43 grams of lean protein from grilled chicken and only 13 grams of carbs. You’re also getting some heart-healthy fats from the avocado.
If you downsize to a half-size salad you could pair it with Wendy’s classic chili. A small cup of this meaty chili has 160 calories, 14 grams of protein and only 4 grams of fat. Thanks to the beans and other veggies, one serving also has 6 grams of dietary fiber. It’s a delicious way to add variety to your fast-food meal.
Registered dietitian Amy Gorin recommends Panda Express' Black Pepper Angus Steak with Super Greens.
"Yes, I’m telling you to order steak! This new steak dish from Panda Express is made with top sirloin Angus steak, which is a lean steak — as well as baby broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers, and onions," Gorin said.
The serving size is 5.1-ounces and just 180 calories. It also offers 19 grams of protein.
"I like to suggest pairing any entrée at Panda Express with Super Greens, a medley of broccoli, kale, and cabbage," she said. "A 7-ounce side is just 90 calories and provides an excellent amount of fiber (5 grams) and a good amount of protein (6 grams), both nutrients that help keep you satiated for longer."
Try the Roast Turkey Farmhouse salad from Arby's for a tasty and healthy pick. It’s lower in carbohydrates (8 grams), adds in fiber to your day and still contains plenty of protein (23 grams) to fill you up. One salad also has 60% of your daily vitamin A, as well as 25% of both your daily calcium and iron needs.
If you’re not feeling a salad, the Classic Roast Beef Sandwich is a good choice. It packs in 23 grams of protein and has about half the amount of fat as some of the other sandwich options. You can pair it with a side of two potato cakes instead of fries, which will only add about 100 calories to your meal.
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