Strategies for Eating on the Fly

April 29, 2014 in Foodland, Foodland Chronicles, General, Health, Psychology of Food, Uncategorized, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Let’s assume you’ve been working quite a while to make your home environment a haven for safe and healthy eating. Your pantry and fridge are stocked with fresh produce, whole grains, healthy oils, nonfat dairy and lean protein choices. I should mention that you might have limited the fatty, salty, and simple carb snacks, so they won’t be in the house calling out to you. So it’s becoming easier and easier to maintain healthy eating at home. But hectic days happen. I realize that it’s not just me; life sometimes just takes over and we’re running from one priority to another. All of a sudden, we discover that we are away from our safe home food environment and that we’re really hungry. If we don’t grab something fast we’ll not have another opportunity for too many hours. Sometimes the planned-ahead snack in our bag or at our desk will save us; but at other times, we end up in situations where we need to eat on the fly.

Thank goodness for fast food establishments; they’re fast, convenient and sometimes cheap. Their highly processed offerings have been taste tested by food hedonics experts to make it taste pretty good. Problem arises that fast food is often loaded with fat, salt and, of course, is high in calories. Doing a little planning and learning a little may be able to protect you from a 2,200-calorie single sandwich disaster. The problem is that we seem to get hungry more than once a day and those high calorie items provide enough calories for an entire day for many of us. What can be done?

I must admit that I don’t eat fast food often because it’s very challenging to include it and eat the way Dr. Grandpa and I have chosen to eat to stay healthy. But you can find lots of information on the Internet about calories, salt, types of fat, total fat, lack of fiber, and carbs. So I will try to give you some practical ideas for helping to keep yourself safe from the perils of fast food. My advice is first, to hardly ever eat at fast food chains. It’s really difficult to have a very healthy diet and frequently eat at fast food establishments.

  • When traveling we try to bring our own food, whenever possible. Sometimes the flight is long or there is no possibility of bringing our own food; or let me admit, sometimes in trying to get ready for a trip, the meal-packing time gets swallowed up in getting so many things ready for being gone. But if you have a chance, packing food from home or from the destination spot returning to home can really decrease the chance that you’re stuck eating too much of something you’d rather not eat. One of our techniques is that we try to rent condos, apartments, or hotel rooms with mini kitchens. It really helps us have control of the food chosen and prepared under our own criteria.
  • The marketers make it difficult. Be aware that some burgers may be as low as 250 calories and some veggie dishes are loaded with 1,000 calories – cheese, sauces, meat chunks added to overwhelm the veggies. Finding out the facts is key. It’s much easier now with so many fast food establishments posting nutrition info, or having brochures available. Having an app on your phone or other electronic device can be a real asset. Some of the fast food calorie counter apps are free and some are as low as a dollar.
  • If you’re looking at a pamphlet or digital app, you can see the ingredients. Look for hydrogenated oils (source of trans fats) and avoid ordering those items, because you want a healthy heart.
  • Take advantage of kid’s menus, split meals with a partner, or take part of the serving home.
  • Panera has an egg-white bowl and a steak lettuce wrap; two calorie friendly items.
  • Condiments can be a hazardous group of embellishments. Ketchup packets often contain high fructose corn syrup but these packets only contain 10 calories. Compare to honey mustard, 60 calories, barbecue sauce, 50 calories; and mayonnaise, 100 per tablespoon! A healthy salad can become very high calorie with the salad dressing. Some fast food establishments offer low fat, low-calorie salad dressings. I generally pour the dressing into the plastic lid and then touch the tines of my fork into the dressing to decrease the amount of the dressing consumed.  Mustard is a good choice for sandwiches, only 5 calories per packet. My advice is to give up fry sauce (it’s mostly mayo at 100 calories per tablespoon). If it’s the joy of your life, maybe limit yourself to an infrequent opportunity to indulge. Some people enjoy vinegar for fries and some of us rarely ever indulge in fries. Lemon juice and vinegar are also ways to rescue a salad from high calorie dressings.
  • Instead of fries some restaurants offer apple slices, mandarin oranges, or a side salads with a low calorie dressing. If my grandchildren order fries, I will sometimes ask if I can have two or three. I enjoy that salty, greasy crispness, but a whole order is more than my hips or arteries need.
  • Notice the lettuce from your fast food establishment. Often it is simply iceberg lettuce. Some restaurants recognize that people are looking for dark green leafy vegetables. They may fake the appearance of leafy greens by putting in only a few leaves of loose-leaf lettuce with mostly iceberg lettuce – it doesn’t compare well in nutrients.
  • Choose grilled, baked or broiled chicken instead or fried chicken. If grilled chicken is not available; consider cutting off the skin and crust of the fried chicken.
  • Drinks can be a real pitfall.  Some meals come with a large (32 ounces) soda – that adds up to about 425 calories that you can live nicely without. Replacing soda, sweetened tea, lemonade, and fruit drinks with water, black coffee, ice tea, diet soda (consider a small – moderation, or share), a little lemon in your water glass, or even watered down 100% juice, would be an improvement over 32 ounces of liquid sugar.
  • Many of the offerings at fast food spots are super sized; consider cutting it in half as you begin. If you can get it home safely, it could be another meal. Or maybe someone in your party can share it with you while it’s hot. Another option is to get the child’s portion or the regular burger, instead of the quarter pounder. Ask for extra veggies on your sandwich; extra tomato, pickles, onions and lettuce add only a few calories, but can really make a smaller sandwich or burger seem so much more generous. You may discover that if you have an apple or orange in your pocket you may be more likely to order a smaller sandwich.
  • When it comes to salads, consider purging the croutons and cheese.
  • When ordering sub sandwiches, you can skip the shot of oil on the bread, choose mustard instead of mayonnaise, and add lots of cucumbers, pickles, onions, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and so on. One other technique is to eat it open face (without the top bread) or my technique is to tear off much of the bread. Even a 6-inch sandwich is more bread that I generally want to consume.
  • When perusing the menu, pay special attention when you come upon words like crispy, deep-fried, pan-fried, batter dipped, scalloped, Alfredo, au gratin, in cream sauce, creamy, and breaded, take a second look at the menu to see if you can find another item that won’t deliver the high calories, sodium and fat.
  • Soup is always a healthy item at our home, but eating soup out almost always results in an unreasonable salt load.
  • Special order is now an option at many fast food establishments. You can say, “please skip the mayo, dressing on the side, can my order be broiled or steamed?”
  • Fast food is notoriously high in sodium; so if you’re in the habit of adding salt to your food, taste it and decide if you can skip your salting habit. The American Heart Association recommends that we strive to stay under 1,500 mg of sodium and not take in more than 2,300 mg a day of sodium. The city of New York did a survey of fast food restaurants and found that about 57% of the meals exceeded the 1,500 mg daily sodium level. That’s one meal, not a day’s worth. Ouch! Fried chicken establishments (Popeye’s and KFC) exceeded the 1500 mg with 83% of their meals and 55% of the meals surpassed 2,300 mg of sodium. Even the lower calorie meals were likely to exceed the daily sodium limit with a single meal.
  • The sodium is generally too high, but if I’m having a grilled veggie burger, I’m especially pleased if grilled onions and mushrooms are added to the options.
  • Biscuits are not equal with bread; there’s lots of fat and calories (not to mention salt) in biscuits.
  • Choose a soft taco shell, instead of a crispy (fried) shell.
  • Whole boiled beans don’t have the huge load of fat that refried beans have.
  • Be wary of tuna salad, chicken salad, and egg salad for sandwich fillings. You can just look at it and see the huge load of mayo. At home make these types of sandwiches with Greek yogurt or part mayo and part yogurt, for a much lower calorie and salt load.
  • Some Asian chains are starting to offer brown rice – yahoo!
  • Lower fat cheese options are now being offered at some establishments.
  • Skip the cheese and the sauce on English muffin egg sandwiches.
  • Milkshakes are not only high in calories; they are also high in sodium, generally more that an order of fries. Yogurt parfait is a nice option instead of a milkshake.
  • Chili is a fine high fiber choice, available at some burger shops.
  • Choose whole grains at a sub sandwich shop.
  •  Grilled chicken strips are an excellent option instead of nuggets or tenders.
  • When I lived in California, I would frequently get fish tacos at Baja Fresh. What a delicious fast food that was!
  • If you order ‘fresco’ style Mexican food, they leave off the cheese and creamy ingredients and include more vegetables and salsa. Also, Taco Bell’s fresco style ranchero Chicken Soft Taco has only 170 calories and 730 mg of sodium. They make it full of flavor by adding tomatoes, onions, and cilantro – that way they limit the sodium.  It’s one of the lowest sodium items that I reviewed.
  • Thin crust pizza with half the cheese and extra veggies can help you survive the pizza shop. You may want to consider adding a side salad and limiting yourself to one or two slices of pizza.
  • A number of fast food restaurants offer low fat balsamic and raspberry vinaigrette dressings and berry balsamic vinaigrette; it really helps add flavor without a gigantic load of fat.
  • Jack in the Box offers a chicken fajita pita made with whole grains. I mention it because there’s a real dearth of whole grains in fast food.

Learning to manage fast food in your diet when you really need its convenience can be a complicated process. It’s worse if you’re used to eating a considerable amount of fast food.  When this is the case, it may take greater time and disciplined effort to learn how to make it healthier. One easy way is to diminish greatly how often and how much fast food you eat. But the fact is that life does sometimes grab us and change our best-laid plans; then we find ourselves eating on the fly. Trying out some techniques and learning them to the habit level can increase our chances of staying healthy even when we’re stuck with eating fast food.