Ask the dietitian: Staying healthy when eating drive-thru

Q: Our family loves fast food, and quite frankly, we just don’t have time to cook every night. What choices should we make at those drive-thrus to stay healthy?

Fast food restaurants have seemingly become a part of everyday life. But with the poor choices available there, we are in danger of becoming nutrient-starved in addition to time-starved by frequenting them too often. Fast food establishments’ portions are too big, high-fat foods are abundant and their choice of vegetables, fruit and milk products is grim. However, with some planning and willpower they do offer better options..

Portion size

  • Consider sharing a combo meal. Often we could be satisfied after just half of a drive-thru meal but we keep eating because it is in front of us.
  • Don’t give in to the suggestion to ‘super-size’.
  • Try a kid-sized meal.
  • Don’t double up on the hamburger patties.

High-fat foods

  • Choose grilled items.
  • Ask for sandwich condiments on the side or not at all.
  • Choose salads with low-fat salad dressings.
  • Choose an alternative to fries, such as salad.

Lack of vegetables, fruits and milk products

  • Many places offer apple slices or a fruit cup.
  • Go for a low-fat yogurt parfait instead of a high-fat dessert.
  • Choose milk, chocolate milk or water to drink.
  • If eating vegetables and fruits from a fast food location doesn’t appeal to you, bring your own. Cut up veggies and fruits are quick and easy to pack. This, of course, works best if you are using the drive-thru or take out options!

Lastly, examine how many times a month you use drive-thrus. If it is only once per month then maybe you can splurge a little, but if it is more than that, you should consider making better choices every time.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Fall 2008.

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