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Healthier fast food menu choices

Karen Miner is the Associate Editor for SheKnows Food. She is a freelance writer, recipe developer and is also the cook, author and photographer behind the food blog, Tasty Trials, a collection of original recipes and stories. She and he...

If you eat fast food, choose wisely

When you go to a fast food restaurant, do you try to make the right choice by ordering a salad? As your friends indulge in a cheeseburger combo meal, it may surprise you to know that your lunch might actually have more calories than theirs.
Woman eating healthy fast food

Healthy fast food? To most of us, “healthy” and “fast food” don’t necessarily go together. Visions of fatty burgers and oil-soaked fries keep fast food firmly planted in the unhealthy column, but some of the menu items available now may not be as bad as you think.

Skip the drive-thru and make fast food at home with these 10-minute dinners >>

Keeping in mind that fast food may not ever be the healthiest option, if you do find yourself headed towards the golden arches, you can make healthier choices once there. Based on a diet of about 2,000 calories per day, lunch usually falls somewhere around 500 calories. Take a look at a comparison (in calories only) of some items from popular fast food restaurants:

Wendy's

At Wendy’s, ordering a Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad might seem like a good choice, but it actually contains 770 calories. A Jr. Cheeseburger Deluxe with kids' size fries has 580 calories, almost 200 calories less than the salad. Plus, Wendy’s now has substitutions in place of fries, which further reduce total calories. Options like a garden side salad, small chili or apple slices all contain fewer calories than the fries. Who knew that a burger combo could have fewer calories than a salad?

Here's another plus for Wendy’s dining: They have recently released a statement, in the wake of the pink slime controversy, that their burgers have always been made with 100 percent pure North American beef, containing no additives, fillers, preservatives or flavor boosters. Burgers are sounding better all the time.

Read more about pink slime >> 

McDonald's

At McDonald’s you might think that skipping the Big Mac and going with a chicken sandwich will save on the calories. There is some truth to that, but it depends what you order. A Big Mac contains 540 calories, while a Premium Crispy Chicken Club Sandwich contains 620. However, not all chicken menu items are quite so high. By making the switch to grilled chicken on the same sandwich, you are now eating only 350 calories and saving yourself a whopping 270 calories.

Jack in the Box

Sometimes you just feel like a burger and nothing else will do, no matter how unhealthy it is. But you still have choices and some are definitely smarter than others. By choosing a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger from Jack in the Box, which contains 920 calories, you are consuming almost half your daily calories in one burger! Instead, try a Jumbo Jack, which contains only 500 calories, making it look like diet food comparatively.

Make the kids a homemade fast food meal they'll love: Bacon cheeseburger pockets >>

To get a better understanding of what you're eating, take a look at the nutritional guides that fast food restaurants provide. They can be very beneficial and will help in making the best choice, even if it is, surprisingly, a big juicy burger and fries.

More on fast food

Fast food choices that won’t make you fat
Is fast food a bad parenting choice?
How to approach fast food wisely

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