Your best bet? As with any eating situation, stick to foods that are as close to nature as possible. Michelle Pfennighaus, CHC, from FindYourBalanceHealth.com, says that if you aren't sure, you can request ingredient information at many fast food joints. "To make healthier fast food choices, look for items with simple, easily identifiable ingredients. For instance, a baked potato at Wendy's or oatmeal at Starbucks. Salads are a decent option, but be wary of the ingredients in the dressings," says Pfennighaus.
That said, it's okay to indulge -- in moderation. "I know that the salad is expensive and, once you pile on all the bacon bits and dressing that actually make it taste good, you might as well have had the juicy burger in terms of calorie equivalency," says Christen Cooper, MS, RD, founder of Cooper Nutrition Education and Communications, in Pleasantville, NY.
The days of "Would you like to Super Size that?" may be long gone, but that doesn't mean portions are small -- unless you order it that way. "Even if you choose to go with a burger or fries, make it a small instead of a large and order a water instead of soda," says Pfennighaus.
Another idea? Skip the meal option and order a la carte. "Don't super size, small-size. Order a plain hamburger or a regular cheeseburger, small fries and a 100% juice, milk or just plain water. You will rack up closer to 500 calories, and not closer to 1200 (and that's without dessert)," says Cooper.
Whether you and your kids are gravitating towards chicken sandwiches, burgers or something else, being selective about the toppings you take is a good habit. "Order salads that have grilled chicken instead of fried, skip the croutons and ask for the low cal or fat-free dressing and use only half the packet," says Kathy Jordan, MS, RD, LDN, CPT of Body Transformation by KJ.
Same goes for sauces on sandwiches. "Ask for lite mayo on the side so you can control the amount. Be careful of other fat-laden sauces that contain mayo," says Jordan.
And ultimately, the biggest thing to remember is moderation. Having either a soda or a small French fry is no big deal -- just don't make it an everyday thing or have both together. "Just always remember: McDonald's and other fast food establishments should be viewed as exceptions, as 'treats,' not as staple meals," says Cooper.
Do you have any healthy fast food favorites? Share them in the comments section.