Healthy Fast Food?

Editor's note: This guest blog was provided by our sponsor, Western Dairy Association.

You have committed to eating healthy and increasing physical activity, and have had a great week doing so. Then comes your busy weekend. You are out Saturday morning running errands with your family when, short for time and desperately hungry, they suggest your favorite fast food restaurant. Sound familiar? The following is a list of recommendations for working through this seemingly dangerous situation: 

1. Don't Panic

You can find a healthy option at almost any place your friends or family members may choose. With a little planning, dining at a fast food restaurant can be nutritious.

2. Memorize MyPlate

This is especially helpful when you are choosing a la carte items from a fast food restaurant menu. It is possible to build a healthy plate (half of your plate fruits and vegetables, ¼ of your plate grains, ¼ protein and a serving of either milk, cheese or yogurt).

3. Let Us Lettuce

Fruits and vegetables will undoubtedly be the most challenging food group to find choices for at most fast food restaurants. Keep in mind that most restaurants are happy to add extra lettuce, maybe even tomato and onions, free of charge. Many fast food places serve fruit or fruit smoothies on the side and some offer salad bars as well.

4. Sauce on the Side

Whether you order a burger, salad or Asian bowl, ask for the sauce or condiments on the side. You can determine how much you need for extra flavor. Salad dressings or special sauces can be especially dangerous, adding unwanted calories from fat. Most salads already have extra flavor toppings, come already dressed and won't need the additional dressing.

5. Forget the Fries

Ditch those fries entirely or ask a friend or family member to share a side. While a fresh baked or boiled potato is a healthy choice at home, most restaurant deep-fried French fries are heavily salted and rarely can count as a true vegetable serving. Share a basket of fries as your dessert.

6. Rethink Your Drink

Save money and avoid empty calories by skipping the "meal;" order your entrée without fries and without a drink. Water, milk, chocolate milk, 100-percent juice or real fruit smoothies are all better options than soda when eating out.

Here are a few quick tips for choosing healthy options at different fast food restaurants:


  • Choose soft tortillas over fried, crisp ones and whole-wheat or corn tortillas when possible.
  • Fajitas are a great choice for helping to build a healthy plate.
  • Ask for salsa or pico de gallo as a topping.
  • Choose black or pinto beans instead of refried.
  • Sprinkle low-fat Mexican blend cheese on your favorite dish to add extra flavor and additional nutrients and protein.


  • Choose steamed rice instead of fried.
  • Choose dishes with vegetables. 
  • When possible, ask for sauces and dressings on the side.
  • Most Asian dishes are made without dairy products. Enjoy these dishes with a glass of milk.


  • Think of a pizza as a vertical MyPlate. One slice of thick crust covers about ¼ of your plate as a grain and 1.5 ounces of shredded cheese is a serving of dairy. Add a layer of protein, fruits and vegetables to complete the plate.
  • Hawaiian pizza with pineapples is a tasty way to add fruit to your pizza.
  • Order the salad bar or fruit on the side instead of breadsticks or dessert pizza.
  • Choose tomato sauce instead of BBQ or Alfredo sauce.
  • Use proper portion sizes.


  • Try broiled or grilled instead of crispy or fried options.
  • Look for “light” or “healthy” options on the menu.
  • Add cheese to your beef or chicken burgers, sandwiches or salads to ensure a serving of dairy at each meal.

Your commitment to healthy eating and active living is worth it. With a little planning, dining at your favorite restaurants with your friends and family is an easy task while still following a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Photo Credit: Joe Buckingham via Compfight cc


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