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Healthy Fast Food Menu Options

Posted: Saturday April 4, 2009
By Danna Schneider
Fast food restaurants have gotten such a bad rap in the past few decades as a major reason for the obesity epidemic in the US, that many of them have felt compelled to defend their existence. Recently, the head of McDonald's, one of the most often cited restaurants in the blame for obesity, defended his restaurants saying that they were not responsible for the obesity rates in children.

I must agree with him that it is no one's direct fault that there are increasing amounts of obese children as well as adults, but the sad truth is that here in the US there are a combination of factors in our culture that promote obesity and will continue to unless we change our ways. According to statistics, obesity rates have tripled in just the past thirty years in adults. If that doesn't tell you something is amiss, then I don't know what does.

In response to pressure from consumer and health advocates, many fast food restaurants have come up with lighter menu options and healthier choices for kids meals to do their part in at least offering the option to be healthier. The rest is up to the customer or the parents of children who are eating there, and that is where the true education and enlightenment must come in, which is a difficult thing to control.

Wendy's, one of the most popular fast food chains, has started to offer mandarin oranges as a side option, which is a lot healthier and less caloric than french fries or a loaded baked potato. They also offer side salads with light dressings, and have quite a nice little menu of low fat salads that would tempt anyone's taste buds. In fact, Wendy's probably has one of the best salad menus of any popular fast food chain right now in my opinion.

They still have their triple stacked burgers and fries too for those who want the true naughty fast food experience, but those who are watching their weight or are just generally health conscious now have choices that are more palatable than they have been in the past.

McDonalds has also jumped on the healthier offerings bandwagon, and has salads to choose from, although not as impressive nor as tasty as Wendy's, and instead of french fries as their only choice for sides, they also now offer fruit and nut parfaits and apple dippers, a favorite with kids, which is sliced apples with a low fat caramel dipping sauce.

They even have offered active meals for adults which include salads, bottled water, and a free pedometer and health guide. A recent news story where a man lost significant weight eating at McDonalds no doubt fueled the popularity of apple dippers and their fruit and walnut parfait, both of which he ate almost exclusively while on his diet.

I recently went to the drive thru at a local Taco Bell, and even they have added a lighter menu to their offerings. The lighter menu offers some of the same traditional tacos, burritos and soft tacos, only they hold the cheese and load up more on the veggies, salsa and lettuce to make the meal lower fat and higher fiber, as well as lower in overall calories.

Subway is one of my favorite fast food places to grab a quick and healthy bite to eat while controlling calorie intake. They offer a whole line of subs that are low fat as well as 400 calories or less, perhaps slightly more on some but not much over the 400 calorie mark, which is ideal for a lunch or a dinner since it is calorie controlled.

Their offerings include subs on high fiber bread, which is delicious, and low fat meats such as roast beef, turkey and ham. You should order them without the cheese, which I've found to not be such a big deal since the cheese is very thin and doesn't provide much additional flavor anyways.

Just ordering without cheese saves you roughly one hundred calories. They have such a great selection of fresh veggies to pile on that you won't even notice you're eating a healthy, low fat meal. Choices include spinach leaves (my personal high fiber, high iron favorite), cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, pepper, pickles, and black olives (to be used sparingly, they are high in fat).

Add to that the fact that they have some great condiments that are fat free like their onion sauce and their honey mustard, and you've got a delicious low fat meal that will make you feel energized instead of lethargic, and keep you fuller longer than a burger and fries will.

Burger King, McDonald's oldest rival, also has some healthy menu options. They do offer a veggie burger made by Morningstar, which is quite tasty, however if you want to make it low fat skip the mayo, which they apply copiously unless you ask them to hold it. Add extra tomato and lettuce and maybe a little mustard for some flavor, and you've got a low fat burger replacement. Hold the cheese though of course.

Burger King also offers a nice list of salads and some low fat dressings to accompany them as well for a low fat, high fiber meal with protein such as chicken. There is also a grille chicken sandwich that if ordered without the mayo is a somewhat healthy choice. However, unlike McDonalds, they seem to be lacking in the other more novelty healthy foods that keep it interesting, meaning they are probably sticking with their core audience who stops for burgers and fries.

And there you have it. That's just a quick summary of some of the healthier choices offered by today's most popular fast food restaurants here in the US. Hopefully we will start to see more healthy competitors opening their doors in the same neighborhoods, and that at least will give us a better chance at getting something that is healthy, but also interesting.

Danna Schneider is the owner and primary contributor for several websites about health, beauty and weight management including the herbal and natural remedy information portal Herbal Remedies and Natural Treatment Reviews.
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