4 fast food dinners to steer clear of (and what to order instead)

Published on August 11 2010 - 3:44 PM

I guess because I’m a food editor at EatingWell, I shouldn’t be surprised that my friends were shocked when I told them I stopped for dinner at McDonalds on my last road trip. I know, I know, don’t I eat better than that? Well, quite honestly, I was in a rush to get out of town and beat the traffic, and there weren’t any quick and healthy options on the stretch of road I was on!

Since summer is in full swing and lots of us are hitting the road for vacation this month, you just might find yourself in the same boat. To help you make better choices when you do stop at a fast food restaurant, I’ve compiled a list of 4 popular fast food meals that are diet-busters and provided lighter options to order instead. I’ve also included recipes for healthier make-at-home versions so you can satisfy that fast food craving healthfully when you’re not on the road.

Related Link: Want fries with that? Try our easy recipes for oven fries, chips and more junk foods you can make healthier at home.

Burgers get a bad rap for being fat- and calorie-bombs, but you can still grab a fast food burger without derailing your diet.
Diet-Busting Burger: McDonald’s Big Mac, 540 calories, 29 grams fat, 1040 mg sodium
Lighter Option to Order: McDonald’s Cheeseburger, 300 calories, 12 grams fat, 750 mg sodium
Savings: 240 calories, 17 grams fat, 290 mg sodium
Better Option to Make at Home: Inside-Out Cheeseburgers, 250 calories, 15 grams fat, 164 mg sodium
Total Savings vs. Diet-Busting Burger: 290 calories, 14 grams fat, 876 mg sodium

Fried Chicken
A chicken breast may sound like a healthy option, but when it is breaded and fried, the benefits are quickly lost.
Diet-Busting Fried Chicken: KFC Extra Crispy Chicken Breast, 510 calories, 33 grams fat, 1010 mg sodium
Lighter Option to Order: KFC Original Recipe Chicken Breast, 320 calories, 15 grams fat, 710 mg sodium
Savings: 190 calories, 18 grams fat, 300 mg sodium
Better Option to Make at Home: Oven-Fried Chicken, 226 calories, 7 gram fat, 258 mg sodium
Total Savings vs. Diet-Busting Chicken: 284 calories, 26 grams fat, 752 mg sodium

Fish & Chips
Fish has an inherently healthy halo, but when it’s destined for the deep fryer, that lean protein becomes a not-so-healthy choice.
Diet-Busting Fish and Chips: Long John Silver’s Fish & Fries, 490 calories, 26 grams fat, 1140 mg sodium
Lighter Option to Order: Long John Silver’s Three Shrimp & Fries, 360 calories, 19 grams fat, 830 mg sodium
Savings: 130 calories, 7 grams fat, 310 mg sodium
Better Option to Make at Home: Oven-Fried Fish & Chips, 325 calories, 5 grams fat, 331 mg sodium
Total Savings vs. Diet-Busting Fish & Chips: 165 calories, 21 grams fat, 809 mg sodium

Rice Bowls
Some fast food restaurants are offering alternative meal choices, like Jack in the Box’s new teriyaki bowls. They sure sound healthy—chicken on “a bed of steamed rice with carrots, broccoli, and Teriyaki sauce”—however, this wholesome description can be deceiving.
Diet-Busting Meal: Jack in the Box’s Chicken Teriyaki Bowl, 692 calories, 6 grams fat, 1703 sodium
Lighter Option to Order: Jack in the Box’s Chicken Fajita Pita, 326 calories, 10 grams fat, 987 mg sodium
Savings: Even though the lighter option has 4 more grams of fat, you’ll save 366 calories and 716 mg sodium
Better Option to Make at Home: Sweet & Sour Chicken with Brown Rice, 469 calories, 10 grams fat, 709 mg sodium
Total savings vs. Diet-Busting Alternative Meal: Even though the lighter option has 4 more grams of fat, you save 223 calories and 994 mg sodium

A graduate of New England Culinary Institute and University of Wisconsin with a degree in journalism, Carolyn pairs her long-standing love for food with writing as EatingWell's senior food editor. Carolyn’s culinary interest is rooted in her childhood; she grew up making thousands of Christmas cookies every year with her mom and picking leaves off bunches of parsley to make tabbouleh with her dad. Away from the kitchen, Carolyn enjoys seeking out rare craft beers and exploring the outdoors with her husband, young daughter and dog.