When it’s almost midnight and you’re walking around campus on an empty stomach, nothing seems more tempting than walking into your favorite fast food joint to grab a meal that you will most likely regret 20 minutes later. The prices that come with convenience at many fast food restaurants are the extra calories, high sodium content, and grams of fat from eating fried and processed products. But not all hope is lost. There are ways to make these cheap and easy places somewhat healthy as well, so if you’re looking to count your calories and get your nutrients in while saving money, here’s how to get the best out of the fast food spots on campus.
McDonalds: Hamburger and Side Salad
McDonalds doesn’t exactly scream the epitome of health, but it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find something that is somewhat low–cal and low–fat. Try going with just a simple hamburger. Yes, I did say a hamburger, and yes, I’m just as surprised as you. A simple McDonald’s hamburger has 250 calories and 9 grams of fat, which are significantly lower numbers compared to all the other burgers, sandwiches, and entrées found at the popular national chain.
McDonald’s does offer seemingly healthier options such as the Premium Grilled Chicken Sandwich, but with 530 calories and almost 1200 mg of sodium—double the amount found in a hamburger—these options only trick you into thinking they are more nutritious. The burger also has 12 grams of protein, so it helps to get those gains in as well.
To go along with the hamburger, a side salad provides Vitamins A and C while also being fat–free and only 20 calories, rather than a premium salad that is filled with high amounts of sodium and carbohydrates. Finish the meal off with a kiddie ice cream cone for a sweet treat with only one gram of fat and 6 grams of sugar, and walk out the door knowing that your meal just saved you hundreds of calories, grams of fat, and carbohydrates.
Subway: Turkey Breast or Veggie Delite
With a motto like “Eat fresh,” it would seem like Subway would offer only the healthiest of options, but alas, that is just not the case. Many of Subway’s sandwiches have high levels of sodium with low amounts of essential vitamins and nutrients. Your best bet is to order either the Turkey Breast or the Veggie Delite.
Both options are under 300 calories and have less than 4 grams of fat per six–inch sub, while many of the other options such as the Tuna and the Cold Cut Combo have up to 25 grams of fat and over 1000 mg of sodium. The Veggie Delight lacks in protein with only 9 grams, but the Turkey Breast does provide a whole 18 grams, ranking it up there in protein with the other subs that offer around 20 to 25 grams per six–inch. No matter which sub you go for though, make sure to get it on 9–Grain Wheat Bread as it offers the most fiber with the least amount of fat.
Chipotle: Build Your Own Bowl
It may seem like a beautifully crafted burrito from Chipotle could never hurt in any way nutritionally, but in reality, the average Chipotle meal can contain more than 2000 mg of sodium and high contents of fat. Getting a burrito adds unnecessary carbs, and Chipotle salads actually have more calories compared to a burrito bowl, so make sure to grab a bowl if you're looking to eat healthier.
Choose chicken or steak, both containing 7 grams of fat and 2 grams of carbs, to keep your sodium intake under 400 mg. Avoid sofritas as it has the highest amount of fat, sodium, and carbs of all Chipotle's proteins. Opt for brown rice over white rice to reduce sodium and add extra fiber, and black beans over pinto beans to cut out 100 mg of unnecessary sodium. Add some spice with the Green Tomatillo Salsa—it has 230 mg of sodium compared to the tomato salsa's 470 mg and the corn salsa's 410 mg. Feel free to add lettuce as it is low–cal and low–carb while providing essential nutrients like Vitamins A and C, but avoid getting sour cream and cheese together as they both have 10 grams of fat and additional cholesterol.
Wawa: Whole Wheat or Rye sandwich and Yogurt Parfait
As a campus favorite, Wawa has been a go–to spot for any late–night snack or meal, but while a mac–n–cheese can hit the spot perfectly, how good is it really for you? Many of their classic sandwiches are high in both calories and carbs. Just a Turkey Shorti with Cheese can have 470 calories and 64 grams of carbs.
Instead, try going for a sandwich on whole wheat or rye bread to cut down on the carb and calorie count that comes from the hoagie roll. Substitute out a side of mac–n–cheese for a yogurt parfait or a side of fruit. Avoid other hot sides as well, because while even a small bowl of tomato soup may seem healthy enough, each serving contains 22 grams of fat and 940 mg of sodium.