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Eating out with Better Food Choices on a Budget – “Fast Food” Edition – #HealthyChomps

Better Food Picks

It can be a challenge to eat healthy on a budget when dining out. There isn’t always an all-around healthy choice.

Sometimes you can only compare and make the best choice with what’s available to you, and with what you can afford.

Here is a list of better food picks at some popular restaurants. Use this to guide some of your decisions when dining out.

McDonald’s $1 Breakfast Menu

  • Sausage Burrito. The Sausage Burrito is a better pick than the Sausage Biscuit or Sausage McMuffin.
  • Hash brown. Only eat one.
  • Coffee. Coffee is a rich source of disease-fighting antioxidants. Be mindful of what you put in it. Go easy on the cream and sugar.

McDonald’s $1 Lunch or Dinner Menu

  • Side Salad. Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. We have to make an effort to eat more of them even when we don’t feel like it. Our health depends on it. Choose a light salad dressing like the low fat balsamic vinaigrette or low fat Italian dressing.
  • Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger. This burger is a better pick than the McChicken or McDouble sandwich.
  • Fruit N’ Yogurt Parfait. The parfait is a better pick than the ice cream cone or chocolate chip cookie because it has fruit in it. It’s a more nutritious way to satisfy your sweet tooth too.


Panera Bread

  • Bagels. I recommend the Whole Grain, Plain, Sesame or Everything bagel because these bagels have less fat and sugar in them. The Whole Grain bagel has three times more fiber than some of the other bagels offered at Panera. Enjoy your bagel with a reduced fat cream cheese spread.
  • Soup. A cup of Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean, Low-Fat Garden Vegetable with Pesto or Low-Fat Chicken Noodle soup are healthier options because they have less saturated fat than many of the other soups. Avoid ordering creamy soups too often. A cup of New England Clam Chowder packs a whopping 27 grams of saturated fat. Saturated fat is considered one of the “bad” fats because it raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol which is a risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Sandwiches. There are so many to choose from. Smoked Turkey Breast on Country, Mediterranean Veggie on Tomato Basil, Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT on Sourdough, Tuna Salad on Honey Wheat and Napa Almond Chicken Salad on Sesame Semolina are some of the lighter picks. If you order a heftier sandwich like the Big Kid Grilled Cheese on All-Natural White Miche, Italian Combo on Ciabatta or Steak & White Cheddar on French Baguette order half a sandwich. Many of these sandwiches contain half the total calories you need in a day.



  • Calories add up quickly when creating the perfect Burrito. Pick your favorite meat or go meatless, but be topping conscious. Focus on food that comes from plant sources. Go whole grain and choose brown rice over white rice. Add your favorite beans, vegetables and salsa. Guacamole would be a better topping than cheese and sour cream, but if you decide to add cheese and sour cream make a little go a long way.
  • The Burrito Bowl and Salad. Choosing to have rice or a tortilla (not both) is a great option. The tortilla is 290 calories alone. For diabetics especially, watching carbohydrate content is critical. It’s a good habit to limit meals to include only one grain serving.


Lechoneras/Latin Carryout

  • As hard as it may be limit the amount of fried selections you choose. Maduros, tostones, empanadas, alcapurrias, chuletas and bacalao frito should be enjoyed in moderation. Try to choose baked, roasted or stewed dishes made with leaner cuts of meat such as pollo al horno, bistec, bacalao guisado and carne de res guisada.
  • Eat beans and all your vegetables. This will add fiber to your meal and aid with digestion.
  • Most Latin restaurants serve generous portions of food. Take some home. Save some for later. Enjoy your meal all over again.



If I was given $10 to spend dining out for the whole day, I would budget approximately $3.33 for each meal.

  • For breakfast I would order the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal from McDonald’s without brown sugar or cream and a Sausage Burrito. It’s likely I would only eat the eggs in the burrito. I would drink water.
  • For lunch I would go to the Caribbean market down the street from my job that sells hot food. I would order rice, beans, and roasted chicken. They usually give large portions of food so I would try to stretch leftovers to the next meal or snack. Again, I would just drink water.
  • For dinner I would order the Grilled Chicken Go Wrap without sauce from Wendy’s and a Garden Side Salad with a vinaigrette dressing. I would drink water.

M AliMaria Ali is the Nutrition Manager at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. Since joining the food bank in 2010, she has implemented nutrition education programs and has fostered the progress of several of the food bank’s nutrition initiatives which includes: a nutrition committee, a nutrition strategic planning workshop, and a wellness program for staff. Additionally, she serves as a Board Member of the Orlando Dietetic Association and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ms. Ali strives to inspire others to live a healthier lifestyle by sharing her passion for nutrition through teaching, speaking, and social media.

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