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10 Ways to Forage in a Fast Food Nation

Posted Jun 03 2008 12:00pm

Fast Food Court

How come everything smells the same in here?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve really ripped into fast food joints and junk food manufacturers for trying to pull the wool over our eyes and pass off junk food as not only edible chow, but also something that should be considered healthy. And, while we’ll be the first to admit that they deserve it, there are some times when dining on junk is difficult to avoid… like when you’re in the company of folks who are less discerning of their food choices, or you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere on a road trip or laid over at an airport. But rest assured: This is not a crisis. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to become a food detective - an opportunity to put all your hours pouring over MDA tips to use - to identify the healthiest options on the glowing board above the checkout counter.

This isn’t unlike what our Primal ancestors did. They had to forage the land for edible plants, insects and non-poisonous berries. To them the choices they made were quite possibly a matter of life and death. Things have hardly changed. Only now our landscape is comprised of fast food joints, processed and packaged snack goods, HFCS, trans fats, refined flour, sugar, sugar and more sugar… the list goes on and on. Even with health information galore (too often contradictory) and nutrition labels it still takes a keen eye and awareness to make smart decisions about what is best to put in our bodies. Foraging for food hasn’t ended. It has evolved.

We’ve got to say that this wasn’t an easy list to compile. There’s a lot of well… crap out there and even though we’ve found 10 winners, it should be noted that these foods by no means represent optimal primal dining (you’ll need to see our recipes for that!), but they’ll do just fine in a pinch.

After all, life is all about making compromises without completely ditching your standards.

1. Subway Make Your Own Salad

Subway Salad

As commenter Naomi pointed out, when dining out, you just need to use your noggin! Specifically, Naomi recommends taking the reins when you pull up to the Subway counter and ordering a plain salad with two servings of plain chicken and dressing it with a little olive oil. The good news is the price stays the same regardless of how many fresh veggies you add in, the bad news is they charge an arm and a leg for the extra paper-packet of chicken! While she notes that this regimen can be a little rough on the wallet, you’ll find that it’s far more forgiving on the waistline than the famed “five dollar foot long” (Now do your best to get that terrible jingle out of your head!)

2. Carl’s Jr. Low Carb Six Dollar Burger

Carl's Jr. Low Carb Six Dollar Burger

Sure, they may have used Paris Hilton in a rather salacious burger marketing ploy, but the reality is not everything Carl’s Jr. does is bad. In fact, they were among the first to market a bun-free burger. Comprised of the standard 100% black angus beef patty, two slices of cheese, tomato, red onions and dill pickles wrapped in a romaine lettuce leaf, the burger, which boasts just 6g of carbs, really isn’t half bad! And, if you knock off the mayo, ketchup and mustard and opt for one slice of cheese instead of two, you can knock down the total calorie count from a whopping 490 calories to right around 350. Compared to the other items on the menu, this is one of the safer options! As a side note, Burger King can also prepare all of their whopper items on a carb-concious diet (you know, if that’s how you “want it your way”) and the burger even comes in a cute little plastic burger bowl (handy for eating, not so great for the environment!)

3. Wendy’s Chicken Caesar Salad

Wendy's Chicken Caesar Salad

Sure, no one really knows what those little brown mystery pieces are (the Web site would have us believe they are “real bacon bits,” but the jury is out here), but either way, the Wendy’s Chicken Caesar Salad is actually pretty darn good. The salad itself, for example, packs just 180 calories and just 8 grams of carbs and the salad dressing isn’t bad either at just 120 calories and 1 measly gram of carbs. For extra credit, forgo the “homestyle” croutons, which, at 70 calories and 9 grams of carbs, are completely unnecessary.

4. KFC Oven Roasted Chicken with Green Beans

KFC Oven Roasted Chicken

We never thought we’d say it, but KFC deserves a little (hardly audible) golf clap for adding some seriously not-so-bad-for-you options to their menu. Take a look at the oven roasted chicken, for example. When you opt for the skinless and breadless varieties, they are actually (shudder) healthy, packing between 47 and 161 calories per serving and between just 1-8 grams of carbs. Pair that with a side order of green beans (96 calories, 7 grams of carbs) and you’ve got yourself something that both Mark and the Colonel would agree is truly “finger licking good!”

5. Baja Fresh “Bare Style”

With Baja Fresh, there are a few good things to note. First, they guarantee that their food is fresh which, quite frankly, is a pretty good claim considering their competition (are you listening Taco Bell?) Second of all, you can order any of the burritos on the menu “bare style” which means without the tortilla. In addition, the namesake Baja Burrito doesn’t have beans or rice, keeping the carb count low and leaving you with a relatively well-rounded meal of grilled veggies, cheese, meat and heart healthy guacamole!

6. Chipotle Burrito Bowl

Chipotle Burrito Bowl

Providing further evidence that you should be thinking outside of the bun (but not necessarily of Taco Bell as the tag line would suggest) comes the Chipotle Burrito Bowl. One of the best things about Chipotle is the fact that you can supervise the entire construction process so that you can include all the yummy ingredients you want (hello bell peppers, onions and lots of fresh salsa) and none of the ones you don’t (buh-bye tortilla, beans, rice and that weird corn salsa!) For best results, opt for the Fajita Burrito bowl with cheese (no rice, no beans) and spring for the guacamole: it’ll add a punch of flavor and help keep you satiated till your back in more familiar dining terrain.

7. Boston Market Healthy Buffet

Boston Market Buffet

Think a trip to Boston Market will leave you doomed to a meal of mashed potatoes and gravy-laden side dishes? Think again! When visiting the Market, opt for the 5oz Roasted Turkey Breast, which packs just 180 calories and no carbs or the ¼ Tuscan Herb Rotisserie Chicken (191 calories and 5 grams of carbs). Pair with fresh steamed vegetables (60 calories and only 8 grams of carbs) or the broccoli with garlic butter sauce (80 calories, 6 grams of carbs) or, for a healthy but less thanksgiving-y option, try the Caesar side salad (142 calories and 8 grams of carbs) with accompanying dressing (about 70 calories and 4 grams of carbs). Indeed, at Boston Market, there really is “time for something good.”

8. Panda Express Mandarin Chicken

Panda Express Mandarin Chicken

If the thought of Chinese food conjures up images of bowls upon bowls of starchy, carb-laden white rice, perhaps it’s time to revisit the Panda Express. Of particular note, nearly all of their entrees are trans fat free and there are a number of dishes that won’t do a number on your diet. Particularly, Mark’s Daily Apple gives the seal of approval to the Mandarin Chicken, which packs 250 calories and just 8 grams of carbs (with all of the flavor of its far less healthy Orange Chicken counterpart, which contains a whopping 500 calories and a staggering 42 grams of carbs for the same 5.5 oz serving size). A second good option if you’re of the more “where’s the beef” persuasion is the Broccoli Beef, which contains just 150 calories and 8 grams of carbs.

9. Yoshinoya Bowl’s Chicken and Veggies (w/o the Rice)


Again, dining at an Asian-themed restaurant doesn’t have to mean diet debauchery. At Yoshinoya, for example, you can customize the order to exclude the rice (the real source of the carbs). However, to truly make this a healthy endeavor, we recommend that you opt for a veggie-based dish that keeps dressings and sauces– many of which contain high quantities of sugar – to a minimum. To add flavor to the dishes, we instead recommend that you stick to light soy sauce, which is practically carb free!

10. Long John Silver’s Baked Cod and Shrimp and Seafood Salad Side

Long John Silver

Of all the fast food restaurants profiled here, Long John Silver’s probably has the least variety in terms of healthy choices. Indeed, it appears that at LJS’s if you can’t batter and fry it it ain’t worth eating! However, the baked cod contains only 120 calories, 21 grams of protein and is carb free and makes for a particularly tasty meal when paired with a shrimp and seafood salad (carrots, cherry tomatoes, salad shrimp, shredded cheese, and surimi with no croutons or mystery crumblies) for 342 calories and 15 grams of carbs.

coda Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

For more healthy eating tips, check out Mark's Daily Apple
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