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Given everything we’ve read about the supersized “unhappy meals” served at America’s fast food chains (high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar, high-sodium, etc.), most of us who are interested in healthy eating would probably prefer to avoid these restaurants altogether. But sometimes we honestly can’t. We’re on the road, with or without our kids, and there’s not a healthy option in sight. Or we’re in an airport waiting for our flight and we’ve got to choose from among McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, or Taco Bell for our nourishment. What’s a health-conscious consumer to do?

First, don’t panic. There are healthier choices at these restaurants, if you know what to look for and what to avoid. In the “avoid” category, it goes without saying that if you’re concerned about calories you’ll avoid the supersized Coke® (410 calories) and the Triple Whopper with Cheese (1,230 calories, 82 grams of which are fat). You’ll also skip the large order of fries (487 calories, 25 grams of fat). In the “look for instead” category, the following restaurant-by-restaurant list may provide a few suggestions, gleaned from health experts:

  • McDonalds. Instead of the Big Mac Meal, consider the Grilled Chicken and Bacon Salad, with balsamic vinegar dressing. You’ll save 546 calories and 30 grams of fat. Try the 4-piece Chicken McNuggets at 220 calories, or the basic hamburger at 260 calories. Add a Side Salad with Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette for only 60 calories more.
  • KFC. Instead of their Original Recipe Meal, order the Brazier Twister Wrap with grilled (as opposed to fried) chicken, and skip the “special sauce.” You’ll save 546 calories and 30 grams of fat. Or have a simple Original Recipe Drumstick at only 140 calories. Add a serving of Potato Salad at 180 calories or Cole Slaw at 190 calories.
  • Starbucks. Skip the Toasted Club Sandwich and choose the Chicken and Tomato Sandwich instead, and you also skip 324 extra calories. For dessert, order their Strawberry Blueberry Yogurt Parfait, at only 290 calories.
  • Subway. Their Veggie Delite sandwich has 229 calories less than their BMT sandwich. If you need meat, try the Roast Beef sandwich, with wheat bread and apple slices, for a total of only 335 calories. Or order the Turkey Breast sandwich at 360 calories.
  • Burger King. Pass on the Whopper with Cheese Meal and instead order the Chili Chicken Wrap. Throw in an order of Apple Fries, and your meal is still under 365 calories. A Whopper Jr. only racks up 300 calories against your daily total.
  • Taco Bell. The Fresco Style Crunchy Taco contains only 150 calories and 7 grams of fat; the Fresco Style Grilled Steak Soft Taco 170 calories and 5 grams of fat.
  • Pizza Hut. Two slices of the 12-inch Fit ‘n Delicious Pizza with chicken, red onion, and green pepper comes in at 340 calories, and 9 grams of fat.
  • Wendy’s. This chain’s basic hamburger (the Wendy’s Jr.) is as surprisingly low-cal as the McDonalds version, serving up only 280 calories and 9 grams of fat.
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