The thing is, we can tell you all day long about the dangers and reality of the freshman 15, offer tips and advice for how to avoid it, but at the end of the day you’re still going to cram at 1 a.m. and need something to eat. And odds are you aren’t going to reach for a bag of almonds and a banana.
So, should you find yourself in this all-too-familiar college student scenario, we implore you to take the healthier route when ordering from the open-past-midnight drive-thru window. While nutritionists and dietitians will tell you there’s no healthy amount of fast food, sometimes it’s a must, and you can make a better choice than a giant-sized double cheeseburger meal with a shake.
First, a few ordering basics to trim fat, calories and salt from your order. Then a few specific menu items that won’t make a cardiologist cringe… too hard.
Fast Food Ordering Tips
1. Skip the mayo. That goes for special sauces, too. These are extra fat and calories that you don’t need. Instead, ask for honey, salsa, mustard, or just go dry.
2. Say no cheese. Or at least don’t ask for extra. It doesn’t add that much to the sandwich and without you’re much better off.
3. Down-size. Rather than order the super-duper-maxed-out combo, ask for a smaller fry and smaller drink. You want to fill up on the protein anyway.
4. Order a water. Most fast food places offered bottled water now. So swap the sugar-laden soda for a refreshing water, you need to stay hydrated anyway.
5. Sideline the dressing. Get salad dressing on the side, and order the reduced- or low-fat version. A salad is a totally healthy option, until you douse it with a fat-laden dressing.
6. Ditch the bun. Trash that white starchy bun and eat the chicken or burger with the veggie toppings, or ask to wrap it in lettuce. Order with a side salad and you’re not doing too badly.
7. Get it to go. If you’re not sitting in the restaurant, you’re not going to be able to refill your 100 oz. super soda and you can’t be tempted by turnovers, cookies and ice cream treats.
8. Ignore the ultimate. Anything with ultimate, smothered, the works or extreme in the title means one thing – extra stuff you don’t need. Instead, ask them to smother your meal with extra tomatoes!
9. Give in to thin. Order a thin crust pizza rather than a deep dish or original crust. You’ll save tons of calories. And it can only help to load up extra veggies, not cheese.
10. Go grilled not breaded. When the option presents itself, order grilled. The breaded is only extra fat and calories.
Now, here are a few of the healthiest fast food restaurants, per Zagat. These are usually on or near most college campuses and we’ve shared their best menu selections.
1. Chick Fil A. They are consistently ranked as one of the most healthy fast food restaurants. Get the grilled chicken sandwich and a fruit cup.
2. Subway. Choose from seven lighter subs like turkey breast and chicken Teriyaki. Get whole grain bread, skip the cheese, and load up on veggies. Get a cookie or baked chips, but not both!
3. Panera Bread. The sandwiches on fresh whole grain breads, salads (dressing on the side!), and soups are all great choices. And the free wi-fi makes a great study spot.
4. Chipotle. If you get a bowl, go easy on the rice with beans, fajita vegetables, salsa, chicken and guacamole on the side, you’re not doing too much damage. Also, try one of their salads or share the giant portion with a friend.
5. Wendy’s. A baked potato with skin topped with salsa is filling, full of fiber and pretty tasty. Get a chicken breast on the side or a cup of chili.
6. California Pizza Kitchen. Again, score a thin crust and be sure to share with a friend. The Vegetarian with Japanese Eggplant, Pesto Chicken and Wild Mushroom choices aren’t too scary. Be sure to order a salad, too.
You can also check out a copy of Eat This, Not That to gain even more insight on healthy options while dining out.