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Friday, April 27, 2007

Food Court Survival

Cheryl Koch, M.S., R.D.

Last weekend I was shopping with my family at the local mall. After several hours of running from store to store, my 3-year-old son declared it was time for lunch.

Like many hungry shoppers, we headed for the food court to make our selections. Unable to unanimously decide on a single vendor for everyone in our group, we all went our separate ways in search of nourishment. What we ended up with were contrasting plates featuring the good, the bad, and the ugly of fast food fare!

How do you find the best choices in a circle of unhealthy and fast-food options for weight loss? Are there any diamonds in the rough? Let's consider your best bets:

Chinese: Among the mostly fried selections in this cuisine, it's best to stick to vegetarian or mostly vegetarian dishes. Order steamed rice (brown is better than white, if that's an option) to add some bulk to the meal. If you want to cut calories, stay away from fried items — fried rice, egg rolls, and sweet and sour chicken — and avoid dishes with heavy sauces or lots of nuts.

Burgers: Choose a salad with grilled meat and low-fat dressing instead of a burger with all the toppings. You could save as much as 500 calories, not even counting the fries. An alternative is a grilled chicken sandwich without mayo or cheese. If you really must have a burger and fries, opt for the smaller kids' meal. It may be a basic cheeseburger but you will be surprised how it fills you up.

Subs: Select a six-inch sub (or share a larger one) with an all-veggie or a lower-fat turkey or ham filling. Get it on whole-wheat bread if that's an option. Skipping the cheese could save you as much as 100 calories. Avoid tuna or chicken salad subs because the mayonnaise adds calories and fat. Opt for oil and vinegar as the dressing.

Pizza: If the pizza is made to order, stick to veggie toppings and ask for less or no cheese. If the pizza is pre-made, select a slice of vegetable or plain cheese pizza. Consider adding a salad to your meal to avoid going for that second slice.

Mexican: Doing without sour cream, guacamole, and cheese on your taco is tough but there's always low-fat salsa if you decide to skip the high-fat items. Avoid cheese-filled options, and skip the fried tortilla chips and refried beans because they're often fried in lard.

Have a great day and God bless!

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