Drive-Thru Nutrition

by Tracey Zemitis

Drive-Thru Nutrition

Whether you’re a mom-to-be or a new mom, your busy lifestyle probably doesn’t allow much time for chopping a fresh salad or putting together a low-fat dinner every day. Often it’s easier to grab a quick bite from your local fast-food joint before you head off to Lamaze or Mommy and Me class.

It’s okay to succumb to temptation every once in a while. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you eat about 300 extra calories daily during pregnancy and 500 extra if you’re breastfeeding. So while you’ll probably want to avoid the Big Mac (which has an incredible 32 grams of fat!), here are some mom-friendly fast-food dishes.

Tracey Zemitis is a freelance writer based in Santa Monica, CA.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Unfortunately, many fast-food joints have done away with their lighter offerings  — like Taco Bell’s Border Lights, McDonalds’ McLean Deluxe and low-fat milkshake, and Burger King’s salad bar  — in favor of low-priced value meals that bundle healthy burgers with fat-laden fries and a soft drink. Don’t fall into this tempting trap: Go for nutritional value by ordering just a burger. Rich in iron and protein, burgers can be beneficial for a pregnant or a breastfeeding mom. Try a McDonald’s Hamburger (270 cal, 9g fat) or Cheeseburger (which adds 50 calories and 4g of fat). At Burger King, opt for the Whopper Jr. without mayo or cheese (320 cal, 15g fat) or a plain Hamburger or Cheeseburger. Wendy’s Junior Hamburger is also a reasonable choice (270 cal, 10g fat).

Quick tip: A healthy side salad or other tasty side dish can often be substituted at no extra charge for the greasy french fries in a value meal. You should also ask to switch the caffeine-laden soda with low-fat milk or orange juice (or just go with water) so you’ll limit your intake of this sometimes nerve-jangling substance.

Don’t be fooled: The breaded or fried chicken and fish items at your favorite burger spot, which would be good for you if they were grilled or broiled, are loaded with fat and calories  — usually outweighing the burgers on both counts.

Beyond Burgers

If burgers aren’t your style, other tasty options can keep you satisfied and healthy. Wendy’s Chili, a good source of iron and protein, has less than 300 calories, and a low-cal, fat-free Wendy’s Plain Baked Potato also makes a nourishing choice. Top it with broccoli and a small dollop of whipped margarine or sour cream, but steer clear of heavy add-ons like cheese and bacon.

Subway sandwich shops actively promote the health benefits of their menu, which offers “seven for six”: seven different sandwiches, with less than 6 grams of fat apiece. Subway is a great choice for moms, because it also offers healthy salads, veggie burgers, veggie sandwiches, light salad dressings, baked potato chips, and fat-free pretzels. It also uses only low-fat, low-calorie mayonnaise in its tuna, chicken, and seafood salads.

Another safe choice is Arby’s  — if you stick to the “Light” menu. The Light Roast Chicken Deluxe, Light Roast Beef Deluxe, and Light Roast Turkey Deluxe each have less than 300 calories and 5 grams of fat or less. Or try Taco Bell to curb your craving for Mexican food: A Taco Bell Taco (170 cal, 10g fat) or Soft Taco (210 cal, 10g fat) with a side of fiber-rich Pintos n’ Cheese or Mexican Rice (each 190 cal, 9g fat) provide tasty and healthy options. Other great selections: a Grilled Steak Soft Taco or a Grilled Chicken Soft Taco (each 200 cal, 7g fat).

Don’t be fooled: Many items sound like they’re good for you, but the numbers tell a different story. For example, an Arby’s Turkey Sub Sandwich has a whopping 670 calories and 39 grams of fat, and an Arby’s Chicken Broccoli Baked Potato weighs in at 830 calories and 47 grams of fat. Advertisements can also lead you astray  — heavily promoted wrap and pita-bread sandwiches often contain high-fat cheese and dressing in addition to the more promotable lean meat and lettuce. When researchers at Tufts University recently tested several wraps from different fast-food chains, they topped out at 64 grams of fat and 790 calories.

Chicken, Right?

Good news: Nearly all fast-food chains offer a healthy grilled- chicken item that’s a good source of protein. Coming soon to a McDonald’s near you: the Chicken McGrill, which has 340 calories and 7 grams of fat when you hold the mayo. Burger King’s BK Broiler Chicken Sandwich, without the mayo (370 cal, 9g fat), and Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich (310 cal, 8g fat) are also nutritious choices.

KFC’s Tender Roast Sandwich, without the sauce (270 cal, 5g fat), makes a healthy and tasty selection. Pair with a side such as mashed potatoes (even with gravy, it’s a healthier choice than potato wedges, which at KFC weigh in at 280 cal, 13g fat), corn on the cob, or BBQ baked beans, all of which contain less than 200 calories and 6 grams of fat. Even KFC’s Macaroni and Cheese (180 cal, 8g fat) is a fairly safe indulgence.

At Boston Market, a good bet is white-meat chicken without skin, which has a mere 170 calories and 4 grams of fat (as a general rule, chicken with dark meat and skin is higher in calories and fat). For variety, try the lean Skinless Rotisserie Turkey (170 cal, 1g fat).

Don’t be fooled: Beware of items Boston Market labels “low-fat”; their calorie count is often sky-high. For example, the Chunky Cinnamon Apple Sauce may be fat-free, but it’s loaded with sugar at 250 calories, and a low-fat Baked Sweet Potato has a heart-stopping 460 calories. For side dishes at Boston Market, stick with steamed vegetables, rice pilaf, black beans, mashed potatoes, and fresh fruit.


At Pizza Hut, pass over marketing gimmicks like The Big New Yorker, Stuffed Crust, Sicilian, and Pan pizzas (even the names sound fattening) for a slice of Veggie Lover’s hand-tossed pizza, with 281 calories, 6 grams of fat, and an extra boost of vitamins and fiber. The Domino’s Pizza chain is even more fitness-friendly: Two slices from a 12-inch medium cheese pie of the classic hand-tossed variety have 375 calories and 11 grams of fat (add green peppers, mushrooms, and onion for vitamins). For variety, try Pizza Hut’s Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce with 490 calories and 6 grams of fat.

Don’t be fooled: Think a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizza sounds like a way to trim portion size and, therefore, calories? Think again: One of these offerings has more than 800 calories and nearly 30 grams of fat.

Practice Safe Salad

Each of McDonalds’ new “McSalad Shakers”  — Chef, Garden, and Grilled Chicken Caesar  — has less than 150 calories and 8 grams of fat (stick to the fat-free vinaigrette dressing, which has only 30 calories per packet). Wendy’s salad menu also features a variety of healthy alternatives  — Caesar Side, Deluxe Garden, Grilled Chicken, and Grilled Chicken Caesar  — for less than 300 calories and 10 grams of fat apiece. Avoid the Taco Salad, though: It’s got 19 grams of fat.

Salad bars (such as the one at Pizza Hut or Wendy’s Garden Spot) become a nutritious option only when you load up on the veggies and go easy on cheeses, meats, prepared salads, and desserts. The way you top your greens can make all the difference: Picking light over regular dressing can save you up to 300 calories and 30 grams of fat.

Don’t be fooled: Not all salads are the lowest calorie and fat choices at a fast-food restaurant: A Boston Market Chicken Caesar Salad has about the same amount of calories and fat as a Burger King Whopper without the mayo, and a Taco Bell Taco Salad with Salsa has a ridiculous 52 grams of fat!

Best Breakfasts

Most fast-food breakfast offerings aren’t exactly low in fat, but you can make good nutritional choices if you must grab an early bite on the go. Plain Hotcakes or a high-protein Egg McMuffin (290 cal, 12g fat) are satisfying choices from the Golden Arches. At Dunkin’ Donuts, avoid the temptations of the sugary pastries and opt for a Ham/Egg/Cheese Breakfast Sandwich packed with iron and calcium (320 cal, 12g fat) or a plain bagel with light cream cheese. Most chains also offer simpler, slimmer picks like cereal, milk, and orange juice.

Quick tip: McDonalds’ new Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait (fruit layered with lowfat yogurt, only available in some cities) is not only a low-fat, low-calorie calcium boost, but can work for breakfast or dessert.

Though fast food should never be a staple of any diet, it’s often a must for moms on the go. Armed with the right information, you can find tasty, healthy choices that will give you the energy you need without super-sizing your body.

May I Take Your Order?

Don’t answer until you’ve read these tips:

Look for variety. Select a chain that offers as much variety as possible in food choices (are grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products available?) and cooking methods (are some items grilled or broiled instead of fried?).

Ask for it. Just because it’s a fast-food restaurant doesn’t mean you must sacrifice your consumer rights. Ask how an item is prepared, and ask for dressing or cheese on the side, or replace it with lettuce and tomato. Don’t assume a restaurant won’t oblige: Many chains, such as Burger King, pride themselves on their ability to customize their menu.

Keep it simple. The fewer toppings (bacon, cheese, croutons), breading, dressing, and other add-ons, the better. Plain items are generally lower in fat and in calories.

Control portion size. Cut a burger in half, or share it with a friend to cut back on the calories. Smaller sandwiches and side dishes are usually healthier, even if you must fork over a little more cash for an extra item or two.

Soothe morning sickness. Select items that are light on grease and spice, and drink plenty of water with your meal. Ask for “simplified” items (a plain English muffin or a grilled chicken filet without the sauce or bun, for example).

Educate yourself. Detailed nutrition information on many fast-food items is available on the Internet (check out or, for example). Print out the information, and keep a copy in your glove compartment.