Don't Let Fast Food Weigh You Down

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by: Lindsay Hutton
Fast food should never be a staple in your diet, but as a busy parent, sometimes your only option for an on-the-go meal is the closest burger joint. Read on to find tips for making healthier food choices at your favorite chain -- your health (and waistline) will thank you.
FastFood,TakeoutPizza,Pizza
Do Your Research
If you take the time to do a little fact-searching now, you'll be armed with knowledge the next time you find yourself in a fast food dilemma. Most restaurants provide the nutritional content of their meals online, and you'll find that some fast food staples contain an entire day's worth of salt, fat, and calories. Doing a quick Internet search will help you avoid any calorie pitfalls and allow you to find a meal that satisfies you...and your health.
FastFood,GrilledChickenSandwich
Get Grilled, Not Fried
Fried foods are jam-packed with saturated and trans fats - the "bad fats" that clog your arteries, causing heart disease and other ailments. Most fast food chains offer a grilled version of their popular sandwiches and entrees. Opting for this lighter version helps to eliminate the bad fat and lessens the calorie load.
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Just Say No to Soda
Consider this: A 32 oz.-sized regular cola contains about 425 calories. That's a meal in a cup! Liquid calories can be a major culprit for unwanted weight gain. Water is calorie-free, and most fast food places have bottled water ready to go. Milk is another healthy and delicious choice.
FastFood,Hamburger
Skip the Toppings
Forgo the mayonnaise, sour cream, or other fatty spreads that are usually on fast food sandwiches. Instead, ask for mustard or ketchup on the side. Mustard and ketchup are both lower-calorie alternatives, and getting them on the side will allow you to control the amount you put on your sandwich.
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Beware of Salad Dressing
An otherwise healthy salad can become a diet disaster if it's loaded with fatty dressing. To avoid this pitfall, try this trick: Ask for your dressing on the side, and dip your fork into the dressing before loading it up with a bite of salad. You'll still get the taste of salad dressing on every bite, but will consume only a fraction of what you are given.

Another sure-fire way to nutritionally ruin a salad is to add fatty, unhealthy toppings like bacon, cheese, croutons, and fried food. Load it up with fresh veggies, grilled toppings, and a lighter dressing, like olive oil and vinegar, instead.

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Swap Your Sides
Adding greasy French fries or onion rings to an already calorie-laden sandwich will make the fat and sodium in your meal skyrocket. Replace these nutrient-empty sides with a garden salad, fruit, or baked potato. Just remember to top them with a calorie-friendly dressing or salsa, and avoid anything creamy or fatty, such as sour cream and butter. Some fast food places now offer healthy sides for kids, too, like apple slices and raisins. Showing your kids how to make smart choices now will help them establish healthy eating patterns for life.
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Share Your Meal
The average fast food meal can pack as many as 1,000 calories, making it the equivalent to two meals in one. Split your meal with your kids, or, if you are alone, divide it and only eat half. If you feel deprived, try eating slower. This gives your brain time to process that it is no longer hungry, and you'll be satisfied by the time you finish your half of the meal.
SaltShaker,SpilledSalt
Do Not Add Salt
Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure and other diseases, and fast food tends to be very high in sodium. You can't do a lot to remove any that is already in the food, so do yourself a healthy favor: Don't add more!
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Get a Kid's Meal
A kid's meal contains everything a regular meal has, just not as much. You can still order what you want and feel satisfied, but the smaller portions lessen the calorie load and will help keep you from overeating.
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Make Up for It
You can't always avoid having fast food for one meal, but you can balance it out. For example, if you make a run through the drive-thru for breakfast, make sure to eat a lighter lunch and dinner packed with fruits, veggies, and lean meats. Controlling what you eat and planning ahead will help maintain your overall health and nutrition.