Healthy Options at Fast Food and Fast Casual Restaurants

 
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In a perfect world we’d grow our vegetables in our backyard, can our own pickles, and cook all our food ourselves.

But! We. Are. BUSY!

Sometimes all you have time to do is get something from a fast food or fast casual place.

And, on top of that, food you buy out tastes pretty darn good!

AND you can count on fast food and fast casual restaurants for consistency, and typically providing nutrition information, if you’re interested in that.

Here are my top fave items at popular restaurants – these options align with my views on a lower carbohydrate approach to eating (which, as I read the science, is healthier and more filling!).

 

Some of My Favorite Quick Spots

Panda Express

  • Get a quart of beef & broccoli or another protein & vegetable stir-fry options

This meal is sans rice! There are already extra carbs in the breading of the protein and veggies.

I would typically eat this making the 30-minute walk from 1 location to another at one of my previous counseling jobs. It’s convenient to eat on-the-go, really filing, and DElicious.

 

Chick-fil-A

  • Grilled nuggets

  • The ice cream in a cup is also surprisingly low calorie – and soooo good!

Zak and I stop at Chick-fil-A every time we get! We also have these awesome calendars (you can get in December/ January), which come with a rewards card. Every month you get a new free food – it can be a free 6-count nuggets, free small drink, etc.

 

Starbucks

  • See my full list here

  • BUT my typical drink go-to is a latte with 1 pump sugar-free cinnamon dolce syrup and 1 pump vanilla syrup

  • You can also get this latte without espresso if you need something mid-day that you don’t want to keep you awake. This is called a “steamer”. Get it with the low sugar syrup!

I know everyone is all about the cutesy, boho coffee shops, but honestly I love Starbucks for its consistency, and many of them are really clean, and have internet and a bathroom. There’s nothing I hate more than setting up my computer etc. and then realizing there’s no free wifi!

 

Chipotle

  • Salad with steak, tomato salsa, cheese, extra fajita vegetables (ask for extra), and guacamole if I want to pay a little extra!

When I worked at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, this was one of two chain restaurants (the other one was Sbarro) that was available for lunch. I pretty much ate here EVERY day for at least a year. I called it the “Chipotle” diet!

 

Sbarro

  • Meatballs with a side of sautéed vegetables

This was the other location close to where I worked at Columbia. I would typically get this lunch whenever I didn’t want to eat what I had bought for lunch. Meatballs are $1 each – which makes a pretty filling and cheap lunch!

 

Panera

  • Cobb salad

  • Broccoli cheddar soup

You can’t go wrong with a cobb salad! Cobb salads are usually made with eggs, bacon, sometimes chicken, non-starchy veggies, and blue cheese. So many flavors, and really filling!

And yes you read that right! The broccoli cheddar soup is super filling, and is low in extra carbs and sugar. You will probably be surprised at how full this keeps you!

 

Chop’t

  • Cobb salad as is!

Again with the Cobbs I know! But a cobb salad is such a good one to fall back on – anywhere you go!

 

General Recommendations

Japanese

  • 1 roll sushi with rice + 1+ roll(s) sashimi 

Did you know! You can also get cucumber or seaweed only wrapped sushi at many places?! The best ever. Also at Bondi Sushi in NYC you can get cauliflower rice sushi!

 

Poke

  • Base of greens or zoodles + protein + non-starchy toppings

Find out what “starchy foods” are in this blog post!

Mexican

  • Burrito bowl with lettuce, cheese, protein, and fajita veggies

  • Fajitas with protein & veggies - stick with 1 tortilla

American Fast Food

  • Burger with the bun OR the fries

  • Chicken fingers

  • Mozzarella sticks

Mediterranean

  • Grilled protein (e.g. chicken or beef) with Mediterranean salad (chopped tomatoes & cucumbers)

What other fast food chains aren’t on here that you go to frequently? Let me know and I’ll try my best to review them!

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    Top 10 Ways to Avoid Boredom Eating

     
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    If you're like me, you (unfortunately) can find yourself eat for so many reasons other than hunger - but one of the most common reasons is boredom. 

    Boredom eating is one of the most dangerous times - because it can go on and on, even during times when we're supposed to be taking care of ourselves, like nighttimes and on the weekend.

    To stick with our health goals, it's a good idea to try to distract yourself or do another activity if you're finding yourself eating when you're not really hungry. 

    Here are some example distractions - try one this week! 

     

     

    1. PAINT YOUR NAILS

    When you're nails are being painted and drying, you can't reach into the bag of chips or pretzels! 

     

    2. PHONE A FRIEND

    Talking on the phone, especially to someone who's supporting your health and wellness goals, is an excellent distraction. Better yet, go for a walk while talking to get out of the house! 

     

    3. DO AN EXERCISE VIDEO  

    Choose an exercise video that you love - preferably one that takes all of your concentration like a dance video where you have to learn new moves! Body By Simone is one of my favorites - here's a sample video workout from her

     

    4. PRACTICE MEDITATION  

    Becoming more mindful has huge benefits - especially during stressful times. Shift your focus to sustaining and feeding your spirit. Try an app like Headspace, Calm, or Simple Habit (just search the app store!). 

     

    5. READ A BOOK OR A MAGAZINE

    Reading takes much more concentration than watching TV - pick up a good book! I love a good mystery novel - really takes all your attention! 

     

    6. GET BACK TO, OR BUILD A NEW HOBBY!

    Been wanting to get back into watercolor? Knitting? Even coloring in a coloring book? There's never a perfect time to start - start now! 

     

    7. CLEAN A SINGLE ROOM

    One room isn't too much to handle at one time. When you're finished, reassess your hunger! 

     

    8. TRY A FACE MASK

    Trying different masks before your big day can be a good way to see which really makes your skin glow! Thanks to your suggestions, here are 3 of the best recommendations by you! BeautyCounter's Charcoal Mask; Origin's Charcoal Mask; and Lush's Mask of Magnanimity. 

     

    9. PAMPER YOURSELF WITH A BATH OR A HOT SHOWER

    You deserve to pamper yourself! Add in a sweet smelling bath bomb or bath salts. 

     

    10. TAKE A NAP 

    You may be tired - and when we're tired, our bodies can't actually tell the difference between hunger in order to stay awake, and actual hunger, so we end up eating too much. Of course, the best thing to do is to get enough sleep each night! 8 hours please! 

     

     

    If the feeling doesn't pass, try some veggies with salsa, like carrots, cucumbers, etc. If you're craving something hot, try microwaved versions of frozen veggies with grated Parmesan cheese on top!


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      Top 4 Tips to Avoid Overeating at a Summer BBQ

       
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      Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day... they all mean summer BBQs! 

      Barbecues are a lot of fun but they can be danger zones for our health goals. 

      You're often standing around for hourssss eating and drinking. And especially since everyone else is munching, you want to be munching too! 

      Here are 4 great ways to stay on track with your health goals this week. 

       

      1. BE A NICE GUEST - BRING VEGGIES

      Instead of chips, desserts, or booze, bring a platter of vegetables and salsa. A lot of times, people want the "fun" excuse to make an unhealthy choice, but they are actually happier (especially in the long run) if healthy options are available. 

      Salsa is my favorite dip option because it's pretty much just cut-up veggies (so you're dipping veggies... in veggies!). 

      Grab a bag of baby carrots and 2 bunches (is that the right term? You know what I mean!) of celery, chop the ends off the celery and then cut the stalks in half again, and voila, nothing more simple or more appreciated! 

      Pro-tip: Keep the salsa in its jar so you don't have to keep refilling a bowl. 

      Don't forget a platter! 

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      2. ...OR BRING SELTZER! 

      I really have an oral-fixation problem - something that really works for me to sip on throughout a party like a BBQ is seltzer. 

      Again, it keeps your hands busy, seltzers can be very tasty, and you're still able to participate in the festivities! 

      Here are some of my faves: 

       

      3. SWAP OUT THE BUN FOR A LETTUCE WRAP

      You guys know I'm on the low-carb train. Swapping out the burger or hot dog bun for a lettuce wrap can save more than 100 calories per sandwich! 

      If you love love buns (I get it) try sticking with 1 bun and choosing a lettuce wrap for the other items, or having an open-faced sammie. 

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      4. SWAP KETCHUP FOR MUSTARD & PICKLES

      Unfortunately, most of the ketchup sold in the store is 99% more filled with sugar than with real tomatoes (I made that percentage up, but seems right to me!).

      Specifically: 1/4 cup of ketchup contains 16gm of sugar, while mustard contains 0 for the same amount. 

      Also, if you're like me, it's wayyy easier to eat a whole lotta ketchup than it is to eat the same amount of mustard - so mustard can be an inherent way to control our condiment portions. 

       

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      PIN FOR LATER! >


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        My Favorite Starbucks Picks

         
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        Starbucks is one of my favorite go-to spots because it's pretty much available... anywhere and everywhere! When you're on the road traveling at a rest stop, when you're in a new city, when you're in the airport, and when you're just generally out and about. 

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        I have a lot of fond memories of Starbucks too, I used to study there in college in Cleveland, but also when I would come home for breaks. I still feel this kind of weird calm when I'm there now. 

        One of my favorite things to do actually is to find the nicest Starbucks in whatever city I'm in - I just found one in Tribeca which was so fancy! I'll def be back to hunker down and work. 

        I generally look for foods & drinks that are lower sugar and will keep me full for a few hours. Here are some of my favorite options at The Bux (as my mom and I call it haha)! 

         

        1. TALL 2% MILK LATTE

        ... with 2 pumps sugar free syrup! Starbucks now carries 2 sugar free syrups - vanilla and cinnamon dolce - I get 1 pump of each. 

         

        2. TALL 2% MILK STEAMER

        Same as above - but the steamer doesn't have any espresso. This is a great option if you need something at night that won't keep you awake in bed! 

         

        3. TALL HOT CHOCOLATE WITH 2% MILK

        Ask for no foam (so you can get your cup filled with more steamy milk!) and no whipped cream (there's enough sugar in this drink from the chocolate!). 

         

        4. STRING CHEESE

        Love lovin that Starbucks now sells string cheese! Get 2 for a filing snack by itself. 

         

        5. GUACAMOLE PACKET

        Individual guac packets are one of my fave high quality, single-serving, low-carb snacks. They're not typically the best eaten alone - so get this one if you have something to dip, like non-starchy veggies (e.g. baby carrots, sweet pepper slices, cucumbers, celery, etc.). 

         

        6. PROTEIN SNACK PACK

        This is a great pack if you need a meal - it includes a hard boiled egg, Justin's nut butter packet, fruit, cheese, and a little pita-muffin-bread thing :) Delish. 

         

        7. SIGGI'S SKYR

        Another fab option is siggi's skyr (a dairy product similar to yogurt). Siggi's is a great option because it's lower in sugar compared to other yogurts - and includes pretty clean ingredients. 

         

        8. CHEESE & SALAMI SLICES

        As you probably know I'm on the low-carb train. I love that Sbux sells these slices - a go-to when I need something filling in a pinch! This is a good one to pair with the guacamole packet! No one said you couldn't dip cheese in guac (... honestly that sounds so good!). 

         

        9. DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP FRAP

        Ok well this one isn't THE healthiest option haha but sometimes you just need a milkshake-like drink ya know! I modify this one by asking for 2% milk and not getting whipped cream or chocolate drizzle on the top. Ends up being only about 275 calories!  

         

        10. EGG WHITE BITES

        Sbux now has egg whites bites which are another great low-carb, high protein option. They're also ultra tasty. 


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        PIN FOR LATER! > 

         

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          9 Tips For Sticking To A (Realistic) Food Budget

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          Hi everyone! My name is Becca Booker and I’m a freelance social media manager and lifestyle blogger over on Instagram @bbooks and at accordingtobbooks.com, where I not only give tips on social media management, but I also blog on how to run a freelance business while living a healthy life. Since quitting my full-time job in October of 2017, I’ve quickly had to learn how to stick on a budget, eat well, manage stress, and take care of my skin while I’m home alone and working my butt off haha.

          Rachel & I “met” online via a Facebook group for bloggers called “Blogging4Keeps” - I want to say it was a “follow for follow” thread and somehow we both found each other and clicked! I probably have over half of her recipes saved to my Instagram, and love that she focuses on healthy, easy, and affordable eating. Which brings me to... 

          Budgeting! Yikes. Spending less money doesn’t necessarily get people excited, especially when we’re going to be talking about spending less money on things you buy everyday - food! After having a full-time job to being self-employed, I’ve learned a thing or two about budgeting and I wanted to share with you guys some of my tips.

          From grocery store savings to budgeting while eating out, I hope these help!

           

          1. Determine A Comfortable Percent Of Income To Spend On Food

          I use app Mint to get an idea of what categories I spend the most in and to get an idea of my spending patterns. Mint has a category for Food that you can further break down into groceries, eating out, and coffee/drinks. In total, most people will find they spend between 6-11% of their income on food in general (USA Today). The key is to grocery shop with your week’s schedule in mind so that you can buy just the right amount of food for at-home meals and to leave any “gaps” in your meal planning for nights you know you’ll eat out.

          2. Realize Budgeting For Groceries & Eating Out Will Change Over Time

          When I was in college, not only did I have a dining meal plan, but I also had a kitchen in my sorority house where I could cook. At the time, my parents paid for my grocery and eating expenses - so I ate out all the time AND cooked - resulting in a ton of wasted food. Once I graduated & got a job, all finances obviously fell back on me and I started to get much more conscious of how much money I was spending on food.

          3. Pay For Groceries With Credit

          While I’m not a financial professional, I always pay in credit. Not only do I get points for my purchases (I get flight miles with my Southwest card) but my bank also sends me a year-end statement with my spending for the year in each category. Also, if you use the Mint app (or Mint.com) your spending will automatically sync and you can set up automatic emails to let you know how much you spent in each category from the week before.

          4. Staying On Budget WHILE In The Store

          Yikes, this one is hard! I would say my grocery bill varies by like $50 each week depending on what I need. Some weeks, when I need to stock up on pricier items like coconut oil and protein powders my bill is over $100. Most weeks, I keep my bill between $50-75. To stay in budget, I would stay always start in the produce section. If you’re mainly stocking up on fresh fruit and vegetables, it’s easy to stay within budget. It’s all those snacks and pre-made food items that will start to add up! I always “splurge” on organic, cage-free eggs, organic cheese, and organic almond milk.

          If you live alone like me, I also try to avoid produce that goes bad really quickly (looking at you, raspberries). Especially during the winter months, try to stick to produce like:

          • Sweet potatoes

          • Frozen organic green beans

          • Beets

          • Apples (granny smith ages the best ;) )

          • Eggs

          • Canned beans

          • Parsley/basil/cilantro

          • Gourds

          • Cabbage, kale, or romaine (on the head)

          • This will ensure that you aren’t wasting any food that goes bad before you can even eat it!

          5. Stick To A Budget Even When Eating Out

          There are two “techniques” to consider when eating out: 1) ordering plenty to save for leftovers, and 2) ordering a small soup, salad, or appetizer on the more affordable side. If you’re over 21 and are getting a drink, always ask for the house wine or beer or just order the “well” vodka soda.

          If you’re eating with a group, always tell your waiter or waitress prior to ordering that you intend to split  the bill. This will avoid that awkward “let’s split it evenly!” convo when you just ordered an appetizer.

          6. Know When To Buy Organic

          I try to buy organic whenever possible! If I can’t buy organic, then I just stick to the dirty dozen’s guide and at least try to avoid that produce if I can’t find it as an organic option.

          7. Freeze Your Produce Before It Goes Bad

          If you can’t use it all before it goes bad, always remember most foods can be frozen! For example, I’ll peel and half my bananas and them freeze them for smoothies. Same with fresh spinach and zoodles! Both can easily be kept in the freezer and cooked or added to a smoothie later.

          8. What are your Favorite Websites or Apps for Budgeting in General?

          • Mint - Full budgeting and financing tool with both app and desktop versions. Automatically syncs with all of your purchases to easily stay on budget and track spending trends.

          • Honey  - Is a Google Chrome Extension that notifies you every time you’re on the checkout page of a website of any potential coupons that may bring the cost of your order down.

          • Drop List - Add online items to your ‘watch list” to be notified if their price is lowered!

          • Flipp - Helps you price match to ensure you’re getting the best deal

          • Target App’s Cartwheel Offers - Search for coupons for items in the Target store to redeem at checkout

          • Amazon Pantry - An exclusive benefit for Amazon Prime Members that allows you to shop a wide range of items including heavy and bulky items in regular pack sizes that are often costly to ship.

           

           

          I hope these tips are useful (and practical) in helping you budget with food! Remember, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution to saving money, so try different things out and keep what works for you.

          Thanks for reading, and thanks to Rachel for having me contribute! You guys can find me (and ask me any questions) at www.accordingtobbooks.com and on Instagram at @bbooks.

          XX Becca


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