By: Christopher Farber 

First of all, for the sake of the public good, let this be stated clearly: there is no such thing as healthy fast food drive-thru. Might as well ask for a unicorn sandwich or a take-away bucket of golden fried golden goose. 

Second, let it also be written that we live in the real world and that in the real world people eat drive-thru all the time and are not about to stop. Whether it is on the way to work, on the way back from the club (where your driver hopefully long ago switched to non-alcoholic beverages), or on a road trip to somewhere you don’t ever need to go but are darned determined to get to at least once before you die – like Graceland, Fenway Park, or San Francisco – you know at some point you will probably grab some fast food. It’s tasty, it’s convenient, it’s cheap, it’s part of modern gastrautomotive culture, and, again, it’s super tasty.

So… at least try to maintain your cool as you roll to a stop in front of the squawk box. And remember: these chains have faced tremendous scrutiny about their obesity-taunting fare, including a lawsuit by a man conveniently named Caesar who claimed four fast food companies made him addicted to their grub and, consequently, dangerously ginormous. The lawsuit never made it to court. But it may have helped make these companies aware that trouble was brewing as quickly as their Starbucks-competing new brews. What this means is there is always a better option than what is on that food-porn poster in the window. Here are some suggestions for doing your body better, both general and specific.

The Big Picture

No matter where you go, obey these rules:

·             Drink water. Period.
·             Lay off the gooey. Cheese, dressings, whitish condiments. These are all bad for you, some shockingly so. Stick to ketchup, mustard and real salsa.
·             Control your portions. Ask for a small size. Do not be pressured by the complete stranger on the other end of the intercom into getting anything large, really large, or obscenely large. XXX is for movie titles, not food choices.
·             Grilled is better than fried. Baked is better than fried.

But Good Is In the Details

Arby’s

Dream on. None of that awesome “cheddar” for you. Um, sorry, cheddar. Sheesh, lawyers. Anyway, if you swing by Arby’s, go for a good old baked potato. Without cheese, sour cream or bacon. Not gonna happen? Then, if you have mad skills or are not driving, try either the Roast Chicken or Grilled Chicken Caesar salad. Most likely you want a sandwich, though. So go for the Regular Roast Beef or the Roast Chicken sandwich. They’re not great, but they probably won’t kill you as you pull away.

Burger King

When you get to BK, immediately make sure that creepy king from the BK ad campaign isn’t around. If he is, split, because something is just not right with that dude. But if he is nowhere to be seen, go ahead and order the Chicken Tenders, preferably only 4, or the Ham Omelet sandwich. If you’re simply craving a side, get a small salad. And if you absolutely can’t eat salad without dressing, get the Fat-Free Ranch, not the Fat-Free Honey Mustard or Light Italian. Don’t even think about croutons. Want a dessert instead? Get the apple fries. They’re not what you wish they were, but they’re not awful.

KFC

Thank goodness they removed the “f word” from their name. Otherwise it might be next to impossible to rock this fast food classic without ordering the once-eponymous fried chicken. But, as the restaurant is now only known as KFC, it should be easy for you to drive up and order either a couple pieces of grilled chicken or the KFC Honey BBQ Snacker. Then indulge in some green beans. They’re colorful, they’re good, and they have 13 times less calories than the Potato Wedges. If you simply cannot stand green beans, try the 3-inch corn on the cob. It’s finger lickin’ healthy…er.

McDonald’s

If you’re at McDonald’s, you probably want a burger. Go classic. Get one of the plain hamburgers, with its delicious blend of mustard, ketchup, pickles and morsels of onion. If this option simply doesn’t have enough heft for you, ditch the burger thing, and get a Grilled Snack Wrap or try a Premium Caesar with chicken. For a side, if a ketchup packet doesn’t count to you, try a small fries or side salad. For dessert? The apple dippers or, since the cashier can’t see you yet, a kiddie cone.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell is infamous for its notorious “fourth meal,” which was slammed for suggesting that customers cram even more calories into their daily intake (and because it seemed to be marketed to stoners who simply can’t help themselves). This “fourth meal” debate is ironic, in a way, because many health advisors do suggest eating more meals per day (of a smaller size). Obviously this is not what Taco Bell was really suggesting to its customers, however. Thankfully, though, Taco Bell does offer some items that are better than the cheese and sour cream dominated traditional fare. This includes Fresco Menu items like their Bean Burrito or the Crunchy Tacos. But this does not include their Fully Loaded Salads. These are truly Fully Loaded – beware.

Wendy’s

Do not get the Baconator Triple. Unless it’s for six people. If you can muster the courage, order the Hamburger Kids Meal. If you’re too proud, get a Grilled Chicken Go Wrap or a small Chili with the Hot Chili Seasoning Packet. If you really need something crispy and crunchy, ask for Saltines. Oddly enough, they’re scrumptious. Or maybe not so oddly as they have salt – one of the hidden dangers of fast food – right in their name. Sadly, none of Wendy’s Frosty Treats are really an option, though somewhat obviously the plain old Chocolate or Vanilla Frosty Smalls are the best of the worst.

Okay. So now you know the general rules and you have a few options to pick from when you make your inevitable pit stop. Good luck, good motoring, and when you get back from wherever you’re going, go to the gym.

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