It’s approaching 2am. You’re walking—possibly stumbling, but we like to assume your gait is steadfast—and you’re hungry. You require food to soak up the evening’s sins and fill your stomach with something satisfying before going to bed.
Now, the usual options that present themselves in such scenarios are either A) unhealthy or B) still pretty damn unhealthy. It’s burgers and fries at a diner, some pizza from that late-night slice shop or maybe something even more insidious, like a grilled cheese donut from the place that just opened on your block. You know, the one whose treats are currently inundating your Instagram feed.
But, turns out, these aren’t your only options. We know, because common sense dictates as much. But also because we asked some experts. And below, they weigh in with some better options for late-night eating.
If you’re hitting a drive-through, stick with junior sizes and avoid upgrades.
Louise Chen, a registered dietitian in Dallas who knows a thing or two about making healthy choices, advises pairing some protein with fiber-rich foods to fill you up, and suggests looking for foods with at least three grams of fiber per serving.
“For starters, if you’ve got to hit the drive-through, stick with junior sizes and avoid upgrades,” says Chen. Order a whole wheat bun, if possible. And look for items like grilled chicken wraps rather than burgers with cheese and mayo. Or sub mustard for mayo to save some unnecessary calories.
“These days, many places are offering sides like fresh fruit cups and salads with low-fat dressing, and a baked potato is a better option than getting a side of fries or onion rings,” adds Chen. “For drinks, save calories with your beverage choices. Skip sodas and, when in doubt, your best bet is typically water.”
If you managed to make it home without stopping along the way, good job. Try whipping up one of these easy-to-make snacks from Chen to soak up some booze and kill hunger pangs before bed.
Avocado and Eggs: Combine one half avocado with one hard-boiled egg (chopped), 1 teaspoon of plain Greek yogurt, a squeeze of lemon juice and pinch of salt. This creamy egg salad contains about 190 calories, 8 grams of protein and 5 grams fiber. And avocados contain a high amount of monounsaturated fats and other nutrients that are supportive of heart health.
English Muffin with Peanut Butter: Spread about one tablespoon of peanut butter on a whole wheat English Muffin. With approximately 230 calories, 10 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, it’s filling, satisfying and tasty.
If rice and beans come with your Mexican dish, eat the beans and skip the rice to avoid a carb overload.
Sherene Chou, M.S., R.D., the nutrition director for an innovative social enterprise in LA, suggests several small changes that are easy to make and result in meals with high nutritional content.
“When faced with some late-night decision making, opt for unprocessed and whole foods, as nutrient-dense foods and complex carbs will steady your blood sugar levels to prevent a crash,” says Chou. “Also, sustainable, plant-based foods are easier to digest after a long night of drinking.”
If you’re swinging through a diner before heading home, she recommends choosing baked, roasted or grilled items over fried foods. For example: roasted chicken breast instead of fried chicken tenders.
If tacos are on the menu, opt for corn tortillas and choose pico de gallo instead of heavy, creamy sauces. If rice and beans come with it, just eat the beans and skip the rice to avoid a carb overload. And always get sauces and dressings on the side to save a significant amount of sodium, fat and sugar. Somehow, one serving of ranch dressing manages to contain 15 grams of fat, which is 23% of your daily value. And no one needs that in the final hour of their evening.
If you’re coming home and have the wherewithal to throw something together yourself, Chou suggests a quick, five-minute meal of avocado toast with whole grain bread, plus some nice finishing salt. “It’s savory, creamy and satisfying, so it checks a lot of boxes,” she says.
Or make a breakfast burrito with eggs, soyrizo (a lower calorie, lower fat and surprisingly tasty meat alternative), cheese and hot sauce on a whole wheat or corn tortilla.
“If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, try a quinoa stir-fry with veggies and tofu,” says Chou. “It’s very filling but won’t weigh you down before bed.”
So there you have it. Armed with these wise tips, you should now be better equipped to make smarter late-night decisions. Because we can all agree that cheeseburgers taste great at 2am. But your body after a regular diet of them doesn’t look great at all.