Road Trip Eats: The Essential Guide to Surviving Fast Food

Karen Stern is back with more tips for eating healthy on the road. Karen is a frequent traveler with two kids. She knows her stuff! Check out the first post in her series: Eat These Gas Station Snacks When You’re in a Bind. Now we’re turning to Fast Food Restaurants, which are a big no no… BUT no matter how well you prepare for life, there are going to be moments when you’re stuck. Whether it’s on the road or at the airport, here are some great tips for surviving fast food joints.

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FAST FOOD JOINTS

Most people look for food that’s quick and convenient when traveling. You typically don’t have time or patience on your side. So you have to make due with the options available in the time and space you’re given. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t cater to HEALTHY fast food. So as more and more quick-grab-a-bite establishments pop up, it’s more important than ever to arm yourself with the knowledge to eat healthy, on the run. You can always make the least nutritional food healthier!

Let’s get started!

BURGER KING – Skip the fries and “meat” and go for the VEGGIE burger. Instead of eating it on a white-flour bun, order a side salad (skip the cheese, please); crumble the burger onto the salad to make a hearty meal. You have 2 healthy options for a salad dressing:

  1. Use mustard and ketchup to make it as if you are eating a burger … just without a bun. It’s great like this! (Go light on the ketchup because it’s full of sugar); or
  2. Use one of their vinaigrettes, sparingly. But stay away from sweet vinaigrette, as it’s loaded with high fructose corn syrup. And lay off creamy dressing, ones as it most likely contains saturated fat, and hormone and antibiotic laced dairy. No thanks.

If you insist on eating the bun, at least order it “dry” so there won’t be any butter or mayo to it.

TACO BELL – Mexican food is easier to make healthy than you might think. Beans are a staple, so if you use beans as your base, you will eat healthy and stay full for a while. The fiber and protein that beans offer guarantees that. Your healthiest option here is to order a salad with beans, veggies (probably just tomatoes, lettuce and onions offered) and GUACAMOLE. Salsa makes the perfect, nutritious dressing and, VOILA! You now have a super healthy meal at Taco Bell. If you are craving more carbs, ask for this concoction in a wrap. Just make sure they hold the cheese and sour cream.

WENDY’S – To get your good carbs, opt for a baked or sweet potato. Order it steamed with NOTHING on it. If you need a little flavor boost, use a pinch of salt. But please, no butter, sour cream, or cheese!

SUBWAY – Hooray for a salad bar! At least that’s one way to view this place. Forget the meats and cheeses, take advantage of their veggies and make your own salad. If you need something a little more filling, make a vegetable sandwich by choosing one of their whole grain breads, and ask for them to “gut” the bread. Many Subway franchises now offer a veggie patty. While not as healthy as straight vegetables, this is a far greater alternative than meats and cheeses. Make sure to hold the mayonnaise! And close your eyes when you walk by the chips!

(As a general rule at fast food restaurants, look closely to see if any kind of fresh fruit is available in lieu of chips.)

STARBUCKS – This should be it’s own category because it’s much healthier than your average fast food restaurant. (And, yes, a lot more expensive). However, there is a Starbucks virtually everywhere, which is very convenient come when you’re on the move without a lot of time to sit and eat. Here are some healthy Starbucks options:

Smoothies are listed on their menu, but you can also make your own. My kids’ “signature cocktail” is a Banana Smoothie. I ask for a smoothie with ONLY bananas, soymilk, and ice. Make sure the bananas are ripe (they usually are) or it won’t be very sweet. You can also sprinkle in a little bit of their nutmeg or cinnamon to give it even more flavor.

Dried Fruit

Nut/Granola/Fruit bar

Quinoa and vegetable salad

Fresh cup of fruit (minus the dairy yogurt it may come with)

Sesame Noodle dish

Road Trip: How to Eat at a Fast Food Restaurant

You’ve now taken these fast food places to their full potential. How easy was that? I hope you’re proud of the mindful choices you’ve made thus far. All it takes a little thinking outside the box and creativity. See you at your next stop!


KAREN STERN is a passionate vegan and imaginative cook. She thrives on continuously educating herself and others on the mind, body, soul, and on overall wellness.

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