The lesser of many evils: a guide to fast food

I travel so much that I’m now an expert in airports. I know how to tell which security line is quickest (those with people carrying briefcases, traveling alone, no kids), I know which airports and which terminals have the best food (Detroit MacNamara terminal = great food. Reagan International Terminal = not so much). And because I often fly on Friday and Sunday nights, I’m forced to eat that fake food that I spent all of a previous column preaching about.

Here is a secret: I love fast food. Especially Wendy’s. It used to be a treat to myself that whenever I flew out of Boston on a Friday, I would get myself a hamburger, fries, and a baby-sized Frosty. Despite how much I like to joke about drinking beer and eating cupcakes and chocolate, I rarely let myself indulge, so it was a treat I looked forward to.

But then I started traveling every few weeks and I started to worry about an occasional indulgence becoming a habit and then the next thing you know I would need one of those motorized carts to get to the ice cream aisle at the grocery store to the checkout counter.

Here’s the main thing to think about when it comes to fast food: most of it isn’t healthy, no matter what they try to tell you. It’s so chock-full of preservatives and sodium that even something like a grilled chicken sandwich isn’t great for you. Keeping that in mind, there are some choices that you can make that will keep you from having a heart attack. Or at least major indigestion.

Tip #1: Avoid salads. Yes, you read correctly. Just because it’s a salad doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Fast-food salads might contain lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, but they usually include iceberg lettuce, which is devoid of much nutritional value. And you’re lucky to have more than 3 tomatoes or cucumbers, and then not only is it not very tasty, it’s a really sad salad. I know someone who was “trying to be healthy,” so instead of ordering a hamburger, ordered a Caesar salad. According to Wendy’s nutrition facts posted on their website, a Caesar salad with dressing has 17 grams of fat. A Godiva dark chocolate truffle only had 6.5 grams. I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again: You’ll never see me counting calories unless I somehow need to lose a ridiculous amount of weight. However, let’s not delude ourselves. Putting bacon bits and ranch dressing and croutons on that salad isn’t making it any healthier. And after eating an iceberg lettuce salad, I’m left still feeling hungry and wishing I’d just gone with the burger.

Tip #2: Avoid “value” anything. I’ll admit it—I have a really hard time refusing deals. And rather than just getting a plain hamburger and a bottle of water from Wendy’s, why wouldn’t I spend the extra few cents to get fries and a drink? It just makes so much sense! The shitty thing about eating healthy (other than the fact that you have to eat vegetables) is that it’s more expensive. That’s just a fact. And while it might be just a few more cents to get that cookie or that drink that’s the size of your head, you know you don’t need it. I know I don’t.

Tip #3: Forage. What I mean by forage is not to rummage in the trash cans or the little fake trees they have the airport. I’m suggesting that you shop around. Obviously, there are some fast-food restaurants that have healthy options (Subway, Panera, Au Bon Pain, etc.), and these are your best bet. However, sometimes all that’s there is Fuddruckers or Starbucks. And that means it’s time to get creative. I try to find items that are actually food at different stands and shops—a package of almonds here, an apple there, a yogurt here, some hummus there. No, that’s not cheap, especially in an airport. But then I’m left without a greasy bag and a stomachache when I need to Please Be Seated with Seatbelts Fastened for the next two and a half hours.

An obvious and final coda to this is that sometimes, it’s ok to indulge. I’m infinitely happier if sometimes I do get that Frosty. Did you know they have child-sized Frosties? It’s not usually on the menu, but it’s enough if I’m really wanting one, but also won’t force me to unbuckle my belt on the plane. Most importantly, the cup is really tiny and cute.

Do you have any suggestions for healthy options while you’re traveling? What’s better, a Frosty or a McFlurry?

3 Responses to “The lesser of many evils: a guide to fast food”
  1. Lindsey says:

    I feel like I heard a while ago that the child sizes (drinks in particular, I think) are actually the “correct” portions for adults, or maybe the correct “small”. Would you agree, Jill?

  2. Anna says:

    I’ve heard the same about the child-size meals. When McDonald’s was first opening, the meals for everyone were about the same size as the “child-size” meals and drinks are now. They got larger over the years.

    Also, I have to say that I’m a fan of the mobile version of this site. Way better to read on my phone!

  3. Angela Vasquez-Giroux says:

    I read the nutritional value for Panera foods a few months ago, and it terrified me.

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