During the holiday season, the malls are full of steep discounts that help your wallet, but you’ll be hard pressed to find calorie bargains that are waist-friendly in the food court.
Most food courts are filled with fat- and calorie-rich options like meaty pasta dishes, deli sandwiches piled sky-high with meats and cheese, burgers and French fries and ginormous doughy, gooey CinnaBOMBS smothered in cream cheese frosting. They’re the sweet smell of excess.
My solution has generally been to avoid food courts at all cost but that’s not always possible or practical. In those instances when I must eat when I’m shopping, here’s how I navigate the menus to make the most of my choices.
Food Court SOS
- Eat breakfast. A filling breakfast of oatmeal, whole grain cereal or eggs with whole grain toast will not only give you energy to shop it will curb your appetite and reduce cravings for several hours.
- Perfecting Pizza: If you opt for a slice, ask for thin crust as it will help shave calories and go for veggie-only toppings. If the pie is oozing with cheese, take half of it off before eating.
- Downsize. Rather than a main course, order a bowl of soup and side salad or two side dishes in place of a main course
- Dump the Desserts. Rarely—if anything—can be a calorie bargain among the dessert-type vendors, such as Mrs. Fields, Cinnabon and ice cream parlors like Cold Stone Creamery.
- Look for Healthy Menu Icons. For example, Panda Express offers Wok Smart menu items that have no more than 250 calories per serving or Subway’s sandwiches with less than six grams fat per sandwich.
- Limit Liquid Calories: Avoid the smoothies and specialty beverages that can have more calories than a fast food burger. Instead, drink water, seltzer or have a cup of coffee, tea or skim latte.
- B.Y.O.S. Bring your own snacks. Healthy options are those that contain a good amount of fiber to keep you fuller longer. Some of dietitians’ favorites include fresh fruit, nuts, trail mix, fiber-enhanced applesauce or puddings, fresh fruit with peanut butter, low-fat cheese with whole-grain crackers.
- Order the Basics. The more “gourmet,” “special,” “holiday,” or “signature” menu items are, they are generally higher in calories and fat compared to their traditional menu offerings.
- Salad Smarts: Salads may sound like a good bet, but look at calories before ordering. The dressing can pile on more calories than the entire salad.