Pretend someone is forcing you to eat at McDonald’s.
Fact: fast-food restaurants over serve their customers. Knowing how many calories and how much sodium in each menu item when you approach the counter will help you navigate this minefield.
I have eaten at McDonald’s exactly once in the last nine years, when a dental problem made eating painful. I got my hands on a vanilla milkshake and it was darn good. Prior to 2003, I saved visits to McDonald’s for severe weekday hangovers. Those hangovers were thankfully rare.
I can’t say I will never eat at McDonald’s again, nor must I have the proverbial gun to my head to enter the golden arches. But I would have to have a severe shortage of options.
Driving down I-95 or across I-80, one of those shortage scenarios might arise. I will be headed down both those interstates next week. If I run out of food options on the road, and am faced only with fast-food restaurants, which should I pick?
Posting Calories Helps Make Better Choices
I checked the nutrition information for both Burger King’s and McDonald’s menus. Reading the long lists of calories of every sandwich variation made me numb to the calorie counts. After a few pages, 500 calories didn’t sound like so much.
If I navigate the menu carefully, I could order a reasonable meal at each house of worship. Even though the lowest calorie sandwich at both McDonald’s and Burger King is the humble hamburger, I don’t eat red meat. So that option is off the table.
I don’t do deep-fried either, so the Filet-O-Fish is also out. The cheesed-up, tartar-sauce slathered Filet-O-Fish is worse than a burger. But I ate Filets for years thinking it was a better choice. At McDonald’s, I might opt for the Grilled Chicken Sandwich (350 calories, 820 mg sodium). The grilled version is just over half the calories of the Crispy Chicken option (620 calories, 1200 mg sodium). In a previous life, I would have considered the two interchangeable.
If the sodium level of the Grilled Chicken Sandwich scares you off, try the Honey Mustard Grilled Snack Wrap (250 calories, 670 mg sodium).
Over at Burger King, the Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich is 470 calories with 1330 mg of sodium—too high. But you can save 110 calories if you hold the mayo.
Breakfast: The Most Fattening Meal of the Day
Surprisingly, fast-food breakfast meals can be much worse than the lunch fare. Judging by the name, I would know to stay away from the BK Ultimate Breakfast Platter (1450 calories, 2920 mg sodium). But the sodium content of the Southwest Burrito (1790 mg) makes a sensible-sounding choice not so sensible.
At McDonald’s, if the breakfast includes hotcakes, stay clear. The Big Breakfast with Hotcakes has 1,090 calories and 2150 mg of sodium. Here’s where the Fruit n’ Yogurt Parfait (150 calories) can be a life saver.