Mall food courts: how to grab a quick lunch without killing your diet

HOUSTON – When you’re out shopping and don’t want to leave the mall for lunch, you’re limited with just the choices at the food court. While the fast food options may not scream healthy diet, there are plenty of choices that can lead you to a low-calorie meal.

“If you’re craving pizza, get that one slice. They are pretty big slices, but that’s OK and then they have a whole bunch of really good salad options so get a big side salad and half your meal is kind of those veggies and can balance out that way too,” registered dietitian with Memorial Hermann Memorial City, Chelsea Johnson, said.

Limiting portions and going for a healthy side (like fruit or a side salad) is the message at every restaurant at the food court. Johsnon said the same is true at McDonald’s, Subway and Chick-fil-A.

“I really love the grilled nuggets,” Johnson said at Chick-fil-A. “Those are just grilled chicken, that’s a great option if you want it. They also have a really great side salad, you can get a big salad and grilled nuggets that’s a great option for a full, really filling meal too.”

She says Taco Bell has some healthier options, too.

“The simpler sometimes on these [tacos] the better. If you can get want to just have some meat, some cheese, some lettuce, some tomatoes, that’s going to be the healthiest choice… versus the ones that are tacos wrapped in cheese, wrapped in a tortilla, wrapped and everything else,” Johnson said.

Salata may, in fact, be your best bet for healthy lunches, but Johnson said it’s important to limit fat on salads: cheese, nuts, salad dressing can all add up.

“You want to make sure it’s just the right portion. So, I want to say keep it to about a handful and usually when they’re serving them they have a smaller spoon for those too so as long as they’re just doing one spoon that’s totally fine,” Johnson said about adding nuts and seeds to salads.

Even Chinese food can be a good choice. She recommends teriyaki shrimp or teriyaki chicken as your protein there.

“Most of the time when you just order the meal as it is, it’s mostly rice so we just kind of want to flip that and do mostly veggies, a little bit of that healthy protein in a little bit of that grain [rice] if you’re still hungry,”

By swapping the rice for extra veggies, she says you’re easily saving several hundred calories.

At Chipotle, Johnson suggested something similar: try and make your meal mostly veggies and a lot of protein. That could mean opting to make the bowl a salad or adding beans, corn and salsa. If you really want the rice, Johnson said brown rice has more nutrients than white rice.