Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Geek's Guide to Dieting, Part 3: Diet-friendly Fast-food Options

This is part 3 in a series on dieting for geeks. Today I'll discuss diet-friendly lunch options when eating out.

Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings most popular items are the boneless wings with one of the many sauces. You're essentially looking at 100 calories per wing here, so choose a smaller-size portion such as the snack size (5 wings, 1 sauce) and you'll be okay.

Buffalo Wild Wings Snack-size Boneless Wings (500)


A lot of the delicious food at Chili's is out of reach: we're talking calorie counts in the thousands. However, they do have some low-calorie options that are quite good. Although they don't generally list calories on the menu, they do have a Lighter Choices section which does. Options here are Spicy Chile Chicken (420), Ancho Salmon (590), Classic Sirloin with Grilled Avocado (420), Mango-Chile Chicken (510), Mango-Chile Talapia (520), Grilled Chicken Salad (440), and Margarita Grilled Chicken (590). I'm personally fond of the Mango-Chile Chicken.

Chili's Mango-Chile Chicken (510)

In-n-Out Burger

In-n-Out Burger can be done, but you'll probably be getting a single item rather than a full meal. A cheeseburger is 480, but protein-style (no bun) is 330. A Double-Double is 670, or protein style is 520. French fries are 395.

In-n-Out Protein Cheeseburger (330)

Jersey Mike's

Jersey Mike's is hands-down my favorite sandwich chain, but like most sub places the majority of the food is way up there in calories. However, there are some lower-calorie options. Start by getting a mini-size sandwich on whole wheat. A Turkey (#7) mini on whole wheat, prepared Mike's Way, is 410.

Jersey Mike's #7 Turkey Mini on Wheat, Mike's Way (410)

Kentucky Fried Chicken

KFC might seem like something to avoid on a diet, but you can make it work. Original-recipe chicken is lower than you might think, at Breast (320), Thigh (270), Drumstick (160), Wing (120). Individual sides really vary, so choose carefully. On the higher side we have Cole Slaw (170), Mac & Cheese (170), and Mashed Potatoes & Gravy (120). On the low side is Corn on the Cob (70) and Green Beans (25) which are quite doable.

KFC Original Chicken Breast (320)

Panda Express

Panda Express nicely lists the calories on their menu. In particular, take note that the popular sides (white rice, fried rice, chow mein) are 380-520 calories alone! That means you're in trouble before you even select an entree. Fortunately, there is the mixed veggies side option which is only 80 calories. If you go with mixed veggies, you can enjoy an entree or two without killing your calorie count. The entries with lowest calorie counts are broccoli beef (150), string bean chicken (190) and mushroom chicken (170).

Panda Express Broccoli Beef (150)


Panera is one of my favorite places to eat, but some of their yummy food is off-the-charts high in calories (mac and cheese is 450-900). Be careful of sides: a baguette or soft dinner role on the side will add 180/190 calories to your meal. But you can make Panera work if you focus on the lower-calorie choices, and they helpfully have the calories listed on the menu. The Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken makes a filling lunch at 520 calories. If you get a Pick 2, good choices for soup are Turkey Chili (170) or Broccoli Cheddar soup (230). For Pick 2 sandwiches, best bets are Steak and Arugula (250) or Turkey Breast on Whole Grain (280).

Panera Pick 2 Steak & Arugula Sandwich (250)+Turkey Chili (170)

Rubio's Coastal Grill

Rubio's is a popular Mexican food chain headquartered in Southern California. Famous for their fish tacos, Rubio's offers delicious fresh food and prominently displays calories on their menu; unfortunately, much of this yummy food is off-the-charts high in calories. Good options for the calorie-conscious dieter are individual tacos such as the Wild Mahi Mahi Taco (240), Classic Steak Taco (200), Classic Chicken Taco (250), Grilled Gourmet Taco with Chicken (330). The Grilled Street Tacos entree (three snack-size tacos) is also diet-friendly, at Chicken (100) or Steak (120). The dish that I always get, however, is the Balsamic & Roasted Veggie Salad with Chicken (310): it's a large bowl of food and is really good.

Rubio's Balsamic and Roasted Veggie Salad (310)


Sonic is another tasty place where most of the menu is out of reach (don't go near a milkshake), but there are options for you. For burgers, your best bet is the Sonic Jr. Deluxe Cheeseburger (420) or Sonic Jr. Double Cheeseburger (520). For chicken, the Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich (450), Chicken Strip Sandwich (440), or Crispy Chicken Sandwich (580).
Sonic Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich (450)


Subway isn't my favorite sandwich place, but given its size and popularity I thought I should list it here. Start with 6" sandwiches on wheat, and beware sauces that can add hundreds of additional calories. Sandwiches on Subway's "Fresh Fit Choices" menu include Turkey Breast (280), Black Forest Ham (290), Subway Club (310), Oven Roasted Chicken (320), Roast Beef (320), Rotisserie-style Chicken (350), and Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki (370).

Subway 6" Turkey Breast on Whole Wheat (280)

Well, there you have it--fast food on a diet can be done, if you look for the low-calorie options. I'll be expanding this list over time.

In Part 4, we'll look at surviving the holidays.

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