How to Survive a Food Court

If you find yourself in a food court while on vacation or shopping, how can you find foods that won’t sabotage your fitness goals?

-If you’re ordering Chinese food, stick to one entrée and one side. Try and add steamed vegetables to that entrée, or brown rice (small portion) to reduce the salt and total calories of the dish.  

Entrees to steer away from are the Chow Mein and fried rice which are drenched in sodium and refined carbohydrates. Obviously, avoid deep-fried anything!

Mexican food has pitfall entrees and chips that can ruin your plans to eat healthy. Anything that is filled with white rice, sour cream, refried beans and white flour tortillas are not healthy choices.

Choose crispy corn taco’s vs. soft flour tacos. A healthier choice would be fajitas eating 70% vegetables (ask for it to be cooked in reduced amount of oil), and 30% protein with 1 tablespoon salsa. Only use one shell, or ask for the crispy corn shell to fill. Eat the remaining veggies with a fork.

-At a sandwich/salad shop, be careful not to get romanced by the ‘healthy aura’ of a salad to fool you into an explosion of hidden calories. Steer clear of added cheeses, creamy dressings, and condiments such as mayonnaise, fried wontons, and nuts (other than 10 or so almonds, walnuts, or pecans as long as they aren’t ‘candied’).

Try to use the darkest green-leaf lettuce in your salad. Pick lean protein such as egg, tofu, albacore tuna, chicken, or shrimp. Choose additional veggies or 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds over croutons, or dried fruit (high sugar/calories).

-When buying at a burger restaurant you are often better to choose a small burger, dry (no sauce) and load it with tomato, lettuce and other veggies if available. If you can use the lettuce as ‘the top bun’ you will reduce a lot of unwanted calories. Ask for nutrition/calorie counts because often the grilled chicken can be higher in calories than a burger. Skip the fries and look for a whole apple, or carrots.

Ordering in a food court environment is a challenge, but steer toward whole foods such as adding vegetables to increase the “food density” of the entrée and reduce the calorie count. Also, watch the portion control.  Many Chinese and Mexican food vendor slaps on cheap ingredients to fill you up such as chips or white rice. Both add monstrous calorie counts to your total meal.  Find a restaurant selling whole pieces of fruit like apples.  Also, do not let your drink choice sabotage your meal with unneeded calories. Choose plain tea, water or plain coffee and keep your choices on target.


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