I’ve been watching my calorie intake over the past six months, and thought I’d share a few tips for healthy eating at fast-casual places. You really have to watch places that let you build your own meal, like Chipotle and Roti, because what you think is a healthy meal can easily balloon into a 1000 calorie fat-bomb. Looking at the company’s website, analyzing the pros and cons of different meals before you stand in line–and try to order ahead so you don’t make a last minute decision that will add 100 calories to your meal.
My notes below are based on my personal health plan, where I try to eat 1400 calories a day—600 calorie lunches and 800 calorie dinners–and try to boost protein while limiting carbs. You can make your own nutrition goals at sites/apps like MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, or Livestrong.
- Watch your Carbs: A burrito tortilla is 300 calories, while white or brown rice are closer to 200. Choose one or the other, either a protein rich burrito, or rice bowl. I usually nix beans completely because of the carbs inside, too.
- Protein: Pick one Meat. Avoid carnitas, which has more calories and fat than other options. Chicken has twice the cholesterol as other options, but more protein. Steak or Barbacoa are generally healthier picks.
- Do you want Guacamole, Cheese, or Sour Cream? All are high calorie/high fat–so pick ONE. Guac has twice the calories and fat as the dairy, so you’ll need to make extra choices if you want it–no rice, no tortilla, etc.
- Veggies: The one to watch is the corn–which is a whopping 80 calories and 16 g of carbs. Everything else is around 20 calories, so go to town with the salsas and (my favorite) fajita veggies!
- Sample Lunch Salad: Lettuce, barbacoa, black beans, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, guacamole, and cheese. 635 calories.
- Sample Dinner Burrito: Steak, Brown Rice, Fajita Veggies, Green Salsa, and Cheese. 830 calories.
Roti Mediterranean Grill
I only eat here for lunch, and always get a Pita because of the price, so the below notes might seem harsher than normal.
- Learn to Love Chicken Kabobs. These are significantly lower calorie than the other proteins. Steak Roti or Falafel aren’t terrible, but the Chicken Roti is 100 calories more than its kabob brother.
- Sauce. Hummus. Feta. Pick two. I love the feta, so I usually skip the sauce completely. Among the sauces, the Yogurt option is the best–the Garlic one should be avoided.
- Toppings. Nothing is that terrible here–you just have to mix and match and make sure you meet your calorie goal. I avoid the couscous to limit my carbs.
- Sample Lunch Pita: Chicken Kabob, Hummus, Eggplant, Tomato & Cucumber, Feta, and Red Cabbage Slaw. 605 calories.
- Their nutrition site has a lot of options for Vegans, Gluten-Free Folks, and people watching their calories or sodium. Not the best site for comparisons, but there are a few simple rules for eating healthy while getting your pasta fix:
- Order a small size. Even the Mac and Cheese drops to 520 calories. You won’t feel bad about adding on a protein, and it is enough food to fill you up, trust me.
- Try Asian Options. The Bangkok Curry or Japanese Pan Noodles are both below 650 calories for a full size options.
- Avoid the Cream Sauce. Stroganoff, Alfredo, BUTTER noodles….all are above 1000 calories for a full size dish. I leave Mac’n’Cheese off this list because I have a soft spot for it, and follow the rules below if I want to eat it:
- Order a SMALL Japanese Pan Noodles w Steak, and SMALL Mac’N’Cheese w Parm Crusted Chicken. Split both dishes between two people, and you end up with a 495 calorie meal that let you have cheese!!
- Apparently Panera has recently taken down their online nutrition site, in favor of a boring PDF linked above. BUT if you just browse their menu, the calories are prominently placed near each image so it’s helpful when deciding what you want.
- Breakfast: I fell in love with the Mediterranean Egg White Sandwich awhile ago–it’s hard to find a good Egg White option, but this one works well.
- Nix the Cheese. No matter what the calories say for the meal, remove the cheese when you order and you have a little more wiggle room to play with. Same goes if it has a mayo or aoli sauce.