Whether you are on the road, out shopping, or at CVS, I will give you guidance of nutritious choices for situations where you have to just grab a bite or a snack on the road (for travel, please see my post here).
This is the DAO guide to ordering on the go. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous. If you see something on the menu that catches your eye and you want to try it or it satisfies a craving, go for it. That is where portion control can serve you. I talk about portion control in this post.
Also, in some salad references I refer to my “BYOD” method, which is essentially bringing my own low-cal dressings. You can find out in my DAO of pimping your salad post here.
This guide is set up as follows:
PART 1: COMMON CASUAL DINING OPTIONS – chain restaurants like Applebee’s
PART 2: FAST FOOD AND DRINK OPTIONS – on the go traditional and nontraditional fast food like Starbucks, Dunkin’, McDonald’s, Subway, Panera
PART 3: THE “BOWL” PLACES OPTIONS – The model of a lot of salad and ethnic food bars is the same “build a bowl” option, so this will be widely applicable guidance that can apply despite geographical differences
PART 4: CONVENIENCE OPTIONS – 7-11, CVS, Walgreens, Duane Read, or gas station. We have all been there, aimlessly staring and roaming around. Now you have the DAO.
PART 1 – COMMON CASUAL DINING OPTIONS
I used to work here, so I know that the salad bar is an awesome choice. Not sure that’s up and running yet, so I will go with the menu options. When the salad bar is back, I will definitely update.
Other than the bar, these are the choices I would recommend for lunch or dinner
- Garden salad with protein and dressing on the side (or BYOD)
- Steamed brococoli or grilled zucchini sides
- Grilled chicken sandwich
- Vegetarian: Awesome burger
The spinach artichoke dip is very delicious, but warning very high in calories and greasy so not as healthy as it sounds. A good “20” choice (see my 80/20 method for more!)
Outback actually makes it easier with their under 600 calorie menu. Their full nutritional menu is available here. You can see that like Ruby’s the calorically expensive choices are mainly in the apps (Bloomin Onion, anyone – but I will vouch for it is delish. Just may not want to order anything else!)
Here are some of the healthier choices
- Aussie cobb salad
- Bourbon salmon or Perfectly Grilled Salmon option
- Brisbane caesar salad with grilled shrimp
- Grilled chicken on the barbie
- Steak: The healthiest and leanest cut of steak for Outback is the center cut sirloin
- Sides: Outback has sides of mixed and seasonal vegetables, as well as side salads (just watch the dressing).
Honestly, my take is I LOVE ribeye and when I go have a steak that’s all I want. I will have FOMO if I don’t have it. Since I don’t go to a steakhouse let alone Outback too often I will definitely go for that. On the Outback menu the calorie count is 800. For me, I usually can’t get through half or maybe even a third of steak, so when you think about it it’s actually better to order the food you really want and just exerfcise portion control.
Applebees has jumped on the healthy bandwagon with their Light Fare menu, According to dietitians, there are many healthy options at Applebee’s, which include:
- Thai shrimp salad sans the crispy wonton strips and dressing on the side
- 6-ounce top sirloin with two veggies like steamed broccoli and garlicky green beans or fire grilled vegetables.
- Cedar grilled chicken
- Cedar salmon with maple-mustard glaze is a good choice paired with any two veggies (this was a universal dietitian fave)
California Pizza Kitchen
Duh, the pizza! I wouldn’t deny anyone that including me. Healthier pizza choices include:
- Wild mushroom pizza
- California veggie pizza
Also consider asking for light cheese and/or sauce – they will accomodate!
For non-pizza options, there are good “power bowls”
- Banh mi bowl
- Santa fe power bowl
- Cedar plank salmon
- Classic caesar salad
PART 2: THE FAST FOOD OR DRINK PLACES
The easiest lowest common denominator for pitstops and travel hubs is good old Starbucks, which is far more than just a coffee place.
Best beverage choices
- Tall skim latte (100 calories);
- Tall almond milk latte (80 calories);
- Hot green or herbal tea (0 calories);
- Americano with splash of half and half and stevia (40 calories)
- Tall iced shaken green tea or passionfruit herbal tea with no syrup (45-60 calories)
- Tall cold brew coffee with splash of milk of choice (20-50 calories)
You can read my post here for more about what to order or not order at Starbucks.
- Eggs sous vide red pepper and egg white (140 calories)
- Oatmeal and blueberries (no added brown sugar), add banana (250 calories)
- Spinach and feta egg wrap – 280 calories
- Low-fat turkey bacon english muffin sandwich – 230 calories
- If you must absolutely have a baked good, make it your “20” or order a blueberry bagel with cream cheese (400 calories).
Lunch or snacks
Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greens (420 calories)
Grilled chicken and hummus protein box (300 calories)
Basically any of Starbucks’ protein “box” options are great, especially the ones with hardboiled eggs.
Read my post here for beverage options dos and dont’s.
- Small coffee with splash of milk of choice (almond, oat, cream, or nonfat milk)
- Hot green tea
- Cold brew coffee with splash of milk of choice
- Veggie egg white omelet sandwich (290 calories)
- Wake up wrap with beyond sausage patty (180 calories)
- Snacking bacon (190 calories)
- Grilled chicken nuggets
- Grilled chicken sandwich
- Side Kale and apple salad
- ½ container of polynesian sauce
Total: 330 calories
In n’ Out burger
This is mostly a Califoria/West Coast joint but I need to give it a shout so this blog is not too East coast slanted. The classic healthy choice here is the “Protein-Style” hamburger, which does not include a bun. This menu choice is lower in calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sodium. If you choose to have fries with your order your overall intake of those nutrients is lower.
Don’t skip the sauce though. It’s the BOMB.
Did you know McDonald’s removed salads from its menu in response to the pandemic in April 2020? BOO. I loved them.
Until those come back, here are the best options:
- Fruit, Maple and oatmeal
- McCafe Americano or Latte
Literally all you can pick here are burgers or fries. There is not even any more grilled chicken sandwiches. This would be a good “20” meal. And it doesn’t have to be so expensive in calories! A cheeseburger with a kid’s fries is 410 calories.
- Protein bowl – Cold Cut Combo, Black Forest Ham, or Oven Roasted Chicken. Add any and all veggies (even pickles). Red wine and /or regular or spice mustard for dressing (about 350-400 calories per bowl). Avoid the honey mustard or mayo-based sauces.
- 6 inch Turkey or oven roasted chicken Sub on wheat roll. Add swiss cheese (their serving size only adds about 50 calories), lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and purple onion, red wine vinegar and mustard Or make it a footlong and eat it over two lunches (350-400 calories per Sandwich)
- Southwest Avocado chicken salad -no dressing or BYOD (440 calories)
- Apple Pecan chicken salad -no dressing or BYOD (340 calories)
With all the smashed avocado in the Southwest Salad, and the Blue Cheese in the Apple Pecan you don’t really need to use the dressing. This way you keep your lunch under 500 calories.
- ‘Low fat chicken noodle soup (160 caloires)(notice you can buy these in grocery stores)
- Sprouted grain bagel (180 calories)
- Asian sesame salad (410 calories)
Part 3: THE BOWL PLACES
Salads/Bowls to go – Sweetgreens, Chop’t, Saladworks, Roti
All these places have a formula – base, protein, veggie, fat, dressing, pay 20 dollars.
For lunch, going to a place where you can conveniently customize is key. For example, here is what you should order at a “salad bar” type of place:
- Base of greens (spinach, kale, arugula)
- One whole grain -quinoa, brown rice, or wild rice, root vegetables (sweet potato or carrot)
- Protein – chicken or shrimp, or beans if vegetarian
- Veggies -Cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, celery, bell pepper. Pickled veggies also give a sour taste if that’s what you are in the mood for.
- ONE OF cheese, olives, seeds or avocado as a fat – parmesan crisps, goat cheese, avocado or shaved parmesan
- Plain balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar or BYOD.
For sauces, if it is a mediterranean type place I like sh’ug or harissa sauce, which is spicy, and tzaziki sauce, which contrary to most belief is actually low calorie. Anything yogurt or chili based is generally a good choice. You can also take advantage of their perfectly sliced lemons and limes to add more flavor by asking for a lime or lemon squeeze.
I prefer to get my carbs from the grains rather than the side bread option, as I usuallly don’t know whether the bread has whole grains and will be a fibrous carb choice.
Try to stay away from salami type of meats and heavy cheeses like cheddar or mozzarella. They are fine, but they usually give too much in portions.
BYOD: The ultimate secret weapon
Bring your own dressing! Having your own low-cal salad dressing on hand is key. You can get your low-cal healthy dressing of choice and empty into a mini portable spray bottle that you can get from Walgreens. I make recommendations in the DAO of pimping your salad.
Toss that in your Gucci or Louis tote, and you are good to go! It can’t be more ridiculous than some of the other random things you have in there.
Are you worried about what other people might think? As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” The DAO fitlife is all about going your own way.
I used to think this would be a reason to get ridiculed but it actually just led to more questions on the technique – and one of the major drivers for me writing this book.
If you have extra greens at home or the office, get a Chicken Burrito bowl and split over two lunches.
If not, get a chicken salad bowl with: Greens, Brown rice, chicken, salsa, and guacamole on the side. Make sure you eat a golf ball size’s worth, because the serving chipotle gives can be as much as a whole avocado, which is a whopping 250 calories on its own. This was your lunch will be only about 350 calories.
If you use your own salad greens, like Supergreens!, you can stretch a burrito bowl over two lunches.
PART 4: ONLY 5 MINUTES TO GRAB SOMETHING PLACES
Convenience stores, CVS, Walgreens
Look, we all have to pop into a gas station or a random strip mall every once in a while to grab a bite. If you know you will be running around or driving for a few hours, try to eat a meal or snack before leaving the house. Otherwise, the shopping will make you hungrier and more likely to make poor food choices.
If you need to stop at a convenience place, don’t just wander the aisles and stare at the food. (I see this all the time). Have an “LBD” option for these places (you can read more about the DAO LBD method in my post on meal planning).
For example, my go-to LBD for these places is something I know I can get in all of them, which I would recommend:
- Dried fruit (dates, apricots, prunes, mango) (just watch for the added sugar)
- Whole wheat crackers and string chees
- Baby carrots (usually)
- Kind bars
- Dark chocolate
- Popchips (not exactly “healthy” but a nice crunchy salty alternative to the chips)
- Yogurt (usually Chobhani. Dannon or Fage are available)
Having a game plan for healthy choices when you are doing a cross-country road trip, traveling, around the office, or just running errands will make sure that you don’t get left stranded with decision fatigue when you get hungry. That doesn’t mean I never make spontaneous choices – hence my bag of smoothie flavored Skittles – but it’s always good to have a game plan!