With Memorial Day behind us, summer vacations lie ahead -- with ample opportunity for nutritional mischief on the road. This year, consider stopping at a fast-food establishment to grab a healthful meal.
Pressured by advocacy groups, public officials, lawsuits and consumer preference, many fast-food chains are offering more nutritious fare, from fruit and low-fat yogurt parfaits to salads with low-fat dressings and grilled shrimp.
Whether you travel turnpikes, back roads, through airports or train stations, here's a guide to help you eat smart when you're tired, hungry, hectored by cranky kids and surrounded only by fast-food icons.
But first, two tips:
* Expect high sodium. Even some entree salads packed 900 milligrams and more without dressing or croutons that boost levels higher. The recommended level is 2,300 milligrams daily for people age 45 or younger; 1,500 for those older and for people with high blood pressure. Snack on fruit high in potassium (bananas, oranges and raisins) to help balance the sodium.
* Resist the urge to super-size. Doing so can easily add up to a day's worth of calories and more than a day's worth of fat.
Here we go:
* Burger King. The "have it your way" chain was the first to introduce a veggie burger to its menu. The patty, with standard toppings, has 420 calories and 16 grams of fat -- but only three of those grams are saturated fat, and none are the unhealthful trans fat. High in protein, the veggie burger also has seven grams of fiber and 1,100 milligrams of sodium. Our testers liked it.
If you're hankering for meat, skip the Angus Steak burger (570 calories) and have the single burger. At 310 calories, 13 grams of fat (five of them saturated), minimal trans fat and half the sodium of the veggie burger, it's a better alternative.
For nearly a day's worth of veggies and fewer calories than most of the burgers, choose the salads. They have about 200 calories without dressing (which adds 70 to 130 calories per packet) or garlic Parmesan toast (70 calories).
* McDonald's. The small burger (260 calories), cheeseburger (310) and Chicken McGrill (400) are the caloric bargains among sandwiches. Even the fried Filet-o-Fish (400) is OK for a splurge. It packs 18 grams of fat, but 13 of them come from healthful fats. Save 90 calories and nearly two grams of saturated fat by skipping the tartar sauce. Note that most, if not all, of the chain's fried fare has some trans fat.
Try the salad entrees. They range from Bacon Ranch with Grilled Chicken to Fruit & Walnut and have 90 to 370 calories. (Skip salads with crispy chicken, which is fried.) Newman's Own Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing tastes great and has just 40 calories -- as much as 100 calories less than other dressings.
For dessert, reach for the Apple Dippers, slices of apples with low-fat caramel dip (100 calories), or the Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait (160 calories, 130 without granola).
* Subway. You're familiar with Jared Fogle, who lost 245 pounds and found a job as a spokesman for this chain. He shed those pounds by eating the six-inch Savory Turkey Breast without mayo, oil or cheese (280 calories; 4.5 grams fat) and the 12-inch veggie sub (460 calories, six grams fat), not the higher calorie subs, chips and cookies. He also reportedly walked a lot to help burn calories. Our testers gave high marks to the Savory Turkey Breast and Ham sub on honey oat bread with honey mustard, lettuce and tomato (290 calories and five grams of fat for the six-inch size).
* Wendy's. We tried the Mandarin Chicken Salad, Chicken BLT Salad, Mediterranean Chicken Salad and Fresh Fruit Bowl. All were winners (even without the almonds or crispy rice noodles on the Mandarin Chicken Salad). They ranged from 220 to 680 calories. (Avoid the Homestyle Chicken Strips Salad, which has fried chicken tenders.)
Baked potatoes, mixed fruit cups, mandarin oranges and side salads can be substituted for fries in combo meals. The Ultimate Chicken Grill sandwich (360 calories) with a baked potato pleased our testers. Or make a meal out of the stuffed baked potato with cheese for 440 calories, 15 grams of fat (only three of them saturated and zero trans fats).