(Savvy Spender host Farnoosh Torabi taps nutritionist Lisa Drayer to find out which fast food value menu items …When you’re strapped for time and need to save money, picking something healthy and delicious out of all the fast food value menu items can be tricky. So let’s explore which items offer the biggest bang for your buck in terms of taste, nutrition and satisfaction.
For expert advice, I tapped nutritionist Lisa Drayer who coaches everyday Americans on how to make more healthful food choices. “Fast food restaurants have cut back so what customers can buy for a dollar or two really isn’t quite as satisfying anymore, “ says Drayer. “You really want to think in terms of protein per dollar, while still keeping in mind overall fat, calories and sodium.”
MCDONALD’S: “Dollar” & “Extra Value” Menu
On McDonald’s daytime value menu, Drayer’s best pick is the Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap, with a range of 250 -270 calories and 16 grams of protein. If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, consider the Fruit ‘n Yogurt parfait which offers both calcium and protein for fewer than 150 calories.
Just make sure you don’t wash it all down with a sugary drink. “You think a sweet iced tea drink from McDonald’s is a healthy caffeine fix, but it in fact has abut three times as much sugar as a McDonald’s baked apple pie,” says Drayer.
BURGER KING: “BK Value” Menu
Over at rival Burger King, where flame broiled is synonymous with less fat, it turns out you still have to be cautious. One of the worst Value menu items here is the Classic Chick'N Crisp sandwich, with a whopping 500 Calories and 32 grams of fat. And don’t even think about following it up with a chocolate handspun shake.
“This chocolate desert drink has almost 600 calories, over 20 teaspoons of sugar and more fat than two Burger King burgers,” says Drayer.
Burger King doesn’t offer many options for a healthy and filling snack, though it goes without saying that a garden side salad is always a lite choice.
TACO BELL: “Why Pay More?” Menu
Moving over to Taco Bell, the Mexican chain’s new meal deal serves up some pretty hot competition. At no other fast food chain can you get a main dish, a side and a drink for only $2. But these combos are not exactly “healthful” for lunch. For example a Beefy 5-Layer Burrito plus a medium-sized soft drink and Doritos totals 950 calories.
“If you’re looking for a lighter option or even a vegetarian item, you might be drawn to Taco Bell’s Potato Soft Taco,” Drayer says. “But don’t be fooled. This innocent-sounding soft taco actually has 100 more calories and three more grams of fat than a crunchy beef taco.”
The best option on the Why Pay More Menu, says Drayer, is the bean burrito with 13 grams of protein per dollar.
WENDY’S: “Right Price, Right Size” Menu
Next: Wendy’s has long been a top-rated fast food chain, scoring second place on Zagat’s 2011 list of healthy fast food chains. But watch out! Certain items on Wendy’s value menu that appear healthy can be deceiving
“Wendy's Crispy Chicken Caesar Wrap is all covered in carbs and the 7 grams of saturated fat is half of our limit for an entire day," says Drayer. Your best bet here is the small chili at just 210 calories and 17 grams of protein. It’s also low in fat and high in fiber, keeping hunger at bay.
SUBWAY: $5 and $6 Foot Longs
Also a top Zagat pick for healthy fast food eating: Subway. While they don’t have a traditional “Value Menu,” the evergreen $5 and $6 foot longs can feed you and a friend or two.
“Skip the Chicken Bacon Ranch Melt. It has 570 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat and over a 1,000 mg of sodium. That’s two-thirds of our daily limit, according to the American Heart Association,” Drayer says. “Instead opt for a Roast Beef Mini Sub for just 200 calories and 3 grams of fat. Or an Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich for just 320 calories and 5 grams of fat. You can always add veggies and healthy fats like avocado to make it extra satisfying.”
And before we wrap, here are some savvy spending tips for the next time you’re grabbing a quick bite:
· Consider ordering from the Children’s Menu. It’s already portion-sized, costs around $3 and often includes apple slices and milk instead of soda.
· Skip the mayo. It saves you roughly 9 grams of fat and 80 calories. And if you ditch the top half of the bun, that too can save 100 calories and almost 20 grams of carbs.
· And finally, opt for a side salad to supplement your sandwich. Just watch the dressing!
What options do you typically pick from value menus? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh, and use the hashtag #finfit.