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Fast Food Meals Can Be Part of Healthy Diet for Youth Athletes

Choices beyond the salad bar. Look for lower-fat items.

A 2012 study1 by researchers at the University of Minnesota reports that eating out (typically at a fast-food restaurant) is very common among players in travel sports programs, especially for traveling team members who play multiple games in one day and need to eat between games because they frequently do not pack food ahead of time.

The bad news is that, according to a 2008 study, only 3% of kidsGrilled chicken' meals from fast-food restaurants meet federal nutritional guidelines. 

The good news is that, if lower-fat choices are selected, fast food meals can be part of your sports-active child's healthy diet.

So, if you are on the road to an away game or out-of-town tournament, follow these guidelines in ordering:

 

 

 

Breakfast: Keep it simple

The rule of thumb to use when eating at a fast food restaurant is the simpler the better.

High Carbohydrate/Low Fat

High Fat Foods To Avoid

  • Cereal (hot or cold) with banana and granola
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Bagels
  • Waffles w/fruit and syrup
  • English Muffins
  • Low-fat muffins
  • Pancakes
  • Toast (whole wheat) with jam
  • Fruit/fruit juices
  • Skim or low fat milk
  • Yogurt
  • Breakfast sandwiches made with cheese, sauce, bacon, or sausage
  • Side dishes (hash browns, etc.)
  • Danish
  • Croissants
  • Biscuits

Lunch and dinner: It's what on top that matters

Making healthy choices for lunch and dinner at fast food restaurants isn't as simple as limiting your child to the salad bar and avoiding the burgers, pizza, and sandwiches. It's often a matter of what's on top (i.e. the dressings, toppings, and condiments) that determines whether the meal is high carbohydrate, low fat or not.

Healthier

Not As Healthy

Burgers

Burgers

  • Single
  • Without "special sauce" (ketchup or mustard are better)
  • Without cheese
  • Tomatoes and lettuce
  • Double (if your child wants a double burger, get it without cheese)
  • Super, deluxe or supreme
  • With cheese and/or bacon
  • Sauce

Chicken and Fish

Chicken and Fish

  • Grilled, roasted or broiled
  • Barbecue sauce or spices
  • Breaded or deep fried
  • Mayonnaise-based sauce

Pizza

Pizza

  • Thin crust
  • Vegetable toppings (mushrooms, spinach, onion, green/red peppers, hot peppers, pineapple, and broccoli)
  • Leaner protein options (chicken, Canadian bacon, low-fat mozzarella or ricotta cheese)
  • Thick crust
  • Fatty meat toppings (pepperoni, sausage, bacon)
  • Extra whole cheese

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

  • Lean meat (roast beef, chicken, turkey, ham)
  • Low fat cheese
  • Vegetable
  • Plain tuna
  • Spices (oregano, pepper)
  • Mustard or ketchup
  • Barbeque/low fat sauce
  • Tomatoes
  • Vegetables, pickles, hot or sweet peppers
  • Roll, bagel, pita bread, tortilla, hearty grain bread
  • Tuna or chicken salad (the mayonnaise adds fat)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Oil
  • "Special" sauce
  • Croissants
  • Biscuits

Potatoes

Potatoes

  • Baked with low fat toppings (nonfat sour cream, chives, grated cheese, mushrooms, broccoli, chili)
  • French fries (if your child does have fries, get a small order, or, better yet, have her share an order with another player)
  • Baked with high fat toppings (cheese sauces, regular sour cream, bacon

Soup and Salad Bar

Soup and Salad Bar

  • Salad greens
  • Fresh fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Plain pasta
  • Lean protein toppings (low-fat cheese, low-fat cottage cheese, kidney beans, egg whites, plain tuna, chicken, turkey or roast beef)
  • Low fat or nonfat salad dressings
  • Broth-based soups (chicken/turkey with noodles/rice, minestrone, vegetable, black bean, lentil, and green pea)
  • Prepared salads (potato, macaroni, coleslaw; again it is the mayonnaise that adds the fat)
  • Pasta with mayonnaise or oil
  • Bacon bits
  • Olives
  • Blue cheese, regular salad dressings
  • Cream-based soups (clam chowder, cream of mushroom, broccoli or asparagus)

Southwestern

Southwestern

  • Soft flour or corn tortillas
  • Quesadillas, soft tacos or burritos with chicken, beans, beef or vegetables
  • Low fat condiments (salsa, non fat sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes)
  • Fried tortillas
  • Regular sour cream

 


1. Thomas M, Nelso TF, Harwood E, Neumark-Sztainer D. Exploring Parent Perceptions of the Food Environment in Youth Sport.
Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2012;44(4):365-371.

Updated June 20, 2012

 

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