Healthy Eats at the Mall Food Court
If you're watching your weight, mall food can be a nutritional minefield. Use these tips to help find healthy options at the food court.
By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer
If you're watching your weight — not to mention your health — malls can be a nutritional minefield. There are a lot of choices and most are fast food, which is often loaded with fat, calories and sodium. Since avoiding the mall may not be an option, it's important to find ways to pick and choose healthier options.
Check out the following tips before your next mall outing.
- Gather nutrition info. Before you head out, check online for nutrition information from some of your favorite mall vendors. Seeing calorie, fat and sodium data can help you narrow down (or decide to avoid) certain choices. Some restaurants have nutrition information right at the counter, though you may need to ask for it. Once armed with knowledge, you may opt out of a large cookie or scoop of ice cream in favor of a turkey sandwich or cup of soup at the salad/deli counter next door.
- Don't go to the mall hungry. This will just set you up to overeat, most likely grabbing something with no nutritional value. If you plan to shop for several hours, make sure to have a healthy, filling breakfast. Eat lunch at a reasonable hour so you are hungry, but not famished.
- Consider a sit-down restaurant. If you know it's going to be a long day of shopping, consider taking your lunch break in a sit-down restaurant. Most malls have at least two that are a step above fast food. Though these will also have high-fat and high-calorie options, they also will have healthier choices. Look for things like salads with grilled shrimp or chicken with dressing on the side, broth-based vegetable or bean soups, grilled chicken sandwiches and vegetarian chili. Skip the bread basket and French fries.
- Cut the combo. Though combo meals may be tempting, they are no calorie bargain when you order extra side items and sugary drinks with your main meal. You may pay an extra dollar or two, but try to stick with plain water or seltzer and skip the fries or onion rings.
- Don't drink your calories. Malls are famous for large plastic cups of sugary drinks, smoothies, fancy coffee drinks, lemonades and iced teas. Be aware that these sweetened drinks can set you back 200 to 500 calories, depending on the size. Be prepared and take a bottle of water with you so you are not tempted when thirst strikes. If you are hankering for something hot, go for herbal tea or a small latte with fat-free milk.
Have to make a decision? Check out some of the following choices:
- Veggie pizza. You'll likely find a pizza place at every mall. Go for a slice of thin-crust pizza topped with fresh veggies.
- Sandwich/soup/salad. Look for a deli-type vendor that sells salads, soups and sandwiches. Safe bets include bean or veggie-based soups or salads with grilled chicken or shrimp. Be sure to have the dressing on the side, or just drizzle on a little oil and vinegar. Steer clear of chicken, tuna or egg salads, which are loaded with mayonnaise. Craving a sandwich? Share a deli sandwich made with lean meats (like turkey or roast beef) with your shopping buddy.
- Grilled fare. Grilled chicken sandwiches are always a good choice. Include lettuce and tomato, and skip the fries, or share a small order with a friend or two.
In the end, there is nothing wrong with avoiding the food court altogether and toting along a bagged lunch or healthy snack. It's often perfectly acceptable to sit at one of the food court tables and indulge in your very own homemade (healthy) fare.