McDonald's dollar menu sounds like a deal but won't you just be spending more at the doctor's eventually?
Even as restaurant lovers are cutting back, McDonald’s (Stock Quote: MCD) reports that May same store sales were up 2.1% in the U.S. and 5.1% worldwide.
The good news: It is possible to nab a nutritious meal at the golden arches without spending too much. There are healthier vegetables than fries, and it's not just the onion on your burger.
"Yes, of course it is possible to pick healthy options,” says Dr. Sharon Hoerr, a dietician and professor at Michigan State. “The best is usually a grilled chicken salad with low fat dressing and water, low fat milk or a diet soft drink."
Here are some other tips:
1. Load Your Tray with Nutrients
Each “premium” salad contains about three cups of leafy greens (a caesar salad with grilled chicken has 220 calories and six grams of fat without dressing), which can count for most if not all of your recommended daily vegetable intake, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendations.
McDonald’s also offers apple slices (35 calories, no fat); parfaits with fruit, yogurt and granola (160 calories, two grams of fat) and mini low-fat milk jugs (100 calories, 2.5 grams of fat).
Tip: Avoid drenching your greens in dressing (there are 190 calories and 18 grams of fat in a two-ounce packet of Newman’s Own Creamy Caesar Dressing), or at least choose a lower fat option like Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette, at 40 calories and three grams of fat per two-ounce packet.
2. Avoid the Double, Triple and Crispy
While you’re standing in line, apply a common sense approach by avoiding a few key words. Those are “double,” “triple,” “crispy,” “deluxe” and “fried.” For example, at McDonald’s, the double Quarter Pounder with cheese (the highest-calorie sandwich on the McDonald’s menu at 740 calories), double cheeseburger (440 calories) and McDouble (390 calories) are obviously heavier versions of a regular hamburger (250 calories).
And a 32-ounce chocolate triple thick shake (1,160 calories and 27 grams of fat) may be overkill if a vanilla reduced fat ice cream cone (150 calories, 3.5 grams of fat) would be enough to ease your sugar craving.
In addition, crispy chicken options generally cost you 100 calories more than grilled chicken options, even in salads.
“The worst is anything super-sized, fried, with lots of added sugars and saturated fats,” says Dr. Hoerr.
If McDonald’s breakfasts are your vice, steer clear of the “big” and “deluxe” breakfasts. The deluxe breakfast with scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, hash browns, three hotcakes and a large biscuit, without syrup and margarine, has 1,150 calories and 60 grams of fat. That's more than some people consume in a whole day.
3. Beware of Dollar Menu Pitfalls
McDonald’s dollar menu offers cheaper options, letting you effectively build a meal for about $3. But since many of the healthiest menu items aren’t on the dollar menu, it’s likely that these budget-friendly options constitute less healthy options. On the typical dollar menu, the healthiest items you can get are the side salad (20 calories and no fat, not including dressing) and the fruit and yogurt parfait.
“Dollar menu sales [which accounts for about 10% of McDonalds’ U.S. sales] have actually declined a bit in the last few months…after the double cheeseburger was replaced on the dollar menu by the McDouble,” spokeswoman Heidi Barker says. The McDouble is basically a double cheeseburger with one slice of cheese instead of two, which saves you about 50 calories. (Hey, every calorie counts.)
For more Mickey D health analysis, check out the Best and Worst Fast Food: McDonald's Edition from Lifehacker.