Food & Nutrition

Food Court Cheat Sheet

Published May 16, 2016

What to Do     What To Eat

Whether you’re at the mall, airport, or any other public gathering place, you have more fast-food options than ever before. It can make your head spin, but it doesn’t have to sink your healthy goals. Just follow these tips to navigate the food court with ease.

Plan ahead. Malls and airports have begun including directories on their websites, so start there for a list of restaurants and menus. Narrowing down your selections before you’re ravenously hungry will make it easier to follow through with smart choices.

Pack snacks to balance your meal. Stash a healthy snack in your purse to munch along with whatever you buy at the food court, says nutritionist Leslie Fink, MS, RD. If you can’t do the BYO thing, stop by the coffee kiosk or deli for a piece of fruit.

Look for picks with protein. At breakfast, that means ordering scrambled eggs with your fast-food pancake. Looking for lunch? Think beyond the veggie-only salad — get a cheese-free soft taco to go with it. For a snack, why not have a small cup of fast-food chili? It’s packed with protein and fiber for a SmartPoints® value of 5.

Don’t fall for “healthy” traps. Sure, a Cobb salad might look nutritious (all those veggies!) but cheeses and bacon pack on the SmartPoints values (8–20, depending on the restaurant, and that’s without dressing). Ditto a seemingly virtuous bran muffin, which will cost you a whopping 16 SmartPoints value.  

Make special requests (and don’t be embarrassed). Speak up! Most places — even a basic fast-food joint — will accommodate your requests.

Downsize to satisfy cravings. If you really want the burger and fries, go ahead — but to save SmartPoints values, make it a kid’s meal. Ordering a wrap at the deli? Eat half of it with the tortilla, and pick out the rest of the filling with a fork.

Consider a sit-down restaurant. “A lot of malls have higher-end restaurants, too,” says Fink. “Depending on the time of day, it might not be that much more expensive or time-consuming to go to one, and you’ll likely have more healthy options.”