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The 154 calorie meal in McDonalds – and five other healthy dishes at fast food chains – The Telegraph

7 minutes, 50 seconds Read

You’re rushing from one meeting or errand to the next when hanger – hunger-induced anger – strikes. The person you strive to be would have popped some fruit and nuts into their bag before leaving home,  but the real you forgot. You need to eat now, but a greasy sausage roll from a convenience store isn’t going to pass your lips. Are there any vaguely nutritious options on the high street?

“It’s only one meal and you can hopefully make up for it later with something balanced and home-cooked,” says Emily Kerrigan, a registered nutritionist. “It’s not always easy to find fresh, healthy options on the go but in general try to avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, known as HFSS foods.”

But there are healthy options. Ideally, grab fresh fruit or veg, a pot of plain yoghurt, nuts, seeds or anything with wholegrains, lean protein and healthy fats. “But even if you’re only managing to tick one or two of those boxes, that’s OK,” Kerrigan says. And opt for water rather than a sugary drink or caramel-and-cream topped beverage. “You’re just drinking surplus empty calories,” she says.

So, what are the most nutritious options from leading food-on-the-move brands that taste good and keep you fuller for longer? 

McDonald’s 

Surely Golden Arches isn’t the spot for a healthy bite on the move? Not if you order burgers, fries and sugar-laden condiments. “But the grilled chicken salad meal is better for you than any burger,” Kerrigan says. “It comes with water and a bag of carrots to munch on, and in terms of calories, saturated fat and salt, beats burgers hands down.” For breakfast, go for plain porridge, without added sugar, jam or golden syrup.

Breakfast 

Porridge with organic semi-skimmed milk, and wholegrain jumbo oats

Calories: 154 

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat , no salt or sugar added, a good amount of protein.

Taste: Hot, creamy and surprisingly delicious. (4.5/5)

Satiety: The small serving didn’t fill me up but it did tide me over for an hour or so. (3.5/5)

Total score: 4/5

Avoid: Double quarter pounder with cheese: 739 cals /19g sat fat / 53g protein /3.2.g salt

Lunch

Grilled chicken salad meal including a carrot bag and water

Grilled chicken salad meal including a carrot bag and water

Calories: 173

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat and salt, with around half the daily recommended intake (RI) of protein, and some fibre. 

Taste: Chicken was tasty but a bit dry. I added half a sachet of balsamic dressing to make the bland salad more palatable. (3/5)

Satiety:  I wasn’t hungry for a few hours. (4.5/5)

Total score: 3.75/5


Leon

Promoting itself as the healthy alternative to fast food chains, Leon has lots of good stuff to choose from. Kerrigan praises the rice boxes for sporting brown rather than nutrient-poor white rice. She also gives points for baked rather than fat-laden waffle fries – but recommends avoiding them. “Opt for slaw, or at least add in the slaw if you’re also having fries,” she says. 

Breakfast

Turmeric honey, banana & bee pollen yoghurt pot

Turmeric honey, banana & bee pollen yoghurt pot

Calories: 188

Nutrition: Gut-friendly live yoghurt; anti-inflammatory turmeric. 

Taste: Deliciously creamy, the turmeric and bee pollen adds bags of flavour, but it was a bit sweet for me. (4/5)

Satiety: The serving is small, so it doesn’t satisfy for long. (3/5)

Total score: 3.5/5

Lunch 

Brazilian black bean rice box

Brazilian black bean rice box

Calories: 554

Nutrition: A good source of fibre, and the beans contain iron.

Taste: Great flavour and heat in the spicy beans but it’s a heavy, stodgy meal. (3.5/5)

Satiety: Extremely. (5/5)

Total score: 4.25/5


Pret A Manger

Pret boasts that it serves high quality ingredients, delicious food, and lots of healthy choices. Kerrigan suggests swerving the pastries and opting for loose fruit for breakfast (less than half the price of a fruit pot with the same nutritional benefits). Reach for wraps, brown baguettes or wholegrain sandwiches with lean protein and lots of veggies for lunch. Or go for a protein bowl (like chicken and avocado), which is low in salt, saturated fat, and sugar.

Breakfast

A loose apple and banana

A loose apple and banana

Calories: 140

Nutrition: Unprocessed whole fresh food with a decent amount of fibre.

Taste: The apple was crisp and tasty, the banana unripe and not enjoyable. (3/5)

Satiety: Filled me up for a couple of hours. (4/5)

Total score: 3.5/5

Lunch 

Hummus, salad and chipotle ketchup in a kibbled rye wrap

Hummus, salad and chipotle ketchup in a kibbled rye wrap

Calories: 482

Nutrition: One of Pret’s highest in fibre sandwiches.

Taste: The excellent mix of fresh and crunchy veg was completely overpowered by vinegar-laden ketchup. Could barely eat half. (2/5)

Satiety: Reasonably filling had I been able to eat the whole thing. (2/5)

Total score: 2/5


Joe & the Juice

This Danish chain serves healthy, Instagenic smoothies, juices, sandwiches and salads, but be careful. “The acai breakfast bowl might be prettier, but the Eggcado breakfast sandwich is actually a bit lower in saturated fat, although both make great on-the-go breakfasts, “ says Kerrigan. She also notes that not all the raw cakes are as healthy as they might seem, as some contain more saturated fat than the blueberry muffins.

Breakfast

Eggcado breakfast sandwich with avocado, egg ‘mousse’, spinach, tomato and sriracha sauce

Eggcado breakfast sandwich with avocado, egg ‘mousse’, spinach, tomato and sriracha sauce

Calories: 393

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat and sugar, and a source of protein.

Taste: Delicious. (4.5/5)

Satiety: A hearty sandwich that kept me going for hours. (4.5/5)

Total score: 4.5/5

Lunch

Green vegan bowl with avocado, broccoli, cranberry, edamame, kale, lemon, pickled red onion, pumpkin seeds, spinach, vegan pesto

Green vegan bowl with avocado, broccoli, cranberry, edamame, kale, lemon, pickled red onion, pumpkin seeds, spinach, vegan pesto

Calories: 688

Nutrition: Ticks plenty of boxes with healthy greens, good fats and gut-loving pickles. 

Taste: Difficult to chew through such an abundance of raw, fibrous veg (including giant chunks of broccoli stalk) with insufficient dressing or pesto. (2.5/5)

Satiety: Difficult to eat it all, so not hugely satisfying. (2.5/5)

Total score: 2.5/5


Costa

Healthy savoury options are limited here. In theory, Costa stocks the Bosh! plant-based range, but non-sweet products were unavailable at the numerous branches I tried.  If you find one, go for the Bosh! ham and ‘cheeze’ toastie (lower in saturated fat than Costa’s own version) for breakfast, or fill up on plain porridge.

Breakfast

Wholegrain porridge with semi-skimmed milk

Wholegrain porridge with semi-skimmed milk

Calories: 162

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Taste: Hot, creamy and flavoursome. (4/5)

Satiety: A small pot, so I was hungry again in an hour. (3/5)

Total score: 3.5/5

Lunch

Prawn and mayo sandwich on oatmeal bread

Prawn and mayo sandwich on oatmeal bread

Calories: 301

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat.

Taste: The bread was soft and fresh, the prawns sweet, but bland overall. (3/5)

Satiety: Light and insubstantial – I immediately needed more to eat. (2.5/5)

Total score: 2.75/5


Greggs

If you can, look past the bacon rolls and pastries and go for plain porridge for breakfast, Kerrigan advises.  For lunch, chicken and vegetable soup is an option; although salty, it’s considerably lower in saturated fat than the steak bake that might tempt you. “But Gregg’s sweet potato bhaji and rice box packs in way more nutritious bang for its buck than most of the menu, with added chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, spinach and peppers,” she says.

Breakfast

Simply Creamy Porridge

Simply Creamy Porridge

Calories: 210

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Taste:  The oats were virtually raw and served tepid. (0/5)

Statiety: Inedible, so not satisfying. (0/5)

Total score: 0/5

Lunch

Sweet potato bhaji and rice

Sweet potato bhaji and rice

Calories: 244 

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Taste: Chana masala sauce is flavourful but the rest is bland. (3/5)

Satiety: Mixed vegetables, chickpeas, lentils and quinoa make this a reasonably filling lunch. (3.5/5)

Total score: 3.25/5


Subway

The ‘create your own’ option means you can add whatever you want to your sandwich. “It’s basically an invitation to add in lots of extras, and not necessarily in a good way,” says Kerrigan.  But you can choose your fillings wisely. “Start by not supersizing your sarnie and opt for wholegrain seeded bread over white wraps or baps or stick to a salad,” she suggests. Include tuna or lean protein like turkey, and lots of salad ingredients. “Don’t get drawn into HFSS sides like hash browns.”

Breakfast

Egg and cheese sub on wholemeal bread (ask to swap the cheese for salad)

Egg and cheese sub on wholemeal bread (ask to swap the cheese for salad)

Calories: 294

Nutrition: Low in salt; there’s more fibre and nutrients if you can add salad.

Taste: The egg is rubbery, but with salad makes an acceptable sandwich. (2.5/5)

Satiety: It filled me up until lunchtime. (4/5)

Total score: 3.25/5

Lunch

Create your own six-inch sub with wholegrain bread, turkey breast,  salad and pesto

Create your own six-inch sub with wholegrain bread, turkey breast,  salad and pesto

Calories: 282

Nutrition: Low in saturated fat and a source of fibre and nutrients from fresh salad. 

Taste: Bread and turkey lack flavour, but the salad and pesto are tasty enough (3.5/5)

Satiety: It filled me up until lunchtime. (4/5)

Total score: 3.75/5


Petrol station

It’s grim trying to find something nutritious and filling at a petrol station (unless you’re lucky enough to be passing through Gloucester Services.) “Try to refuel on something like a takeaway soup or a tub of hummus with some oatcakes, “ Kerrigan advises. “If that fails, look for a pot of plain, unsweetened yoghurt, an apple or banana, or packs of plain (unsalted and unroasted) nuts or seeds.” Unsweetened popcorn is lower in fat than crisps, and a few squares of dark chocolate will satisfy a sweet craving. Sadly, the petrol station I visited had few of these options.

Breakfast

A pot of roasted nuts and a pot of falafel and hummus dip

A pot of roasted nuts and a pot of falafel and hummus dip

Calories: 418 calories

Taste: The nuts were stale and the falafel rock hard and inedible. (1/5)

Satiety: The nuts and hummus filled me up for an hour or so. (2/5)

Total: 1.5/5

Lunch

John West Tuna Bean Salad

John West Tuna Bean Salad

Calories: 252

Nutrients: Contains one of my five-a-day.

Taste: Claggy and unpleasant. (1.5/5)

Satiety: Briefly filled a gap. (1/5)

Total score: 0.75/5

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