One of the most frequent questions I find myself answering when coaching my nutrition clients is “How do I make this work when I travel?” or “In this situation I find myself running around and need to grab something quick, where should I go?. Although I always recommend cooking your own fresh food as much as possible, I am human, and I understand life gets busy and these situations are all too common. One of the biggest pros of following a Flexible Nutrition program is that when life gets in the way and food prep isn’t an option, we know what to do!
Now, my “Nutrition On The Road” is a whole different piece entirely, but I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of “chain” eateries that are “macro friendly”. My intentions of doing this is to be of some assistance when you are looking for a quick option on the go while staying within your daily macro nutrient goals. We live in a society where businesses are driven based on the “convenience” factor – because that is what the general public wants. But, now more than ever businesses are also realizing that health is a major issue and little by little the majority of institutions are trying to make strides to accommodate the growing “health conscious” populations. This takes a bit of effort on your part though. You must do your homework and learn about the places you eat at and the different options they offer.
I am hoping this piece turns into a series of pieces where I can continue to provide you with this kind of information for all different chain eateries. In this first one, I tried to give you a simple variety for all kinds of different foods. I stayed away from “regional” chains and focused more on those that are found in all parts of the country. The following 10 eateries are some of the more common options out there and there are plenty of food choices at all of these places that carry some sort of nutritional value and can be useful when trying to stay within a nutrition plan on the go.
For each institution listed, I have included their most recent nutrition facts or a nutrition calculator for their menu. I have also included a meal option that is relatively “macro friendly” meaning it carries a caloric and macronutrient content that is reasonable and suitable for most “medium sized” humans to intake in a single meal.
I am hoping to bring awareness that it is OUR responsibility, as grown adults, to understand what we are ordering and eating day to day. The majority of chain restaurants out there have their nutrition facts easily available with a simple Google search of “ *CHAIN NAME* Nutrition”. Before you place an order at one of these places, take a few minutes to educate yourself on what you are about to eat – or feed your family! To take it even one step further, you may sometimes find that the institution you have searched for does not actually list their nutrition facts. That should not be a problem, and you should not avoid that restaurant because of it. Instead, take a place of similar kind and use their nutrition facts – odds are the nutrition information will be close enough to not completely ruin your nutrition parameters for the day!
Okay, so you are going to hate me for starting the piece off like this, but I had to. Unless you have an ABUNDANCE of fat to use, you’re probably going to want to steer clear of Five Guys. They are famous for cooking all of their foods in peanut oil, which obviously makes their already fatty foods (burgers and fries), even higher in fat. If I had to make a suggestion here, it would be a “Bunless Little Hamburger and Little Fries”. That is probably their most reasonable meal choice and it runs at a macro cost of 24p/72c/40f. My biggest issue with 5 Guys is that they don’t really offer any better alternatives. There is no salad or veggie on the menu as a side, and even their “sandwiches” are very high in fat. Don’t get me wrong, I use to frequent that place, especially after “hard exercise times”. Until one day, I tried to actually make room for it… and realized there were much smarter choices I could be making!
Ice cream is one of those foods that gets a bad rap when, from a macro nutrient point of view is not that bad in moderation. Those last two words are key as often, ice cream is one of those foods that we overeat. I like Baskin Robbins because their ice cream is a bit more reasonable when it comes to fat than say, Ben and Jerrys or Cold Stone. If you go into Baskin Robbins and ask for a Small (2.5 oz) with one topping such as sprinkles or oreo cookie crumbles, you are looking at a macro count of about 15-25g of carbs and 5-10g of fat. Even a Large (4 oz) isn’t incredibly awful at a count of about 28-35g carbs and 14-20g of fat. Each specific flavor has their own macro nutrient profile but you can surely find one that fits your ice cream craving, as long as you agree to consume it in moderation!
BWW can be a pretty stressful place if you are weighing and measuring intake. I am here to help! It does not have to be stressful and there are some hidden gems on the menu that will help you through your experience there. Now, keep in mind that you wont be able to pig out on wings and fries like you may have experienced in the past. But if you are taking your nutrition seriously, you likely already understand that. My go to when I am in BWW are the Grilled Chicken Buffalitos – they are grilled chicken tacos that run 19p/18c/10f. This leaves room for a sauce of my choice to put on them, as well as a side order of Buffalo Chips or French Fries that will be around 40c/15f. Anther option could be something like a large grilled chicken salad (no dressing) and an order of SNACK size Teriyaki Traditional Wings (43p/12c/19f).
As a north east girl, Chick Fil A was only available during those exciting road trips down to the southern states during road games (that didn’t fall on Sunday’s of course). So, it always holds a special place of excitement in my heart as it was a treat. Even though I had been in Virginia for two years, Texas, and now Missouri where it is readily available – it is still a place I need to stop in every once in a while out of pure joy. Chick Fil A has recently made some strides to include healthier options into their menu. I like this. Of course, there are always HORRIBLE choices you could make here. But there are some decent ones as well. A Grilled Chicken Sandwich (pictured below) sits at 30p/40c/5f, while a 12-piece Grilled Nuggets sits at 34p/6c/5f. If you are okay with having a wrap while eating here, their Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap sits at 36p/30c/13f. Those numbers really aren’t bad, however the side items is usually where the trouble can start. You can make better choices in sides by opting for the Hearty Breast of Chicken Soup (12p/18c/3f – Medium size), or their new Superfood Side (4p/23c/8f – Large size). Try and avoid breakfast at Chick Fil A, almost every option is a “macro waste”!
Chili’s is actually a favorite “on the go” of mine and a place where, if you know how to navigate the menu correctly, can give you a pretty big meal for your “macro buck”. There are actually a bunch of options I could list here, but I will go with my traditional go to. When you first sit down here, they will bring out complimentary chips and salsa. Although the temptation is real, it would be wise to not touch these as chips are some of the most macro-wasting food out there. We all know how awful human self control is when it comes to something like chips, and tortilla chips are literally just a waste of fats and carbs. Instead, I always order either a side salad (4p/10c/3f) or a cup of Southwest Chicken soup (4p/10c/5f) to start while the rest of the table is munching on chips. For my meal, my usual here is a “Make it a Combo” option which allows you to choose two proteins and a side of your choice. I like to go with the Margarita Grilled Chicken and Seared Shrimp (44p/10c/7f) with a side of either Steamed Broccoli (3p/8c/0f), Asparagus & Tomatoes (4p/12c/1.5f), or their Citrus Chile Rice (3p/27c/1.5f) if I need more carbs. There are plenty of other choices on their menu that can make solid meals – just do a bit of research before!
Chipotle is one that people ALWAYS ask me about. It is kind of silly to me, because it is probably the most convenient place to “track macros” at. If you click on the link above, you will see that you literally just click on what you have chosen to put into your burrito or bowl, and boom, it adds all the components up and gives you the complete nutrition facts. I think it will be a bit eye opening as to what is actually in the different components of your meal – I know that after discovering their nutrition calculator, my order has changed a bit from what it use to be. I always get questions about how accurate I think this actually is, meaning “how do I know they’re putting that exact amount of rice in my bowl”. The answer is that we really don’t, but the calculation will be close enough to trust that you are not incredibly off on your numbers. Remember that when eating food you haven’t prepared yourself there is always a level of estimation and that is okay! Needless to say, Chipotle is for sure a “favorite spot” for me, and one I always seek out.
I love breakfast food. If I had to eat nothing but breakfast for the rest of my life I actually would not be mad, at all. Any kind of breakfast works for me… dishes I make myself, eating breakfast out at a diner, even chain restaurants are fine with me for breakfast. To be perfectly honest, I would much rather a local, mom and pop diner any day over Denny’s – but when that isn’t possible, this will do. Their food is actually not loaded with fat as most of their counterparts are (like IHOP) and their menu choices are very simple. You have some options here, which allows for a lot of flexibility depending on your personal macro intake. One option is to take a look at their “build your own grand slam” section and piece together a breakfast that works well with you. If that takes too much work, they have a menu section called “Fit Fare” which I usually choose from. It is pre- assembled breakfasts at reasonable macro costs – like their “Fit Slam” (24p/54c/10f), or their “Fit Fare Omelette” (32p/59c/16f). While doing research for this piece, I came across their “Fit Fare Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast” which runs at 29p/134c/13f. Seems outrageous, buuuuut would make an amazing post workout meal on a refeed day (or regular day for all of you large male humans)!
When I put it out there about writing this piece and asked what people would like me to include, I had a great deal of “pizza” responses. I feel you guys. I, myself, have a pizza problem. That problem is the fact that I either want NO pizza, or an ENTIRE pizza to myself. I refer to it as “pizza for one” (see below). Most times, this takes strategic macro planning and blocking out enough of my daily intake to be able to include a pizza for one. But, if I feel the urge, I make it happen. My go to at Domino’s is usually a 10’ Gluten Free Crust topped with Light Cheese, Grilled Chicken, Spinach, Red Peppers, and Onions (pictured below). This comes at a macro cost of 24p/90c/30f for the ENTIRE PIE, #pizzaforone ! From looking at that you could imagine what the rest of my day looks like. Lots of chicken, egg whites, and veggies. However, on days I am craving pizza – it is worth the sacrifice. Now, obviously I referred to Domino’s because it gives a calculator that I love. You can add whatever toppings you want, cheese level, size, ect. When you are out at a gourmet pizza place, or a non-chain place (that is amazingly delicious), I still recommend using this calculator. It will allow you to estimate as closely as possible. Remember that the calculator gives you readings BY THE SLICE. So, if you are like me and #pizzaforone or bust, you would have to multiply its results by 6 (or 8 for larger pies) to get macros for the whole pie.
I always get really excited when I have the opportunity to go to Outback. It is my favorite chain steakhouse and a place that is really easy to order a filling and delicious macro friendly dish. As a company they are pretty health conscious, and their website is a reflection of that. Their site even has an “under 600 calories” tab which will focus your attention to the quality choices right away. You can easily start your meal off with a side salad (5p/12c/6f) or a cup of Chicken Tortilla Soup (9p/13c/9f). As far as steaks, their Outback Center Cut Sirloin 6oz. (38c/7f) or their Victoria’s Filet Mignon (40p/9f) would be my reccomendations. If you are not a steak eater and would rather white meat, their Grilled Chicken on the Barbie (5oz) with Seasonal Mixed Vegetables (35p/28c/13f) is a quality option. On their nutrition listings for side dishes, they include all of the toppings (such as butter and brown sugar on the sweet potato) so I usually just order a sweet potato with no toppings and log it as 200g (typical size of a potato). They do offer other vegetable sides that are a great choice as well.
It seems incredibly necessary that I open this paragraph by making one thing clear before you continue to read on. I am not going to spend time in this description discussing “macro friendly coffee drinks” – I get that question all the time, and it is ALWAYS a face palm moment for me. Coffee is made to be consumed one way – BLACK… black and strong (thats still one way). I refuse to acknowledge all of these foo foo drinks that everyone takes up time ordering at Starbucks. Drinks that are all basically desserts or coffee flavored milk. If your coffee has “too many calories”, you are not drinking coffee, you are drinking dessert. PLEASE, stop asking me for “macro-friendly” coffee suggestions. Drink COFFEE, plain, black, and strong. If you NEED to add something to it, a drop of half and half should do the trick. Now, to the food. Starbucks has MY FAVORITE on the go item which is their Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich (13p/28c/6f). I am also a huge fan of their Roasted Turkey Sandwhich (45p/48c/12f) for lunch. My favorite “treats” from them are the Cookie Dough Cake Pop (23c/9f) or the Petite Vanilla Scone (18c/4.5f).
Friday’s is one of those very common “I am traveling and I want something quick and reliable” out of your element places. Although the temptation is high in here to just throw your hands up and think you don’t have a good option around – that is not the case. Their Turkey Burger (31p/48c/22f) is a decent option and you even have the choice of “making it green” which would mean without the bun. They do have some fancy Naan bread sandwhiches in both Shrimp and Mahi Mahi that are 32p/55c/15f. Interestingly enough, their Bruschetta Chicken Pasta (half order) comes out to 21p/47c.25f an is PLENTY of food for a meal with a side salad! The side dishes is where you would most likely run into an issue as both their french fries and sweet potato fries carry a count of 50c/20f. I recommend always going with a side salad instead.
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