There are roughly 1,182 shopping malls in the United States, and more than 35% of Americans will be visiting (at least) one of them over the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Going to the mall is a great American tradition -- we shop, we stroll, we go to the movies, we mingle, we go see Santa, we run into old friends -- it’s an entire day’s worth of activity. And in every mall, in every city, in every corner of the country sits our favorite place to gather, meet, and of course, eat -- the food court.
The food court is entertainment for our mouth -- a literal smorgasbord to accommodate every culinary desire. And although there are plenty of healthy and energizing options, a quick scan across the sea of tables shows that few of us think about our choices before we order.
“When we shop for clothing, electronics or toys we don’t just grab the first thing we see without comparing value, price and how well it works with our needs. The same should be true for food choices,” says New York City Nutritionist Leah Nemerson, RD.
So where does that leave us during this shopping season? Is there anything we can eat without adding all that “extra trimming” to our waistlines?
PLAN TO EAT: Don’t starve yourself and then run to the food court and eat the first thing you can get your hands on. For instance, a couple of slices of pizza with pepperoni can mean more than 500 calories and 20 grams of fat. How about a quick Burger King Double Whopper with cheese? That’s 1020 calories and 65 grams of fat (without the fries and soda!). Ideally, eat before starting your shopping spree or, if it’s going to be a full day at the mall, schedule a meal break somewhere in the middle.
SHOP AROUND: Look for the best nutritional bargains and take advantage of the variety available at the food court. Remember, you can mix and match foods -- you don’t have to limit yourself to one place and be stuck with only their offerings. For example, you can get the chicken teriyaki (grilled chicken skewers) at the Japanese restaurant, a vegetable soup at the Italian place, and a low-fat frozen yogurt from the ice cream vendor.
DON’T BE SHY: Find out if they use oil, sugar, butter and anything else that might add on calories and fat. To insure that these high-calorie add-ons don’t make their way into your meal, it helps to ask before they start the preparation. Most food court restaurants prepare the food right in front of you, so keep your eyes open after you place your order.
HAVE A REAL MEAL: You think you just want something to “hold you over,” but sometimes it’s better to go ahead and have a full-blown meal. Snacks can easily add up to the same amount of calories and fat as a meal -- and you end up not being satiated.
- Instead of a Cinnabon Caramel Pecanbon (890 calories / 41 grams of fat), try a Great Steak and Potato Company Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich (580 calories / 17 grams of fat.)
- Instead of a Mrs. Fields Peanut Butter Dream Bar (670 calories / 42 grams of fat), try a Schlotzky’s Deli Smoked Turkey Breast sandwich (340 calories / 5 grams of fat) or a Blimpie’s roast beef sandwich (390 calories / 7 grams of fat.)
- Instead of a Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Cake Donut (270 calories / 15 grams of fat), try the Low-Fat Chicken Salad from Subway (250 calories / 4 grams of fat.)
DON’T GET FRIED: Skip the French fries and deep-fried chicken available at most food courts and opt for the lighter stir-fries, vegetable soups and salads. One supersized order of French fries can pack 610 calories and 29 grams of fat. And what about a piece of KFC fried chicken? One Extra Crispy Breast has 470 calories and 28 grams of fat.
SWEET CAN BE SOUR: Tasty as they are, you might want to pass up the sweet baked goods such as cinnamon rolls and fat-laden cookies -- not only are they very high in calories and fat, but they typically won’t satisfy your hunger.
- Au Bon Pain Almond Croissant: 630 calories / 42 grams of fat
- Starbucks Cinnamon Scone: 530 calories / 26 grams of fat
- One Mrs. Fields White Chunk Macadamia Cookie: 270 calories / 16 grams of fat
MOCHA MADNESS: Keep an eye out for those coffee bars -- they can put a real damper on a weight loss program. Which of these drinks do you think are worth their caloric “price”?
- Venti Starbucks Egg Nog Latte: 810 calories / 36 fat grams
- Venti White Chocolate Mocha, with whole milk: 600 calories / 25 fat grams
- Tall Starbucks Cappuccino with skim milk: 110 calories / 5 fat grams
Charles Stuart Platkin is a syndicated health, nutrition and fitness writer, author of the best-selling book, Breaking the Pattern (Red Mill Press, 2002), and founder of Nutricise.com. Copyright 2002 by Charles Stuart Platkin.