Do RDs eat fast food?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAwhile ago, I was on a long distance car trip in the Mid West, driving for hours through a wide open, restaurant-free landscape.  I was starving, and finally at a highway interchange, I found a McDonalds.  It was the only restaurant around.  It was crowded with customers, most of whom were ordering burgers, fries and soft drinks.  I ordered chicken breast strips (fried, thank you very much) and orange juice.  Protein plus plenty of good things in the juice, which was also refreshing.  Plus the breast strips aren’t messy.  And it all tasted fine.

I’m sure the snobbish Food Police would have driven on by, searching for some non-existent, high-priced  cafe serving locally sourced organic food made from scratch.  They probably would have driven another 1000 miles before finding that.  Their loss.

It’s the height of summer road trip season, and many travelers rely on fast food.  According to a new Gallup poll, it’s a major part of our diet.

  • 3% of respondents eat fast food every day
  • Only 4% say they never eat fast food
  • 80% of Americans eat fast food at least once a month

I may eat fast food about once a year, more likely less often than that.  I just rarely need the convenience.  But some people do, and some of those people are my colleagues, other RDNs*  I recently polled a few of them for their opinions about fast food.  In general, RDNs fall into the infrequent use category, but few respondents outright rejected it.  Here are some responses (only 1st names are used):


“I never understand why folks think that RDs need to have “perfect diets”.  I follow the rule I suggest to some of my clients: 80/20.  If that 20% is not as healthful, as long as it’s not poison you’ll be fine!   When I was a sales rep and on the road, I sometimes had 10 minutes between appointments to catch something to eat.  I always felt like I created the current $1 menu McD item, of double cheeseburger. Because when it previously had 2 slices of cheese, I would ask for just 1 piece of cheese.  That and tall glass of ice water will hold me for a long while.”


“No fast food for me unless we are on a LONG road trip, for which I was unable to stock our cooler. It is far more economical/tasty/nutritious if I pack our own snacks and meals. If I have no choice, I would likely grab a chili and plain baked potato at Wendy’s – maybe a little Frosty too.”


“I seldom eat at fast food restaurants. When I do it’s at Chick-fil-A and the frequency would be 2x per quarter.  Other option is Wendy’s, but this would only be 1-2x a year.”


“Chick fil A, Subway, McDonald’s. We eat fast food about 2-3x / month. Love Chick fil A!”


“I don’t like fast food too much, so I’ll divide this into 2 parts – me and what my children like (and I allow):

ME: Moes, Five Guys burgers, Subway
How often? About 1-2 times a month.

My kids: Wendy’s, Five Guys, Moes, Subway. We don’t have a Chick Filet in town…..
How often: in the summer, very rarely. During the school year, about 2-3 times a month (esp basketball season!)

I do like seeing calories on menus. Other than that, I’m happy if they offer milk for kids, and anything else I can take or leave. I’m not looking for my fruit intake at fast food. I don’t make French Fries at home, but eat apples every day, so I’m going for some hot fries if they have them!”

Clearly the theme here is one of convenience and only occasional use.  My fellow nutrition experts also single out specific restaurants, likely because of specific choices at these establishments.  Most fast food restaurants have some choices that are healthier than others.  And portion size is a huge issue.  While a triple bacon cheeseburger with cheese sauce melting out of the bun looks like a great value, how great is it for your calorie intake?  Especially if you have a large order of fries on the side?

5 Fast food rules to live by:

  1. Make it an occasional thing.  Your daily diet shouldn’t depend on just one narrow type of food.
  2. Pick items that come in small portions.
  3. Either share a small order of fries, of just say No to fries.
  4. No sugary soft drinks or frappes or large sweetened tea or coffee drinks.
  5. If you want to order a salad, fine, but there’s no rule saying you can only order a salad if you want to make a healthy choice.  The first rule is portion size.  You can always have a salad or fruit at home, or for a snack.   I could have ordered a salad instead of chicken breast strips, but what a mess trying to eat that in the car.  Plus I wanted to eat something with staying power for the rest of the trip.  Chicken breast strips were my perfect choice at that time.

*Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, the official new professional title for nutrition experts who are credentialed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


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