Posted by: Kara @ The Foodie Dietitian | April 20, 2010

Dietetic Intern does Mc Donald’s. My trip to the drive-thru.

Tuesday, April 6th 2010. Noon. Nashua, NH. I admit it, I went to Mc Donald’s for lunch. Before you judge, back up a second, let’s review the circumstances

First day of a new rotation in long term care all the way in NH. Unfortunately, my first day was all orientation! Yep, all those cheesy, staged videos health care facilities make you watch about infection control, workplace violence, etc. etc. The night before, I arrived to Boston via airplane from my hometown, Buffalo, NY where I spent the weekend. Now if you’re anything like me, when you come back from a trip, the first thing you need to do is go grocery shopping! I never buy groceries before I leave for a trip because I don’t want food and produce to spoil.  So my flight got into Boston at 8 pm Monday night, and I didn’t get back to my apartment until after 9. At this time my bed was calling my name because I had to leave my apartment at 6:45 the next morning to make my long haul to Nashua!

Moral of the story: no grocery shopping for me Monday night before my new rotation, which meant nothing to bring for lunch the next day!! I wasn’t too panicked though because I assumed the facility I was going to would have a cafeteria of some sort for employees, right?! RIGHT?!

WRONG! As, my preceptor dropped me off at orientation, she asked me if I brought my own lunch. I told her I didn’t and asked her if there was anywhere in the facility I could buy something. The answer: NOPE! She told me they were serving beef stew to the residents for lunch and that I could have that…as appetizing as that sounded…obviously that wasn’t going to work for me either.

She said there was a Dunkin Donuts down the road and a Mc Donald’s next door. Lovely. So then started the decision making process…if I went to Mc Donald’s, I would get a salad or if I went to Dunkin, I would go for the veggie egg white flatbread. There you have it, two decently healthy choices at two not so healthy fast-food joints. So I decided to visit Dunkin to deny Mc Donald’s my patronage…(at least Dunkin has good coffee and doesn’t sell a gazillion super processed factory farmed burgers and nuggets a day…was my thinking).

Noon time. Nashua, NH. I run out to my car, quickly hop into my ’96 Oldsmobile (I try and keep it classy), and speed off. I only had a half-hour for lunch so I was in a rush to get my food and bring it back in time to eat it. And I’m not the type of girl who likes to scarf down her food. I try and practice mindful eating so that I don’t get indigestion up the wazoo. Needless to say I was racing the clock.

Driving, driving, driving on down the road….Uh-oh. Where’s Dunkin?! I can’t find it! Did I pass it? The time was ticking. I had already passed Mc Donald’s as it was adjacent to the long term care facility. Oh no, I think I need to turn around, maybe I’ll see Dunkin on the way back. But I didn’t. So the next thing I knew, I was turning on my blinker and making a turn into the Micky D’s parking lot to proceed into the drive-thru.

Call me naive, but I was SHOCKED and disturbed by the number of cars in the drive-thru! The line of cars wrapped around the entire building and I thought to myself so much for fast-food and beating the clock. As I twisted and turned around the building, I felt so out of my element. Here I was, a dietetic intern, going through the drive-thru at Mc Donald’s. I found it kind of comical and ironic. So I pulled up to the menu board to check out their salad selections…what did we have?

Premium Southwest Salad… 140 cal, 4.5 g fat, 150 mg sodium, 6 g protein

Premium Bacon Ranch Salad…140 cal, 7 g fat, 300mg sodium, 9 g protein

Premium Caesar…90 cal, 4 g fat, 180 mg sodium, 7 g protein

I chose the southwestern salad, not knowing any of the nutrition facts. I got these facts off of the website.

Not too shabby huh?! OH WAIT, that’s without the chicken that you might put on your salad and without the dressing you’re most likely going to put on your salad. Let’s check out these numbers again adding grilled chicken and their respective dressings…

Premium Southwest Salad…420 cal, 15 g fat, 1300 mg sodium, 31 g protein

Premium Bacon Ranch Salad…430 cal, 24 g fat, 1500 mg sodium, 34 g protein

Premium Caesar…410 cal, 24 g fat, 1390 mg sodium, 32 g protein

These salads also offer crispy chicken instead of grilled chicken, and trust me, the numbers only get worse. So look at that, Mc Donalds has taken three salad options that people think are healthy choices and they turn out to be loaded with fat and sodium. I also decided to take a peek at those good old ingredients on the back of my “all-natural” Newman’s Own salad dressing to see what really goes into a natural dressing…the second ingreident: corn syrup solids. Yummmm. Glad to see that corn cannot escape even an “all natural” salad dressing, in fact it was the second ingredient.

Now to put a positive spin on things, at least Mc Donalds offers salads. I mean could you imagine if they didn’t, and here I was a desperate little vegetarian looking for lunch only to be ultimately starved? And I also have to say in comparison to the rest of their options, these salads start to look pretty healthy. To compare, a “typical” meal ordered at Micky D’s let’s say is a quarter pounder with cheese, medium french fries with salt and ketchup, and a medium coke. That meal my friends adds up to 1120 calories, 45 grams of fat, 1860 mg of sodium, and 34 grams of protein! Yikes!

These are the kinds of comparisons we need to make when we are faced with these unplanned, unwanted trips to fast-food restaurants.

Oh, did I forget to mention what I ordered to drink? I wanted a little caffeine to keep me awake for the second-half of common-sense video day, so I thought hmm an iced tea might be nice. So I looked on the menu for iced tea, scanned it, no iced tea. Ah-hah! Sweet tea…that must be their iced tea. I figured by the name of it, it probably had more sugar than I should consume, but I thought I’ll only drink a little of it. There was also no distinction of size options on the board, so I just ordered one.sweet.tea. WAS I SURPRISED when the employee handed me a 32 oz cup! I’ve never had a 32 oz cup of anything before so I laughed to myself and thought oh what an experience at Mc Donalds. How did the sweet tea taste?! DISGUSTING!! Unless you like the taste of super duper sugary sweet tasting drinks…sorry it’s not for me. And believe me, I have had sweetened iced teas in the past, but this drink was just all wrong. What were the nutrition facts on this over-sized baby?

230 calories and 59 grams of sugar!!! That would be equivalent to 14 teaspoons of sugar. Yes, if you drank all that sweet tea, you could also eat 14 tsp of white granulated sugar and be consuming the same amount of sugar. Crazy when you think of it that way, right?

Needless to say I didn’t drink my sweet tea but my salad was pretty enjoyable and I was happy to see that the lettuce was not all iceberg but had a pretty decent mix of field greens and romaine on there instead.

I hope you enjoyed the tale of my epic adventure to the golden arches. So I’m going to summarize and give you some tips on making healthy choices when faced in a tough pickle like I was. We can say that we will never step foot in a fast-food restaurant, but we know that life happens, and somehow, just like me, you’ll have no other choice.

Tips for Healthy Eating in a Fast Food Pickle:

  • If you have the luxury of checking out the nutrition information beforehand or if it’s displayed on the menu, look at it and do some comparisons to see what truly is a healthy option. If you don’t, you may be tricked into ordering something that is deceivingly unhealthy.
  • Skip the soda and sweetened beverages! Do you really want to drink 14 tsp of sugar?!
  • Order small portions! Small fries, small drinks, small sandwich…in fact go for the kids meal!
  • Look for substitutions! Can you substitute a side salad for fries? A milk for coke? Fruit for a dessert?
  • Easy on the condiments! Ketchup, mustard, and relish can add up fast, and if you’re not careful, you could be looking at an added 450 mg of sodium to your meal!
  • Not all fast-food restaurants are created equal. There are some healthier restaurants out there where you can still get your food fast! Some that come to mind… Chipoltle, Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain, B.Good (local to Boston)
  • To avoid the situation all together…always prepare for the day the night before and know what your meals are going to look like.
Peace, love, and pickles,



  1. Hi Kara,

    I am very impressed with your blog!!! Very informative. Love it!


    • Thank you Roxanne!! That means a lot! 🙂

  2. Great blog!! Thank you for the information, I have made some major changes in my life and eating habits due to fantastic people like yourself!! Keep up the great work…:)

    • Thank you Terry, that really means a lot!! I’m glad that you have made healthy lifestyle changes and that reading nutrition professionals’ blogs have helped you to do so! It’s people like YOU that keep US spreading the facts! So thank YOU.

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