The malls may be full of steep discounts, but you’ll be hard pressed to find any calorie bargains in the food court.

Normally my solution is to avoid food courts at all cost, but that's not always realistic. To help guide you through the holiday shopping season, I’ve compiled a list of tips from dietitians on how to navigate mall eats without blowing your entire calorie budget.

Dietitians’ Food Court Survival Tips:

Start at home: Eat a filling breakfast of oatmeal, whole grain cereal, or eggs with whole grain toast.  This will help curb your appetite for several hours.

Run from your reflection: A mirror is fine for checking yourself out, but if you can see your mug in the oil on a slice of pizza or the noodles in an Asian dish, skip it, advises Jenna Bell, Ph.D., R.D., author of eatrightaroundchicago.com.

Downsize your order. Rather than a main course, order a bowl of soup, tossed salad, half a sandwich, or one slice pizza and kids’ sizes for any desserts, suggests Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, author of Eat Out, Eat Right (Surrey Books).

Dump the desserts. Few—if any—desserts from vendors such as Mrs. Fields, Cinnabon, and Cold Stone Creamery are calorie bargains, explains Steve J. Roch Jr., RD, LDN, CFT, owner, Best RD Wellness, in New Orleans, LA. Steer clear of these by packing a few Hershey kisses in your bag.


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Look for healthy menu options. Panda Express offers Wok Smart menu options which are 250 calories or less per serving, and there are several Subway sandwiches with less than six grams fat per sandwich.

B.Y.O.S. Bring your own snacks. Healthy options are those that contain about 4 grams of filling fiber. Some of dietitians’ favorites include fresh fruit with peanut butter, nuts, trail mix, fiber-enhanced applesauce or puddings, and low-fat cheese with whole-grain crackers.

Stick to the basics. The “gourmet,” “special,” “holiday,” or “signature” menu items are generally higher in calories and fat compared to their traditional menu offerings.

Before you get the urge to splurge:

Here are the calorie counts for the food court's most tempting items.

Food Court Food Calories Time to Shopping it Off*
Cinnabon Caramel Pecanbon 1,100 5 hrs
Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll 813 3 hrs, 30 min
Quiznos Small Tuna Melt 750 3 hrs, 20 min
Sbarro Baked Ziti 700 3 hrs
Auntie Anne’s Jumbo Pretzel Dog 610 2 hrs, 40 min
McDonald’s Cheeseburger and small fries 550 2 hrs,30 min
Jamba Juice Orange Dream Machine 470 2 hrs, 5 min
Auntie Anne’s Cinnamon Sugar Stix 470 2 hrs, 5 min
Sbarro Cheese Pizza (1 slice) 460 2 hrs
Panda Express Mongolian Beef and Veggie Spring Rolls and Sweet and Sour Sauce 440 1 hr, 55 min
Quiznos Small Turkey Ranch and Swiss 400 1 hr, 50 min
Starbucks Grande Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream 370 1 hr, 40 min
Mrs. Fields Double Fudge Brownie 360 1 hr, 40 min
Auntie Anne’s Original Pretzel 340 1 hr, 30 min
Subway 6-inch Club 320 1 hr, 30 min
Mrs. Fields Semi-Sweet Chocolate Cookie 210 1 hr
Starbucks Skinny Latte (tall 12 oz) 90 24 min
Mrs. Fields Raspberry Muffin 70 18 min

*Based on a 140 pound women strolling at a leisurely pace