Healthy food-court fare
After zooming from one end of the mall to the other, don't you deserve a quick bite? Of course. Does it have to be greasy fries, gooey cinnamon buns, or some other equally fattening, sodium-loaded calorie bomb? No way! Believe it or not, you can eat healthy while you tackle holiday errands. Check out our delicious, nutritious picks.
Asian Grilled Salmon on Brown Rice (P.F. Chang's China Bistro)
This salmon-and-asparagus lunch bowl won top honors because it's "a simple, wholesome dish with real foods," panelist David Katz, MD, says. Brown rice is a great source of fiber and salmon's omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve memory. Omega-3s also help reduce inflammation in the body and may help lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Since one order contains enough for two servings, split it with a friendyou'll save money and calories.
Serving size: 6 ounces, or 1/2 of entrée
Calories 230; Fat 12g (sat 2.5g); Protein 17g; Carbohydrate 14g; Fiber 2g; Sodium 300mg
Moroccan Chicken Salad (California Pizza Kitchen)
Dressed with a champagne vinaigrette, this salad contains loads of flavorful veggies (avocado, beets, red bell peppers, roasted butternut squash, romaine lettuce) and even fruit (dates and dried cranberries). "You're eating the rainbow here," says dietitian and judge Ellie Krieger, RD. "You'll get a wide array of antioxidants like beta carotene from the squash and anthocyanins from the beets." And 7 grams of fiber make this a super-satisfying dish. The salad may be high in total fat, but a fair amount of it comes from the avocado, which is chock-full of healthy, monounsaturated fats.
Serving size: 1 (1/2-portion) salad
Calories 412; Fat 27g (sat 4g); Protein 12g; Carbohydrate 30g; Fiber 7g; Sodium 309mg
Chicken on Flatbread with Hummus Artisan Snack Plate (Starbucks)
This snack or light lunch has a mix of veggies (grape tomatoes, carrot and cucumber sticks) and protein (chicken and hummus), which keeps you energized. Our experts commended Starbucks overall for adding healthy options like this one to their menu.
Serving size: 1 snack plate
Calories 250; Fat 9g (sat 0g); Protein 17g; Carbohydrate 27g; Fiber 5g; Sodium 520mg
Roasted Eggplant, Spinach, and Feta Multigrain Pizza (Uno Chicago Grill)
This veggie pizza boasts a full roster of good-for-you ingredients and a crust made mainly with whole-wheat stone-ground flour. "Unlike other fast-food pies, this one is relatively light on sodium," panelist Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, says. But stick to just two or three slices, then take the rest home or share it with a friend.
Serving size: 1/3 of (10 1/2-inch) pizza
Calories 290; Fat 11g (sat 3.5g); Protein 13g; Carbohydrate 37g; Fiber 6g; Sodium 400mg
Mayan Chicken Harvest Rice Bowl with Brown Rice (Au Bon Pain)
Slow-cooked chicken with spices served over brown rice and topped with a field-green salad? Not your typical mall fare. Our panel thought this was a creative mix of lean protein, veggies, and whole grains. "It's a very complete meal," Dr. Katz says. It has a bit more calories than some of our other picks, so make it your main meal of the day. One thing the panelists didn't care for: the addition of partially hydrogenated oil. However, the amount is small enough that the company can still claim the dish has zero grams of trans fat.
Serving size: 1 bowl
Calories 510; Fat 13g (sat 3g); Protein 27g; Carbohydrate 72g; Fiber 4g; Sodium 870mg
Broccoli Beef with White Rice (Panda Express)
Here's a Chinese dish that won't leave you bloated: The sodium content is decent for food-court Asian fare, which tends to be higher in salt than other cuisines. The inclusion of super-nutritious broccoli deserves special mention, Dr. Katz says. The experts just wish Panda Express offered brown rice.
Serving size: 5.4 ounces broccoli beef and
1/2 serving white rice
Calories 340; Fat 4g (sat 1g); Protein 14g; Carbohydrate 60g; Fiber 3g; Sodium 740mg
Asian Sesame Chicken Salad (Panera Bread)
Chicken, almonds, and sesame seeds make this salad a protein-rich lunch. "I love that the textural crunch from the almonds makes it more satisfying," Krieger says.
A few qualms: "Romaine lettuce is the only vegetable," she says. The reduced-sugar dressing also contains high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives.
Serving size: 1 salad
Calories 400; Fat 20g (sat 3.5g); Protein 31g; Carbohydrate 31g; Fiber 3g; Sodium 810mg
6-Inch Veggie Delite with Swiss (Subway)
No need for portion control here: "You can eat a whole sandwich for not many calories or fat grams," Krieger says. That means you can afford to top it with cheese and light mayo. The "9-grain wheat bread" is a bit deceiving, though. While our panelists praised the fact that it contains barley, flaxseed, and millet, the bread isn't truly whole-grain (the first ingredient is enriched wheat flour).
Serving size: 1 (6-inch) sandwich
Calories 330; Fat 12g (sat 4g); Protein 12g; Carbohydrate 45g; Fiber 5g; Sodium 540mg
Snack Size Fruit and Walnut Salad (McDonald's)
This light bite will help hold you over until you get home. Our experts were impressed that you can get delicious fresh fruit (sliced apples and red grapes) and low-fat vanilla yogurt at a fast-food chain, but wondered why the walnuts have to be sweetened.
Serving size: 1 salad
Calories 210; Fat 8g (sat 1.5g); Protein 4g; Carbohydrate 31g; Fiber 2g; Sodium 60mg
Soft Serve Chocolate Frozen Yogurt (TCBY)
If you're craving something sweet, this fro yo is a better choice than a giant cookie. It's rich in calcium and contains seven live active cultureshealthy bacteria that can help aid digestion. Just remember, it is dessert, so don't overdo it!
Serving size: 4 ounces (about 1/2 of a small size)
Calories 110; Fat 1.5g (sat 1g); Protein 4g; Carbohydrate 23g; Fiber 3g; Sodium 90mg
How we chose our top 10
We combed the nutrition facts at popular national food court and shopping center chains, looking for foods with reasonable amounts of calories, fat, sodium, and fiber. Portion size as well as the use of fresh produce and whole grains mattered, too. Then these experts narrowed and ranked the list.
David Katz, MD, is the director of the Yale Prevention Research Center and
the author of The Flavor Point Diet.
Ellie Krieger, RD, is a New York City–based dietitian. She's the host of Healthy Appetite on the Cooking Channel and the author of So Easy.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, is the Senior Food and Nutrition Editor at Health, the author of Feed the Belly, and a co-author of The CarbLovers Diet.