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

December 07, 2009

By Julie Upton, RD

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

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.

(Getty Images)

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 FoodCaloriesTime to Shopping it Off*Cinnabon Caramel Pecanbon1,1005 hrsCinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll8133 hrs, 30 minQuiznos Small Tuna Melt7503 hrs, 20 minSbarro Baked Ziti7003 hrsAuntie Anne’s Jumbo Pretzel Dog6102 hrs, 40 minMcDonald’s Cheeseburger and small fries5502 hrs,30 minJamba Juice Orange Dream Machine4702 hrs, 5 minAuntie Anne’s Cinnamon Sugar Stix4702 hrs, 5 minSbarro Cheese Pizza (1 slice)4602 hrsPanda Express Mongolian Beef and Veggie Spring Rolls and Sweet and Sour Sauce4401 hr, 55 minQuiznos Small Turkey Ranch and Swiss4001 hr, 50 minStarbucks Grande Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream3701 hr, 40 minMrs. Fields Double Fudge Brownie3601 hr, 40 minAuntie Anne’s Original Pretzel3401 hr, 30 minSubway 6-inch Club3201 hr, 30 minMrs. Fields Semi-Sweet Chocolate Cookie2101 hrStarbucks Skinny Latte (tall 12 oz)9024 minMrs. Fields Raspberry Muffin7018 min *Based on a 140 pound women strolling at a leisurely pace