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Drive-through dinners: Picking the best of the worst

You get off work at 5 p.m., your daughter needs a ride to gymnastics at 5:15, parent-teacher conferences begin at 5:30, your son's science fair starts at 6:15, gymnastics ends at 6:30 and you volunteered to host the church youth group's game night at 7. Before you know it, your night has booked up entirely.

Sometimes severe time crunches don't allow for sit-down meals at the dining room table. But hungry stomachs make for cranky children, so where do you turn?

Well, nothing screams convenience like the drive-through lane of a fast food restaurant. However, that scream often comes with a cry of calories and a shriek of saturated fat.

Now your dilemma involves the search for a speedy supper that won't leave your waistline suffering the consequences.

Some restaurants, such as McDonald's, are making it easy for patrons to choose healthful options by displaying calorie counts adjacent to prices on their menu boards.

But until every single one of your favorite fast food joints follows suit, it can be difficult to judge what meals may be your best bets. Here's a list that will nibble into nutrition facts and help you find a healthier take on everything from burgers to wraps and sandwiches to salads.

Instead of...


The Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese has some serious artery-clogging capabilities. While it comes with a healthy amount of protein, the health benefits basically stop there.

Since it's often paired with a hefty serving of fries and a sugary drink, one meal can shape up to be more than 1,000 calories -- half of a person's daily intake. Avoid the burger altogether.

Calories: 750

Total fat: 43 g

Sodium: 1280 mg

Carbohydrates: 42 g

Protein: 48 g

Sugars: 10 g



The McDouble is essentially the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, just with a little less beef. A lack of sesame seeds and a reduction in the number of cheese slices are the only other things that may have you thinking the McDouble is inferior. Otherwise, each features two hamburger patties and the exact same condiments -- onions, pickles, salt, pepper, ketchup and mustard.

In addition to costing you less weight gain, the popular McDonald's burger will cost you less money as well. It comes in at just a buck on the establishment's popular Dollar Menu.

Calories: 390

Total fat: 19 g

Sodium: 850 mg

Carbohydrates: 33 g

Protein: 23 g

Sugars: 7 g

Instead of...


Burgers are found at almost any fast food restaurant, but roast beef sandwiches aren't. That's why people make the most of a meal at Arby's and go for something extravagant like the Beef 'n Cheddar Max.

The sandwich features a huge portion of oven-roasted beef smothered in a mix of warm cheddar sauce and zesty Red Ranch Sauce.

Calories: 650

Total fat: 29 g

Sodium: 2,330 mg

Carbohydrates: 52 g

Protein: 45 g

Sugars: 9 g



Put down the max and pick up the junior -- the Jr. Roast Beef, that is. The value menu version of the original Arby's classic has 1/3 fewer calories than the Beef 'n Cheddar Max, giving you some wiggle room for ordering a side to go with it.

Calories: 210

Total fat: 6 g

Sodium: 520 mg

Carbohydrates: 25 g

Protein: 12 g

Sugars: 3 g

Instead of...


Subway is much more than subs. On cold winter days, a bowl of soup is an excellent way to warm up. However, some soups should be avoided or considered for just an occasional treat.

The 10-ounce bowl of Loaded Baked Potato has nearly double the amount of fat than any other soup on the menu and its sodium level is lower than only two other options.

Calories: 250

Total fat: 16 g

Sodium: 970 mg

Carbohydrates: 21 g

Protein: 6 g

Sugars: 4 g



Rather than indulging in creamy soups, opt for something lighter like the 10-ounce Tomato Garden Vegetable with Rotini. When you have the opportunity to order something completely free of fat and cholesterol, take it.

Calories: 90

Total fat: 0 g

Sodium: 860 mg

Carbohydrates: 20 g

Protein: 3 g

Sugars: 8 g

Instead of...


It can be easy to go overboard in this locally owned establishment with the smell of fried chicken, onion rings and cheese curds filling the air. But while you're breathing in that delicious aroma, don't forget to think about nutrition.

Chicken has protein, yes, but when it's battered and fried, the health benefits start to get overshadowed by the detriments.

Additionally, one recommended serving of chicken is about the size of a single breast, and most people reach into a bucket of chicken more than once. Go easy.



Fast food facilities don't typically lay out salad bars, but that's where Randy's shines brighter than the rest. Compiling your own salad - complete with tons of fresh vegetables - will give you the healthiest supper you could ask for. Just keep dressings to a minimum and you'll come out with a meal very low in calories.

Of course, you'll have to get out of your car for this one, but if you pack up your salad and hit the road it won't take much longer than ordering in the drive-through.

Instead of...


French fries are the most common of sides found at fast food restaurants, but when more extravagant sides get added to menus, people take advantage. This isn't always a great idea.

Chili Cheddar Fries are one of the least nutritious sides available at Culver's. They start with crispy crinkle cuts and get topped with homestyle beef, beans, spices and shredded Wisconsin cheddar.

Calories: 681

Total fat: 36 g

Sodium: 827 mg

Carbohydrates: 53 g

Protein: 19 g

Sugars: 2 g



Culver's has an extensive menu of sides to go with its main dishes, but just like anywhere else, some options are better than others. Four of them sit under 150 calories, giving you a variety of healthy choices.

Mashed potatoes and a dinner roll are both good selections, but green beans are your best bet. When health is at the forefront of your mind, green vegetables should be there as well.

Calories: 78

Total fat: 9 g

Sodium: 78 mg

Carbohydrates: 12 g

Protein: 2 g

Sugars: 4 g

Instead of...

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen prides itself on being "So Good It's RiDQulous." What's kind of ridiculous is the amount of calories in some of the eatery's Blizzard treats.

A medium Cookie Dough Blizzard boasts more calories than 20 fudge bars. Since you would never eat that many fudge bars in a single sitting, you may want to think twice about eating an equivalent amount of calories all at once as well.

Calories: 1,020

Total fat: 40 g

Sodium: 580 mg

Carbohydrates: 148 g

Protein: 17 g

Sugars: 108 g


Dairy Queen

Skipping dessert is no doubt the healthiest option, but sometimes you just don't have the willpower to reject it.

In that case, start by reducing the size of the dessert. That Cookie Dough Blizzard is immediately better for you if you consider smaller portions.

Dairy Queen's mini size gives you the cookie dough flavor you've been craving with just enough ice cream to leave you satisfied and guilt-free about the indulgence.

Calories: 420

Total fat: 16 g

Sodium: 230 mg

Carbohydrates: 62 g

Protein: 8 g

Sugars: 45 g