Ronald McDonald is the new Jenny Craig. Last month, news broke that a North Carolina woman shed 37 pounds in 90 days by dining only beneath the glow of the Golden Arches. No way, right?
Yes way. If everyone checked the online nutritional stats before hitting the drive-through, I doubt they’d order, say, a salad that packed 822 calories and 63 fat grams like Jack in the Box’s evil chicken club salad.
So how hard is it to steer clear of the bad stuff?
“When I go to Wendy’s, I get a chicken sandwich and it seems like it’s healthy compared to the other things I'm eating,” says 32-year-old Erik Carter, a Chandler resident who has a carne asada burrito at Filiberto’s four times a week. “But I don't know, maybe it’s not. I get fries and a soda, too.”
There goes the waistline.
Inspired by Merab Morgan’s carefully plotted 1,400-calorie-a-day plan, a 130-pound fast-food snob (me) samples a day’s worth of meals at McDonald’s, Jack in the Box and Burger King to find out if it's possible to eat that junk without feeling guilty in the morning.
Happy, healthy Labor Day road trip dining...
Breakfast — 310 calories: If I’m doing three days of this, I’m starting off with something that doesn’t involve vats of oil or tubs of lard. The tasty fruit and walnut salad ($2.99) is perfect. The sweet, small cup of vanilla low-fat yogurt with crisp apple slices and firm red grapes is more than enough to keep me full until lunch ... but I’m stashing the tiny candied walnut pack just in case.
Lunch — 410 calories: Fruit for breakfast means something sinful for lunch, right? Wrong. It isn’t easy sticking to 1,400 calories, so I go with the Caesar salad with grilled chicken ($4.59). Weighing in at just under 11 ounces, my big bowl of mostly unwilted mixed greens is layered with a thin, seasoned chicken breast sliced into eight long pieces. The salad is surprisingly good. Loads of shredded Parmesan are sprinkled on top along with a bunch of big carrot shavings and a few too-soft grape tomatoes. My boy Paul Newman handles the dressings, so it’s safe to go low-fat without suffering too much. I sub balsamic vinaigrette for the creamy Caesar, which saves me exactly enough calories to sneak in a small ice cream cone (69 cents). It’s reduced fat, but it feels like a splurge.
Dinner — 680 calories: I roll the dice and risk my remaining calories on an unproven product — the new premium crispy chicken classic sandwich ($3.49) with a small order of fries ($1) and one packet of ketchup. The chicken is very hot and juicy with a thin coating of pepper-flecked, crunchy breading. It’s built on a 5-by-3-inch honey wheat roll with one big romaine leaf and one nice slice of tomato. I have to order it sans the mayo dressing, but it’s still yummy. I think we all know how the fries are — mmm, mmm, mmm.
The morning after: I feel great. Sticking to 1,400 calories at Mickey D’s is easy, I see why Morgan dieted here.
Jack in the Box
Breakfast — 424.5 calories: The sourdough breakfast sandwich ($1.99) feels a little skimpy, but it’s hot and smells delicious. The thin, round slices of bread aren’t the San Francisco style I'm used to — there’s no sour taste and it’s less dense. It works well with the gooey squares of Swiss and American cheese, hot slice of ham and egg patty. I think I may be hooked!
Lunch — 320 calories: It’s been four hours since breakfast and I’m not really hungry. Good thing, because the regular beef tacos (99 cents) I order are not really beef. The pasty substance is a mash-up of “beef, water, textured vegetable protein (soy flour, caramel color), soy grits” and eight other ingredients including “imitation beef extract.” Yum! At least they deep-fry the things, and I can’t complain if I’m paying with change.
Dinner — 633 calories: The moist chicken strips ($3.99), which I see being pulled and bounced from the fryer, have such a nice peppery breading that this sauce fiend can get by with just one barbecue side. I’m sick of water and I’ve got some calorie wiggle room, so I have an Arnold Palmer (half iced tea, half lemonade).
The morning after: Feeling a tad greasy, but I somehow managed to avoid busting the recommended daily allowance of fat (65 grams) so that’s good.
Breakfast — 370 calories: I messed up. I spent a good half-hour sweating today’s lineup only to decide on small hash brown rounds ($1) and an orange juice (99 cents) when I could have enjoyed an egg and cheese croissant sandwich for 70 calories less and virtually the same fat. So lame. And my hash browns are stale!
Lunch — 410 calories: My fire-grilled chicken garden salad ($4.69) has no chicken! Wait, what’s that strange, hot pouch on my tray? Hey, it’s a nukeable bag of diced chicken and it’s date-marked for today (FYI: The “discard” date is two days later). Baby carrots, cucumber slices, grape tomatoes, Parmesan shavings and red onions top my bulging bowl of mixed greens (mostly iceberg). The creamy garlic Caesar dressing is good, but it’s not enough to coat all the lettuce. No worries, I lose interest once the garlic Parmesan croutons and chicken are gone.
Dinner — 570 calories: I know it’s fast food, but there’s a fine line. My Angus steak burger ($3.29) is waiting for me at the drive-through window and it’s been less than a minute since I ordered. If you’re the king of burgers, don’t you cook them fresh? It’s a nice, thick patty on a big, soft bun, but its fancy parts fall flat. I love grilled onions, but these have no flavor and are tough to chew. The steak sauce is no A.1. cq Nix both and you’ve got an impressive and most-likely fresh burger.
The morning after: Honestly, this fast-food diet deal is a cinch. I don’t know if my sodium intake has skyrocketed, but I know exactly how much fat and how many calories I’ve had in the last three days, and I like that.
The skinny on the eats
• Fruit and walnut salad
• Chicken Caesar salad, balsamic vinaigrette, small ice cream cone • Crispy chicken classic sandwich, small friesfry
• Sourdough breakfast sandwich
• Two regular beef tacos
• Chicken strips, barbecue sauce, small Arnold Palmer
• Small hash brown rounds, orange juice
• Chicken garden salad, Caesar dressing
• Angus steak burger