Best and Worst Choices at Mall Food Courts

Nov 25 2015
Question@2x Dear Hungry Girl,

Every year, I go shopping on Black Friday (I'm a sucker for deals). And every year, I end up making bad choices in the mall food court. Do you have any tips for eating healthy during a loooong day of shopping?

Hungry Shopper
Answer@2x Dear Hungry Shopper,

I totally get it. Shopping (especially on a busy day like Black Friday) works up an appetite, and you definitely don't want your hunger to get in the way of scoping out good deals. The best way to avoid a calorie catastrophe at the mall is to plan ahead. Here are some tips...

Let's start at the beginning of the day: breakfast. Whatever you do, don't shop when you're hungry. You're going to need a morning meal that does double duty: It's gotta keep you full for as long as possible, and it needs to give you enough energy to power through the day. That means you need a meal that's packed with protein and fiber, plus some carbs and healthy fats to keep you going. If you're a fruit 'n yogurt person, try this Peach Mango Bowl. So filling! And if you're more of an eggs 'n bread gal, fuel up with this cheesy breakfast sandwich. No time to spare in the morning? Prep one of these overnight oats recipes the night before. And because this is Black Friday we're talking about, you might need some caffeine. If you make a pit stop at Starbucks, read this HG survival guide before you go.

Emergency snacks, emergency snacks, emergency snacks. Got it? Good. I'm a huge proponent of carrying healthy snacks with you wherever you go, and the mall is no exception. You never know how long you're going to be there (the parking situation, those lines...), so you need to pack as if you're gonna be there all day. When it comes to shopping-smart snacks, think shelf-stable picks that won't get crushed in your purse. My personal favorites are jerky (sooo satisfying; click for picks), 100-calorie packs of nuts, Fuji apples, and protein-filled snack bars (I love the kinds by Quest). Check out this massive list of HG-approved emergency snacks!

Now let's move on to the somewhat scary part: the food court. Sometimes, emergency snacks just aren't enough -- if you've been walking around the shops for hours, you'll need a real meal. Well, there's more to a food court than greasy noodles and cheeseburgers. Here's some help tracking down the smartest selections...

Food Court DOs: Make a beeline for the deli or sandwich shop. Then get a small turkey sandwich without cheese or mayo, and pile on the veggies and low-calorie condiments (like mustard). To save extra calories and increase the fiber, order your sub bread-less and over a pile of lettuce. Click here for more sandwich-shop tips. A Mexican-food chain can be another solid destination. Go for a grilled-chicken salad with salsa in place of dressing -- hold the cheese and tortilla strips. One more do: steamed Chinese food. Look for lean protein like chicken or shrimp along with mixed veggies. Skip the sugary sauces, and add a drizzle of soy sauce. Need more advice for fast food and sit-down chain restaurants? Click right here for a survival guide roundup.

Food Court DON'Ts: Aside from the obvious diet saboteurs, watch out for smoothies, soft pretzels, and other innocent-sounding snacks -- these can pack a surprising number of calories, and they're not all that satisfying. When in doubt, ask for nutritional info (or check the website on your smartphone) before ordering. But honestly, you're much better off just bringing those emergency snacks I mentioned.

Stay hydrated. Carry a big water bottle while you go from store to store. Drinking water can keep you from confusing thirst with hunger. Plus, dehydration can make you cranky and more likely to reach for an unneeded food fix.

And finally, embrace the physical activity. If you indulged a little at the Thanksgiving feast the night before, this is a great opportunity to burn some calories. Strap on your pedometer, and see how many steps you can log throughout the day! Bonus points if you bypass the escalator and choose the stairs...

Happy bargain hunting!

HG FYI: There won't be an HG daily email tomorrow or Friday, in honor of Thanksgiving. And we're giving your inbox a break by not sending an email on Cyber Monday. But we'll be back Tuesday with our latest creative carb-slashed cauliflower recipe!

Chew on this:

Today, November 25th, is the day before Thanksgiving! Click here for a roundup of our very best Turkey Day recipes.

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