Wake up at 6 a.m. Get ready for school. Leave by 7. Start school at 8. Done by 3. Run home, change for dance class, get to studio by 4. Dance until 8 pm. Home by 8:30. Homework until 11. Sleep at midnight. Wake up the next day—and do it all over again.
Food? What food? It’s hard for most people to fit in a decent meal these days, and busy dancers are no different. Amanda Coronia, a junior at Boca Raton High School and dancer at Carol Colbert School of Dance in Boca Raton, FL, says she tries her best to avoid the drive-thru. “But when there is a lack of time going from a school function to a dance rehearsal or event to event, it’s necessary,” she says. Sometimes the best you can do is choose the healthiest option at a not-so-healthy place. And that’s not so bad. Better to eat fast food than to not eat anything at all, right?
Though drive-thru fare won’t compare to a home-cooked meal, there are options at every eatery that aren’t quite as belly expanding, artery clogging and sodium overdosing as others. That is, they have better combinations of calories, saturated fat and sodium than other foods on the menu. So when you’re in a pinch, select foods that at least include fresh fruit or vegetables, or check out these select sample meals.
Don’t listen to friends who say, “Didn’t you hear how fattening the salad dressings are? I heard they’re worse than eating a Big Mac!” Dressings are often full of healthy fats that your body needs to function. Big Macs, with 540 calories, 10 g of saturated fat and 1040 g of sodium, are not.
• Premium Southwest Salad with Newman’s Own Creamy Southwest Dressing and Small Fries (470 calories, 4.5 g saturated fat, 650 mg sodium)
• Grilled Honey Mustard or Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap with Snack Size Fruit and Walnut Salad (470 calories, 5 g saturated fat, 860–890 mg sodium)
Though Taco Bell has fairly small portions, beware of the extremely high sodium content in almost everything on the menu. One meal can contribute up to half of your recommended daily intake. Try asking for cheese-less options, or replace the sauces with salsa, which often includes fresh tomatoes and vegetables.
• Two Fresco Crunchy Tacos with Pintos ’n Cheese Side and Salsa Side (475 calories, 5.5 g saturated fat, 1,370 mg sodium)
• Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco with Mexican Rice Side and Guacamole Side (340 calories, 2.5 g saturated fat, 1,190 mg sodium)
Dunkin Donuts recently added breads with whole grains (look for “multigrain” options) to its menu. Do your best to stay away from those delicious baked goods, though: Even the “DDSmart” options have 10 times the amount of sugar you should be having in one meal. Also pass on “reduced fat” options, which replace healthy fats with loads of unhealthy chemicals. And if you’re craving a latte, sweeten it yourself so you can control how much sugar is added.
• Multigrain Bagel with Regular Cream Cheese and Small Coffee (555 calories, 10 g saturated fat, 855 mg sodium)
• Egg White Veggie Flatbread Sandwich with Iced Tea (295 calories, 4 g saturated fat, 680 mg sodium)
Subway’s well-known spokesman, Jared, has convinced us all that Subway is not really fast food—that it’s healthy, fresh and lean. It’s a definite plus when not everything is deep-fried or covered in sauces, but take a closer look at the items you order. Many Subway sandwiches are much larger than a one-person portion and can be high in fat and sodium. If you need that foot-long, forgo the chips and soda. Or if you don’t want the bread, get your favorite toppings on a salad!
• 6″Veggie Delite with Baked Lays (360 calories, .5 g saturated fat, 700 mg sodium)
• Turkey Breast Mini Sub with Fire-Roasted Tomato Orzo Soup (320 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 1,020 mg sodium)
Chicken might be better than beef, but the white meat can still be unhealthy. Avoid fried chicken and heavy toppings. And those waffle fries? They’ll add 420 calories (almost the amount of a full meal) and 5 grams of saturated fat to whatever else you order.
• Southwest Chargrilled Salad and Fruit Cup (340 calories, 4 g saturated fat, 750 mg sodium)
• Chicken Salad Sandwich with Carrot and Raisin Salad (760 calories, 5 g saturated fat, 1380 mg sodium)
Dairy Queen—the place we can’t avoid for a cold treat. The most fattening drink on Dairy Queen’s menu (a Large Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard) will serve up 1,530 calories, 23 grams of saturated fat and 182 grams of carbohydrates. That’s basically your daily limit of everything, in one dessert! So, at the very least, aim for smaller sizes, or try fruit or nut toppings.
• Small Banana Split Blizzard (440 calories, 9 g saturated fat, 190 mg sodium)
• Medium Pineapple Sundae (340 calories, 6 g saturated fat, 140 mg sodium)
Average Recommended Daily Values (for an active, young adult female)
According to mypyramid.gov, you should consume:
• about 2,000 calories
• about 20 g saturated fat
• about 2,400 mg sodium
• about 300 g carbohydrates
What to Buy at the Vending Machine
When you’re stuck at the studio all day and forgot to pack a banana, grab one of these options instead.
• Snyder’s Mini Pretzels (160 calories, 0 g saturated fat, 350 mg sodium)
• 1.5 oz Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips (210 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 240 mg sodium)
• Mr. Nature Unsalted Trail Mix (120 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 10 mg sodium)
Adina Grigore is a dancer, health counselor and personal trainer living in NYC.