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Fast-food restaurants offering more healthy choices

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is not always as easy as it seems. Couple that with eating out several times a week and the challenge can become even more difficult.

Deana Hildebrand, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, said some people eat out four or more times per week.

"If you or your family eat out on a regular basis, it's important to choose your foods carefully," Hildebrand said. "Depending on your choices, just one fast-food meal can provide a whole day's fat limit, with 60 or more grams of fat."

Eating out can also take a toll on the person's or family's food budget. It is estimated 40 percent of a family's budget is spent on food that is eaten away from home. Some reasons for this include more affordable and convenient fast-food restaurants, increased advertising, higher incomes and lack of time to prepare foods at home.

Oklahomans are considered to be "high users" of fast-food restaurants with more than half of patrons (55 percent) visiting such establishments three or four times per week. The national average is 38 percent.

Many busy families find themselves shuttling amongst after-school activities, piano lessons, sports practices, school music concerts, meetings or church activities. In addition, many households have two working adults or they are headed by a single parent working two jobs, which limits the time to prepare healthy meals at home.

"With such hectic schedules, grabbing meals of fried chicken, hamburgers, French fries and soft drinks has become the norm for a number of families," she said. "However, if you find yourself in the fast-food line on a regular basis, make the most of the food choices available. Many of these establishments offer grilled chicken sandwiches, broiled fish, salads and low-fat milk. Consumers can have a bit more control of calories, fat, sugar and sodium if foods are prepared to order."

Hildebrand said if you find yourself needing to eat fast food, do not be timid about asking for high fat dressings such as mayonnaise or tartar sauce to be held. Salad dressings and sauces can be served on the side to help control the amount of fat that is eaten.

Another suggestion is to look for items that are grilled rather than breaded and fried. Choose salads or fruit instead of fried vegetables. Choosing a smaller portion is also a good way to control calories, fat and added sugar.

Meals and snacks eaten away from home can be part of a healthy, balanced diet if consumers base their choices on the Dietary Guidelines for American. The guidelines are specific about the types and amounts of food to eat.

"Variety of food choices and moderation in portions are the keys to restaurant selection," Hildebrand said.

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