A Fast-Food Survival Kit


Eating a burger and fries every so often is not going to make you fat, give you a heart attack, or ruin the planet. But the problem for most teens is that fast food isn’t just an occasional treat, it’s a go-to meal. So we asked Christina Munsell, research associate at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, to give us the lowdown on making the best choices.

  • Order from the value menu. Portion sizes are generally smaller and have fewer calories.

    • McDonald’s Big Mac: 550 calories, 29 grams fat

    • McDonald’s Hamburger: 250 calories, 9 grams fat

  • Avoid combination meals. These can really pack on the calories. Instead, order a main dish with a healthy side and water.

    • Burger King Whopper Sandwich Meal with small fries and small soft drink: 1200 calories, 53 grams fat

    • Burger King Whopper Sandwich with apple slices and water: 700 calories, 39 grams fat

  • Don’t be fooled by salads. Eating veggies is always the healthiest option, but beware of high-calorie dressings—go with vinaigrettes.

    • Wendy’s BLT Cobb Salad, Avocado Ranch Dressing, and bleu cheese: 600 calories, 41 grams fat

    • Wendy’s BLT Cobb Salad, Pomegranate Vinaigrette, and no bleu cheese: 400 calories, 17 grams fat

  • Get grilled chicken. It’s much healthier than breaded fried-chicken wraps or nuggets.

    • KFC Extra Crispy Chicken Breast Sandwich: 510 calories, 33 grams fat

    • KFC Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich: 220 calories, 7 grams fat

We Go Behind the Bun

Ever wonder why the food you get at the drive-thru doesn’t resemble in any way what you see on TV (or in this picture)?

That cheeseburger sure looks delicious, doesn’t it? However, the real thing looks nothing like the beautiful meals you see in commercials and ads. That’s because just like movie stars who are prepped to perfection before strutting the red carpet, food has a personal stylist too— a food stylist.

Denise Vivaldo, the author of The Food Stylist’s Handbook, has been making the grossest food look great for 25 years. She gave Choices the inside scoop on what goes into getting a real meal camera-ready.

“Legally, you have to use the real product that’s actually sold at the fast-food restaurant. So they send us everything for the photo shoot. If they use a certain type of cheese, they give us the identical product that’s used on the burgers.

“Because we have to use the real product, the fast-food chain will send us 500 burger buns so we can find the perfect one. I trim the bun, and if I need extra sesame seeds, I’ll glue them on.

“I use the same kind of tomatoes that are used in the real-life version, but I’ll cut them thicker for the camera.

“Also, I don’t actually cook the food. If I cooked the burger to 155 degrees, as restaurants do, it would be a shriveled, dried-up-looking thing. If I undercook it, and just brown the edges of it, I get a fat, juicy-looking patty.

“To put the cheeseburger together, I first spray the bottom of the bun with Scotchgard, so nothing can leak into the bread, and then place a piece of cardboard on top to create an even building level. Then I put on the patty, which has to be cold so it won’t wilt the lettuce. Then comes the cheese, melted with a blow torch so the drips look perfect.

“The next level is the tomato, which I spritz with a little bit of glycerin and water (glycerin holds the water droplets on the tomato, so it looks juicy). If the tomato isn’t red enough, I’ll use red lipstick on the edges.

“I often use pins to keep the tomato and onions from sliding off the burger. Next, I take the top of the bun and tear out the inside, so it sits evenly on top. Finally, I add mayonnaise, mustard, or ketchup with a syringe so I can control the drips.

“As for fries, when I put them in the container, I have modeling clay in the bottom and a toothpick at the end of each fry, so you get them to stand tall, almost like building a bouquet of flowers.”

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