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Day 21: Food On The Run
Posted by Grady Miller on Jan 31, 2014 - 3:27:26 PM

UNITED STATES—Let’s stay real. Not everybody has the time or the means to cook. But you can still maintain your plan to shed 30 pounds. This article is to give hope to those who mistakenly believe that fast food establishments serve stuff only slightly healthier than strychnine. For day 21 of the 30-day plan to lighten up, here’s what a stroll around Hollywood taught me about fast-food options for people on the run. For starters, let’s do a flip-flop and get used to considering ”˜sides’ as entrees.  You will find the best things chain eateries offer are often on the sides menu.


Take the Lex Luthor of burger chains, McDonalds. They have the trusty $1 side salad, greens, cherry tomatoes and shaved carrots provided with a packet of Newman’s Own dressing, a tribute to my kind of guy who wasn’t happy with the slop restaurants called dressing and started bringing his own homemade. Have a bunless plain burger with a side salad and you’ve got a meal. (You have to remove the bread yourself.)


Fresh fare is available at Pollo Loco, from their signature grilled chicken (skip the tortillas) to the awesome salsa bar. Three kinds of salsa, from hot to mild, loaded with diced onion, cilantro, tomato, creamy guacamole (so good it’s drinkable); lemon wedges, whole Serrano peppers and loose cilantro. For entrees suited to the plan, the sides are the best thing Pollo Loco has. They are sneaky about it, though; the sides menu, laminated on the counter in front of the cashier, features black beans, pinto beans, and steamed broccoli (large $3.59, small $1.89). There’s a side salad ($1.89) that has the drawback of tortilla chip garnish that needs to be picked out, since starchy derivatives are excluded from our plan.

You've got to be a contortionist to reach the greens


The Japanese chain Yoshinoya offers an excellent mixed veggie dish ($1.89) which would be five dollars in a sit-down restaurant. Broccoli florets, carrot medallions, and lettuce patches. It can be complemented tasty soups ($1.79), seaweed-broth-based miso soup and chicken vegetable soup. And load up on zesty shredded fresh ginger at the condiment counter.


For an excellent stir-fry medley of broccoli, zucchini, carrots, string beans and cabbage go to Panda Express ($3.50 large, $2.50 small). Another appetizing side is eggplant tofu prepared with lightly browned tofu, fresh eggplant and diced red bell peppers, tossed in the wok with a sweet and spicy sauce. The $5.59 entrée and one side is a great option for those on the plan to lighten up. For the main dish choose from the string beans and chicken breast in mild ginger sauce, or beef broccoli. There are shrimp and steak dishes as well, bathed in sweeter and spicier sauces.  


The chain which has little recommend it is Taco Bell. The sole item on their Rococo menu which resembles plain recognizable food is a bean burrito, but since breads and starchy derivatives are off the plan so is the burrito. To imagine a burrito without its tortilla sleeve, that’s almost a zen koan.


In the Southland we can enjoy one of the awesome culinary innovations in America tailored to our fresh and breadless plan: the lettuce wrapped burger, dubbed the protein burger by In-n-Out. Also, speaking of lettuce, I love a great salad bar, with myriad veggies. The old-school pizza chain Shakey’s has great salad bars, though I do swear they’re angling the protective glass so you have to be a contortionist to get at the greens. A cornucopia of vegetables and accompaniments that varies depending on location. Hollywood’s location features spinach, beets, garbanzo beans, pickled chiles, olives, cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, chopped mushrooms, sunflower seeds and raisins. It is a real treat when you can find a Shakey’s and their $4.99 all-you-can eat salad bar (available at some, not all Shakey’s).


When eating on the run, my perfect budget is $5.00. You can’t beat fresh and thrifty. Ultimately, when dealing with what we put in our mouths and bodies. Do consider that there are times when price is an irrelevant number, like calories, when deciding the value and quality of a dining experience.


Fresh is kinda what we want, at Mc Donalds or Spago, and the more we show a preference for these good fresh natural items, the more will be offered. While you are in a fast-food restaurant, slow down for the food. Look around. Give yourself time to sit down, chew slowly and fully enjoy each bite, each taste, and texture. One of the keys to good nutrition on the run is stop running for half an hour and choose the fresh, simple menu items and take your sweet time to enjoy it.


Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” now on Amazon Kindle.  He can be reached at


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