Shopping the Food Court
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
With the holiday shopping season approaching, many of us are going to find ourselves at the local mall. Once we’ve “shopped ‘til we’ve dropped”, it’s often tempting to stop in at the food court to refuel. Sure, it’s convenient, you can grab a quick bite and keep on shopping, but if you don’t have a strategy, the food court can be a dieter’s undoing.
By the time you sit down to eat, you could be hungry, tired and stressed out; all of which could lead you to tempting, high-calorie comfort foods. You might also convince yourself that you’ve logged several miles of walking while shopping and so you deserve a little something special.
First, try to stick with your usual eating pattern. If protein and veggies makes up your usual lunch, look for something like a Chinese stir-fry or a Greek salad with some grilled chicken. If you’re more likely to eat a sandwich, try to find a spot that can make it ‘your way’, piled high with plenty of veggies and lean protein. And try to resist the lunch combos that add extra sides and high calorie beverages to your meal. It may be good for business, but it’s bad for you, since you’ll be downing a lot more fat and sugar than you planned.
Most food courts offer a wide range of cuisines, too so look for the ones that are more likely to have what you want. Salad places can be great, as long as you can customize, and Japanese, Mediterranean and Chinese-themed restaurants are often good places to start since they usually feature plenty of vegetables and low fat proteins. Burgers and pizza aren’t entirely off-limits, but again, have a plan. A plain burger or a single slice of veggie pizza with a side salad is fine, as long as you don’t get tempted by high calorie side dishes or fatty toppings on your pizza. Same goes for Mexican food. If you steer clear of the fried dishes and watch high calorie toppings like sour cream and mountains of cheese, you might find that salads and soft taco dishes can fit the bill.
Here’s another thought. If you’re planning on a marathon shopping spree, don’t let yourself get too hungry. Shopping isn’t exactly an athletic event, but if you are going to be at it for long stretches, it might help to carry some extra fuel in the form of a small snack. A small protein snack bar, a stick of string cheese, or a piece of fruit can help keep you going while you shop - and you’ll probably make wiser meal choices if you don’t arrive at the food court with a totally empty gas tank.