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How To Eat Healthy at the Mall


If you’re watching your weight - not to mention your health - malls can be a nutritional mine field. How do you cope at the food court when face to face with the likes of large doughy pretzels, oversize smoothies, sugary sticky buns, fast food, donuts and oversize cookies – all in one place?

a young woman drinking an iced coffee while at the mall

Since avoiding the mall may not be an option, it’s important to find ways to pick and choose healthier options and resist unhealthy temptations. Check out the following tips before your next mall outing.

Gather nutrition info

Before you head out, check online for nutrition information from some of your favorite mall vendors. Seeing calorie and fat data can help you narrow down (or decide to avoid) certain choices. Some restaurants have nutrition info right at the counter – though you may need to ask for it. Once armed with knowledge, you may opt out of the large sticky bun (over 800 calories), David’s cookie (190-210 calories for ONE cookie), or large soft pretzel (490 calories) in favor of a turkey sandwich at the salad/deli counter the next booth over.

Don’t go to the mall starving

This will just set you up to overeat, most likely on something with no nutritional value. If you plan to shop for several hours, make sure to have a healthy, filling breakfast. Eat lunch at a reasonable hour (don’t wait too long), so you are hungry, but not famished.

Consider a sit-down restaurant

If you know it’s going to be a long day of shopping, consider taking your lunch break in a sit-down restaurant. Most malls have at least two that are a step above fast food. Though these will also have high fat/calorie options, they also will have healthier choices. Look for things like salads with grilled shrimp or chicken (dressing on the side), broth based veggie or bean soups, grilled chicken sandwiches (hold the fries), and vegetarian chili. Skip the bread basket.

Cut the combo

Though combo meals may be tempting, there is no calorie bargain when you order extra side items and sugary drinks with your main meal. You may pay an extra dollar or two, but try to stick with plain water or seltzer and skip the fries or onion rings.

Don’t drink your calories

Malls are famous for large plastic cups of soda, smoothies, fancy coffee drinks, lemonades, and ice teas. Be aware that these sweetened drinks can set you back 200-500 calories, depending on the size. Be prepared and take a bottle of water with you, so you are not tempted when thirst strikes. If you are hankering for something hot, go for herbal tea or a small latte with skim milk.

Decent choices

Have to make a decision? Check out some of the following choices:

  • Simply sushi. Most mall food courts have at least one or two vendors of Asian food. Steer clear of most mixed dishes, which are usually fried or drowning in heavy sauces. Go for Japanese, where you can always find plain white or brown rice. Pair with teriyaki shrimp or chicken and a side salad or vegetable. Sushi or sashimi is also often low-calorie, along with miso soup or a clear noodle soup packed with chicken (or shrimp) and veggies.
  • Veggie pizza. You’ll find a pizza joint at every mall. Go for a slice or two of thin crust pizza topped with fresh veggies.
  • Sandwich/soup/salad. Look for a deli-type vendor that sells salads, soups and sandwiches. Safe bets include bean or veggie based soups, sandwiches with lean meats (such as turkey or roast beef), and salads with grilled chicken or shrimp. Be sure to have dressing on the side, or just drizzle on some oil and vinegar. Steer clear of chicken, tuna or egg salads, which are loaded with mayonnaise.
  • Grilled fare. Grilled chicken sandwiches are always a good choice. Include lettuce and tomato, and skip the fries (or share a small order with a friend or two).
  • Sweet treat? Have a hankering for something sweet? I like to stop at the chocolate shop and get a Lindor chocolate ball (one=78 calories). Savor every bite (I like to suck on them until they melt away in my mouth).

In the end, there is nothing wrong with avoiding the food court all together and toting along a bagged lunch or healthy snack. It’s perfectly acceptable to sit at one of the food court tables and indulge in your very own homemade (healthy) fare. And better for your kids, too.

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