The season is here. Christmas. Holidays. Gifts. The mall. Mall food.
Ah, yes. Mall food.
If you are planning any type of shopping this season, chances are you’ll find yourself inside a mall. And, chances are, you’ll be desperately seeking not only a perfect gift for your mother-in-law but a decent food court meal.
Is it even possible to find a tasty and healthy meal at the mall? I’m happy to report that yes, it is (once you get past the Cinnabon and cookie stores, of course).
Here are some of my favorite "happy and healthy" shopping tips that I follow myself. And let me know if you have any favorite food finds - I'll add them to my list to check out this year.
- Eat a meal before you leave.
- Bring bottled water - sometimes your body is simply thirsty, not hungry.
- Take breaks. Watch the ice skaters. Check your lists. Listen to the Christmas music. Relax.
- Step it up occasionally to burn more calories – take the stairs, walk the long way, park a little farther away.
- Have fun. It is the holiday season, after all.
Pack a snack:
Whether you tote a huge bag or a small clutch, pack a snack. It will help save time, money and an extra trip to the food court. Easy-to-carry ideas:
- Nuts/trail mix: Crunchy and satisfying (and heart-healthy fats and protein to keep you fuller, longer). Pack small servings in baggies (20 almonds make about one ounce).
- Fruit and veggies: Bananas, grapes, pre-sliced apples, pre-cut (or baby) carrots, sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes – easy to tote and eat, and are full of nutrition.
- Granola bar: Fiber-rich and generally low calorie (less sugar varieties are best).
- Raisins or other dried fruit
- Cheese sticks: Not just for three-year-olds, low-fat cheese sticks with a few whole-grain crackers get you through the long haul.
At the mall:
My biggest problem with mall food? It tends to be overloaded with fat, sugar and salt – bad for your heart, arteries and hips. Case in point: enjoy one Cinnabon roll and you’ll wolf down over 800 calories and 32 grams of fat – plan on 1 ½ hours of extra fun on your elliptical machine to burn that baby off.
But fear not; you can find some decent snacks and meals if you look hard enough:
Pretzels (Auntie Anne’s)
Ask for a no butter, no salt pretzel – just 350 calories and you’ll slash half the fat and sodium. Go for plain original, jalapeno or raisin – and skip the dips (except mustard) and flavored pretzels. Even without butter, the cinnamon sugar pretzel has 7+ teaspoons of sugar – as much as a Snickers bar.
California Pizza Kitchen
A sit-down meal where someone serves you? Heaven after fighting the crowds. Try a margarita pizza with its crispy, thin crust, cooked tomatoes and fresh basil. Ask for light on the cheese and share it with a friend. My kids eat the plain pasta with just a touch of butter and parmesan. The salads are pretty good if you order the dressing on the side (or mix vinegar and oil yourself – dressings are full of salt).
Check out their Artisan Snack Plates – pita, hummus, grilled chicken strips and veggies; or a hard-boiled egg with whole grain roll, peanut butter and apple slices – both less than 350 calories each. Or try the perfect oatmeal, egg white English muffin or egg white spinach wrap – all under 320 calories.
Most items are staggeringly full of salt, fat and calories. The salads, however, are pretty decent (without the dressing). The best choices: Chargrilled and Fruit and Chargrilled Chicken Garden salads – both under 250 calories (but they are high in sodium at 30% of your daily recommended amount). Squeeze a few slices of lemon on top instead of dressing.
Chinese/Stir Fry (Panda Express)
Ditch the sauce (high in salt) or fried (high in fat). Order stir-fried veggies with the sauce on the side so you can add a touch. Or try a steamed, mixed veggie entrée with steamed rice – this meal packs vitamins and minerals, and is low in calories, fat and sodium.
Sandwich Shops (Which Wich, Subway, Paradise Bakery)
The easiest place to find healthy food. Try these tips: choose mustard over mayo; order extra veggies; go light on the cheese; try healthier meats (turkey instead of salami); order whole grain breads and bypass the hot sandwiches (too cheesy and saucy). Soups can be high in sodium (one cup of Paradise soup can contain 50% of your daily recommended amount) – opt for a fresh fruit cup or side salad.