America’s Worst Lunches-And What You Should Eat Instead

Hits and misses in the drive-through lane.

By Dave Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, Men’s Health

If you’re like two-thirds of working Americans, you pick up lunch from a fast-food joint or restaurant at least once a week. Sure, it’s not as healthy as packing your own celery sticks, but eating out every once in a while can’t hurt, right?

Not so fast: There might be trouble in the drive-through lane.

Not only could the window worker pile an entire day’s worth of calories through your car window, but you might also be sapping your energy and productivity: Carb overloads lead to energy spikes and crashes, and studies have shown that the bigger your waistline, the lower your cognitive functioning and the more sick days you take. Kind of ironic, considering “convenience” is the most common reason people give for buying lunch during the workday. In this economy, it’s hardly convenient to snore through the 2 o’clock meeting, or miss a few crucial days when the boss is looking for you.

A healthy lunch can help you maximize your afternoon performance, but if you’re in a hurry to grab and go, you might not take the time to sort through the menu hits and misses. Let the Eat This, Not That! folks be your efficiency experts: DON’T order the items we warn you about, below. Opt instead for less outrageous alternatives (also below), and reap the benefits at bonus time.

QUIZNO’S

Large Prime Rib Cheesesteak Sub

  • 1,490 calories
  • 92 g fat (22.5 g saturated, 2 g trans)
  • 2,620 mg sodium

Fat equivalent: Like eating four Dunkin Donuts cheese danishes!

It’s hard enough to make the argument for one cheese Danish, but four? And we’re just talking fat, here-with more than 800 calories of the stuff in just one sandwich. You’re also be filling up with more than a day’s worth of sodium and saturated fat. While this is one of the worst items you could choose, the rest of the Quizno’s menu has hazards, as well. But if your co-workers insist on eating there, order this instead:

Small Turkey Ranch and Swiss Sub

  • 410 calories
  • 17 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
  • 1,230 mg sodium

CHILI’S

  • Crispy Sweet Chile Glazed Chicken Crispers
  • 1,930 calories
  • 112 g fat (17 g saturated)
  • 4,190 mg sodium

Calorie equivalent: Like eating an entire medium Pizza Hut 12″ pepperoni pizza!

If you have the time for a sit-down meal, you have the time to think this through. Chicken Crispers are fun, but account for almost a whole day’s worth of calories and almost two days’ worth of sodium. Your smarter choice is to eat this instead:

Classic Chicken Fajitas

  • 370 calories
  • 11 g fat (1.5 saturated)
  • 2,000 mg sodium

And another hint for a healthy sit-down lunch: forgo the appetizers. Chili’s Texas Cheese Fries with Jalapeno Ranch Dressing made the top of our list when we rounded up the worst appetizers money can buy. Check out the other appetizer land-mines here. You’ll be shocked.

ARBY’S

Roast Turkey Ranch and Bacon Sandwich

  • 817 calories
  • 37 g fat (11 g saturated, 0.5 g trans)
  • 2,146 mg sodium

Calorie equivalent: Like eating 23 Thin Mints (one whole sleeve)!

Just because you could prepare it at home doesn’t mean it’s good for you when you order it away from home-the Roast Turkey Ranch and Bacon Sandwich packs nearly half of your daily allowance of calories and almost an entire day’s dose of sodium. Doesn’t leave much room for anything else, does it?

Eat this instead:

Sourdough Roast Beef Melt

  • 351 calories
  • 14 g fat (4 g saturated)
  • 1,048 mg of sodium

DAIRY QUEEN

Chicken Strip Basket with Country Gravy (6 piece)

  • 1,640 calories
  • 74 g fat (12 g saturated, 1 g trans)
  • 3,690 mg sodium

Sodium equivalent: Like eating 11 large orders of McDonald’s French fries!

Talk about a value meal: One Chicken Strip Basket gives you almost two days’ payload of sodium! If thinking about it doesn’t elevate your blood pressure, eating it might. Don’t become a statistic.

Eat this instead:

Crispy Chicken Sandwich

  • 560 calories
  • 28 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
  • 980 mg sodium

PANERA

  • Italian Combo on Ciabatta sandwich
  • 1,050 calories
  • 47 g fat (18 g saturated, 1 g trans)
  • 3,050 mg of sodium

Fat equivalent: Like eating 6 slices of Papa John’s cheese pizza!

You were on the right track in choosing Panera, but don’t be sidelined by the allure of the Italian Combo. Ciabatta bread may sound sophisticated, but you won’t look so refined when you’re lugging that spare Pirelli around your midsection.

Eat this instead:

Smoked Turkey Breast on Sourdough sandwich

  • 470 calories
  • 17 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
  • 1,680 mg sodium

CHIPOTLE

  • 13″ tortilla with steak, black beans, rice, cheese, sour cream and lettuce
  • 955 calories
  • 38 g fat (18 g saturated)
  • 1,600 mg sodium

Calorie equivalent: Like eating 37 Hershey’s Kisses!

The good news about this tortilla is that it contains 56 grams of protein, but that’s hardly worth the outrageous calorie and carbohydrate load-with 94 grams of carbs, you’ve already covered a third of your recommended daily intake, plus you’re taking in nearly a day’s worth of sodium and saturated fat. Downsize to drop pounds.

Eat this instead:

Three hard tacos with steak, pinto beans, sour cream and lettuce

  • 615 calories
  • 24 g fat (11 g saturated)
  • 710 mg sodium

(Another hint: When it comes to Chipotle chips, just say “no.” They add an outrageous 570 calories and 73 extra grams of carbs.)

HARDEE’S

2/3-lb Monster Thickburger

  • 1,420 calories
  • 108 g fat (43 g saturated)
  • 2,770 mg sodium

Saturated fat equivalent: Like eating 43 strips of Oscar Mayer bacon!

It’s called Monster for a reason. It’s a monster load of saturated fat (more than two days’ worth). The good news is that it has a friendlier, healthier cousin in the 1/3-lb Low-Carb Thickburger, with 1,000 fewer calories and a third the amount of fat. Even better, the Low-Carb Thickburger is true to its name-it only has 5 grams of quick-burning carbohydrates, compared to 46 grams in the Monster.

Eat this instead:

1/3-lb Low-Carb Thickburger

  • 420 calories
  • 32 g fat (12 g saturated)
  • 1,010 mg sodium

BURGER KING

Triple Whopper Sandwich with cheese and mayo

  • 1,250 calories
  • 84 g fat (32 g saturated, 2.5 g trans)
  • 1,600 mg sodium

Fat equivalent: Like eating 10 slices of Papa John’s cheese pizza!

You should know by now not to order a triple anything. In this case you’re getting egregious calorie, fat, and sodium overloads. It’s not bad, though, compared to the shockers on our list of the trans-fattiest foods in America. Choose a regular cheeseburger instead and slash 920 calories, 68 g of fat, and save yourself from the judgmental stares of your co-workers, who are three times as likely to be grossed out!

Eat this instead:

Cheeseburger

  • 330 calories
  • 16 g fat (7 g saturated, 0.5 g trans)
  • 780 mg sodium

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