It is possible to eat out and still have a healthy meal

Taken with a small glass of orange juice

and a cup of black coffee the calorie count of this breakfast is still only 450.

With Mother’s Day approaching it struck me that one of the things Mom might like to do is to go out for breakfast. I know this flies in the face of the image in which the children lovingly prepare breakfast in bed for Mom, but that usually ends up with the kitchen in a mess, which Mom will likely clean up, and possibly an almost inedible meal. So, going out seems like a pretty good idea… until you take a look at the prices for breakfast buffets. In these days of stringent economies an expensive breakfast out, no matter how well intentioned, might not be the best of ideas.

Well then, how about breakfast at a smaller, lower-cost emporium — say, McDonald’s? Now, really, how could any dietitian make such a suggestion? Don’t we know that fast-food restaurants are unhealthy? Certainly, if you buy into all the nutritional gobbledegook that passes for nutrition education nowadays you would accept the accuracy of such a notion, but a little investigation reveals that everything is not always as it seems.

For one thing, even the most ardent of health food nuts would

accept that it’s possible to make “healthy” choices in McDonald’s. I put the word healthy in quotes, because I don’t necessarily agree with what some health professionals mean when they use that term. Skim milk, for example, is usually cited as a healthier choice than one per cent or two per cent. It’s always viewed as a healthier choice than whole milk. But is that factual? Milk that has the fat removed undoubtedly has fewer calories than its whole-fat counterpart, but: a) calories are not the only indicator of healthfulness (some people, like children, actually need more calories) and b) in removing the fat aren’t we at risk of losing some important substances like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)? On top of all that, there are very serious questions as to whether or not saturated fat is the villain it’s made out to be, and if indeed, we might

run more of a health risk by overdosing on vegetable oils.

CHOOSE WISELY

So, back to the healthy choices that are possible at McDonald’s. How about a Fruit ’n’ Yogurt Parfait? Yogurt is on almost everybody’s list of favourite health foods and when you combine it with fruit and granola it would seem to me that you have a healthy choice. Heck, they even use a low-fat yogurt in their parfait. And then, of course, there’s the all-time favourite, the Egg McMuffin. Taken with a small glass of orange juice and a cup of black coffee the calorie count of this breakfast is still only 450, and who can object to an egg, some ham, a slice of cheese and an English muffin?

If breakfast happens at a slightly later hour Mom might even opt for a salad and call it brunch. A Mediterranean Entree Salad with grilled chicken plus a side of dressing with a glass of one per cent milk and apple slices with caramel dip will still only add up to 490 calories — for goodness sake it’s Mother’s Day!! Of course she might just want (here we have to whisper the word) a hamburger. Let’s say she asks for a quarter-pounder with cheese. Forgetting that this is an excellent choice for calcium, potassium and iron, not to mention other important nutrients like protein and vitamin A, she’s still coming in at slightly over 500 calories. Add a diet pop, or better still a glass of skim milk, Mom has a perfectly fine meal with no guilt necessary. I’m so tired of hearing beef labelled as “unhealthy” but I guess that’s the times in which we live. People have chosen to forget, for some reason, that beef makes an extremely valuable contribution to our diet. Just because we don’t need a 16-ounce sirloin hanging off our plate, there’s no reason to declare that we should eat no beef. Unless you’re of the persuasion that one shouldn’t eat anything with a face, then there is no justification (certainly no nutritional justification) for avoiding meat.

FRIES WITH THAT?

Ah yes, but, you might counter, if Mom is going to choose a hamburger, then she’ll likely choose french fries along with it. Maybe she will, but she doesn’t have to. I will admit to being averse to anything that’s deep-fried. My aversion doesn’t have to do with the calories as much as it has to do with the excess of vegetable oils that Canadians are consuming. Having said that, I will confess that I usually steal some fries off of my husband’s plate.

So, if you’re long on love but short on cash, a trip to McDonald’s for a Mother’s Day nosh can give Mom a healthy meal at a relatively low cost, and she won’t have to clean up afterwards. Incidentally, I have no connection to the restaurant; notice that my last name is spelled differently!

Helen Bishop MacDonald is a consulting nutritionist in the agricultural industry.

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