College students searching for a late night fast food fix or grabbing a quick bite in between classes may have noticed some changes at our beloved establishments of greasy goodness. Burger King no longer lets customers “king-size” their meals, and Wendy’s has added salads and “all-natural” juices to their menus. So what’s the deal with these health(ier) options?
Though they’re becoming increasingly noticeable, these changes actually began in 2010, when the US Food and Drug Administration unveiled guidelines for a mandatory menu calorie count to be implemented in all chain restaurants with 20 or more locations. This means that every time a customer ordered the infamous Big Mac, they’d also have a clear view of its infamous 1,500 calories. Shortly after this law, each establishment began switching up its calorie-packed menus to healthier ones.
Burger King, for example, stepped up its health game with the first lower-calorie French fry. The chain released crinkle-cut fries with 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than a standard batch. And let’s not forget about Wendy’s, where, even though you can order the Baconator for 940 calories, you can just as easily order a lower-calorie burger or salad for 300 to 400 calories. And like McDonald’s, Wendy’s also added a grilled chicken wrap to its menu, which has only 260 calories, and a variety of garden salads with just 200 calories.
But are these changes working? Are we now heading over to Mickey D’s for garden salads? We asked students on campus to share their thoughts, and it looks like our generation is not too thrilled with the new menus.
“I could never feel healthy eating a salad at a place that also specializes in greasy hamburgers and fries,” said Nashua Chedraui, a junior in the School of Communication.
Weslin Roldan, a nursing student, also said he’s not buying into the whole healthy menu craze. “These chains advertise the low-fat or low-sodium foods, but there’s always a downside like an additive supplement,” Roldan said. “For example, some companies say they don’t use sugar, but they use artificial sweeteners. It’s all a lie, so no, I don’t think these changes are true healthy ones.”
It is true that fast food spots with bad reputations have been aggressively marketing to recreate their images; however, some are making actual improvements while others are all talk. Smoothie King, for example, is a chain that claims their mission is to “inspire people to live a healthy and active lifestyle.” Yet a closer look at their menu contradicts this. A medium-sized Peanut Power Plus Strawberry smoothie has 1,360 calories and 42 grams of fat – that’s worse than eating three McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers.
So what’s the solution in the quest to satisfy cravings without packing on the pounds? Many students have turned to counter service options that provide a sort of middle ground between a sit-down restaurant and the drive-thru, like Panera and Chipotle. With slogans like “Live Consciously. Eat Deliciously.” and “Food With Integrity,” these chains are clearly focused on forming a fresh, environmentally-friendly image to market towards our increasingly health-conscious generation.
Indeed, college students seem to be flocking to these establishments, but many still have mixed feelings about just how much better they are. Sophomore Michael Machado said he loves Chipotle but is conflicted when it comes to its nutritional value.
“There are obviously healthy options there, but there are some times when I feel like I just ordered a heart attack in a bowl,” he said.
While we do applaud these classic fast food chains for improving their ways and these newly emerging spots for providing better options, we can’t expect a national shift in lifestyle to happen overnight. Government-imposed restrictions and regulations are definitely helping, but it’s going to take more than banning burgers or setting soda size limits to turn our habits around. With more transparency and awareness of what’s in our food and where it comes from, we’re definitely on the right path. Bu we’ll still need some time to get used to going to McDonald’s to pick up a salad instead of fries.
words_vanesa rodriguez and julie harans. photo_mcdonalds.