Many of us enjoy a fast food run from time to time. It’s convenient when we’re on the go, and – let’s face it – pretty satisfying when you’ve got the craving. As long as it’s an occasional indulgence, it’s nothing to get down in the mouth about.

If your visits to the drive-thru start to become a habit, it may be time to rethink your choices. The trouble with most fast foods is you likely don’t know everything that’s in your meal. Fast food options are known to lack nutritional value, along with being high in sugar, salt, saturated or trans fats, processed ingredients and preservatives.

Sometimes fast food is unavoidable, so if you find yourself face-to-face with a fast food menu, here are some tips to help you make healthier choices.

Start with water

Before placing your order, have a large glass of water. This will ensure you’re well hydrated so your body can differentiate between hunger and thirst. The feeling of dehydration can often be mistaken for hunger, which can encourage us to eat more than necessary while depriving ourselves of what we actually need – water. It will also help with dehydration from the excess sodium found in many fast food choices.

More protein and veggies, less bread

If you’re grabbing a custom-made sandwich at a sub shop, always choose the smaller roll. The majority of bread options at sandwich shops have significantly higher sugar content than you would expect. When building your sammy, be generous with the veggies. Make sure to add some protein so you’ll have enough energy to get you through the next several hours. Even go for a second serving of protein if the mood strikes.

Beware of “healthy” alternatives

Many fast food restaurants claim to offer healthy substitutes. Before ordering, educate yourself on what the salads contain. Salads full of candied nuts, dried fruit and creamy dressing may not be as healthy as you think. Also, consider what sort of additives are in that plant-based patty.  A veggie burger made mostly of unnatural ingredients may actually do more harm to your health than good.

Thick and thin

Who doesn’t love a delicious slice of pizza? With so many variations, making a healthier selection can be easier with a veggie slice. But if you’re keeping an eye on carbs, remember pizza crust is often made with white flour, which has little fibre or nutrients, and plenty of carbs. For a lower carb option, get the thin crust (or cauliflower, if available!). Toppings are the star of the pizza show anyway.

Steamed, not fried

A fried rice dish can pack triple the caloric content of its steamed counterpart. Rice dishes are healthier when cooked without excess oils, butter, and sugary sauces. Not only that, but steamed rice is a great base for lots of vegetables and lean proteins to create a well-rounded meal.

Don’t supersize it

This goes without saying, but if you know you’re not having your healthiest meal, it’s probably not the best time to slurp back an extra-large serving of pop, or supersize your fries on the side. Even the regular-sized portions often exceed what our bodies need. Save empty calories – and a few bucks! - by sticking with the standard size.

Setting aside time each week to prepare a list of planned meals, do a grocery shop, and cook up some well-balanced fare is always the healthiest choice. Having meals already made may reduce the likelihood of grabbing prepared foods on-the-go. But time constraints, convenience, or just a simple craving can make it tough to resist fast food meals occasionally. Keep these tips in mind when treating yourself, so you can stay on track with your healthy habits and feel good about your nutritional choices.