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How to Fuel Up without Filling Out at the Mall

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The food court can be convenient when you're ravenous during a day-long mall marathon, but it can also be a minefield of extra calories, fat and sodium. Most malls have a Chinese food option, like Panda Express, which can be a decent choice if you choose correctly. If you had to pick between Broccoli Beef and Orange Chicken from Panda Express, which would you eat to fuel your shopping excursion on fewer calories and fat?

The Winner: Broccoli Beef!
One 5.4-ounce serving of Panda Express Broccoli Beef clocks in around 120 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 660 mg of sodium. The Orange Chicken may sound innocent enough, but the glaze that it's topped with packs in the calories and sugar. One 5.7-ounce serving of the sweet stuff will set you back 420 calories, 21 grams of fat, and 620 mg of sodium—plus, 18 grams of sugar (that's 4.5 teaspoons of sugar!). Also keep in mind that side items like greasy noodles and fried rice can rack up some serious calories very quickly, so stick with just a small portion of steamed rice with your entrée.

Here are some more tips for surviving the mall food court:
  • Choose a meal or snack that's full of veggies and high in lean protein. Don't load up on cheesy carbs, like pizza or breadsticks—they'll only make you lethargic, and tend to be higher in calories. Salads, wraps and grilled chicken make great choices; just watch your portions and go easy on the high-fat condiments.

  • If you're shopping with a friend or family member, split a food court dish. You'll slash your calories and fat in half!

  • Take a water bottle with you to sip on while you shop. Oftentimes, we mistake thirst for hunger.

  • Many people think that a smoothie is a light and filling choice for fueling a full day of shopping, but look out--those sweet drinks can be packed with added sugar. Many smoothie places offer lower-sugar options, so do some research before you sip.

  • If you're hungry, eat! Don't wait to get so hungry that you'll eat anything in sight. If you start to get hungry during your shopping trip, grab a sensible snack from the food court, or better yet, plan ahead by bringing your own (pre-portioned trail mix, carrot sticks, or dried fruit are great choices). It's a much better solution than bingeing out of extreme hunger when you get home.  
What do you usually order when you're stuck at the mall food court? Do you ever bring your own snacks while you shop?

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CKOUDSI617 10/19/2019
GREAT! I LOVE Broccoli Beef! :) Report
ALLTHINGSNEW81 9/14/2019
We go to the mall just for Panda Express. Chinese American food is rare in this country. My favorite is the Kung Pao Chicken with a side of mixed vegetables. I don't feel deprived at all by that healthy choice.
REDROBIN47 8/22/2019
The solution for me is to not eat at the mall. We either eat at home before going or stop at a restaurant outside the mall where we know we can get something healthy. Report
Thanks for sharing! Report
Thanks for the information. Report
I cant eat out due to allergies but it looks good Report
Subway salad or chipotle salad if it's lunch time and I've started caring snacks with me so if I need one it's fruit or 100 calories Worth of popcorn. Report
Good information. Report
thanks Report
awesome information Report
I love Teriyaki Experience - it's a Japenese food court option here in Canada. I get the tofu and veggies with rice and teriyaki sauce. It's super filling, and if I remind them not to overdo the sauce, it's a pretty healthy option! Report
Share a Charleys Grill Chicken Philly Cheese with my husband and eat mine with a fork leaving the bun or bring my own snack. Report
I'm not gonna lie - I am quite fond of the food at the Food Court, so I'm glad to know that the broccoli and beef option is a good choice. Shopping at the mall is at least two hours away for me, so when I go it's for the day. Like others I keep some almonds and water in the car. I'm re-committed to healthy eating this holiday season, so it will be a bit of a challenge. I'll be planning ahead! Report
I love PANDA! I will even love it more now that I know that I can eat something out with my daughters when they ask me to go shopping with them! Since I went off my diet 3 yrs. ago, I have been eating ALL THE WRONG THINGS! Thank you Spark people! Report
At the mall I usually eat Chick-Fil-A's chargrilled chicken sandwich (only 290 calories) and a small fruit cup (50 calories) + a bottle of Dasani. Or I go to Zoe's kitchen and get grilled chicken and slaw pita (333 calories) and a fruit cup (96 calories). Never drink anything but water. Report
If you have a teriyaki joint in your food court, like Sarku or something similar, a teriyaki chicken bowl, with no rice and steamed vegetables, is about 500 calories and 50g protein, plus fiber from the vegetables. Pretty reasonable, and half is enough for a meal. Report
I used to bring my own food to save money, but since I've discovered the Thai stand, I have the shrimp noodle soup -- the kind without coconut milk. It's full of fresh vegetables and it's got almost enough hot chili for my taste! Since I only go to town about once a month, I figure I can afford this little luxury. Report
Wow two of my favorite meals. I will definitely keep this article in mind the next time I decide to eat at Panda express. Report
A very timely article! Not only is my annual holiday frenzy here; I had to prepare and leave town for a family funeral. So much rushing around, being away from home, and stress. Fortunately, I had my portable snacks and beverages on hand all ready to go. Report
I have started to carry my bpa free water bottle with me every where I go. I find that if I keep sipping on my water while out and about, I can wait until I get home to eat. Report
I have a client who likes to go to the mall, so just about every Wednesday, we are there, and in the food court. Luckily, there is a Subway in the food court. I get a salad with grilled chicken. What's nice, is I choose the vegies and meat I want in it. I opt for no cheese, and get the sweet onion sauce for dressing. Very low in calories, and so good. Report
This year I have packed snacks and even meals from home to take with me for the day. I saved calories and $$$. The biggest challenge I have found doing this is finding a convenience store with a microwave to heat my meals. Usually, I have to eat my meals in the car. No problem. I just pretend I'm at Sonic. Report
It's a shopping trip, people, not a climb up Mt. Everest! You will not faint from hunger if you don't eat for a couple of hours.

How about this novel idea. Eat before you go shopping, then you won't be tempted by the junk available at the food courts. You'll also save money that you can spend on shopping. I haven't eaten at a food court in over 10 years, mostly because I prefer not to eat fast food, and I always manage to make it home without fainting.
Is this a sneaky way to advertise fast food restaurants? Sure looks like it to me. Pack some nuts and a water bottle instead. Report
I appreciate this blog. Sometimes the kids want me to "join in". Now I know a goodchoice. Thanks! Report
I am happy to dislike food courts, especially the odors and sitting too close to others. I always carry almonds with me sometimes Walnuts but almonds are less greasy. For DH his bag has Almonds, raisins and Ghirardelli dark Chocolate chips at 5 calories each he does not get many but they are large and good for him. Pat in Maine. Report
I just returned from a two-week trip to Phoenix from my home in Mexico, and besides visiting family and some other activities, we did lots of mall shopping. Like Womanatwork, I usually bag some almonds, raisins, and dried cranberries or a snack bar like a lara bar. Even a couple of bites will often tide me over. When we needed a meal, I either ordered a burger without bread and a side salad instead of fries. My best meal was a salad at The Cheesecake Factory -- arugula, goat cheese, pecans and berries. And no, I didn't eat a piece of cheesecake. LOL Report
At the food courts here, there is usually a Japanese option - so much healthier than the Chinese fast food. Simple stir fried veg with a little bit of meat and (too much) rice. Hold the sauce please! Report
Subway whole wheat turkey, no cheese or chips Report
To be honest...I cannot feel satiated by eating something other than what I smell when I am there. So my trick is completely avoid the food court. Shop at inappropriate times to eat or with a very tight time line...no time to eat. As soon as I sit in a food court I'm doomed to slip. Report
I'm really not a food court person, but if I do eat at one I opt for a plain grilled chicken sandwich with no sauce. There's a Desert Moon Cafe at the local mall; Desert Moon Cafe seems to have some better options than several other of the food court booths. Report
I usually slice up an apple or two before heading out on a long shopping trip. Report
I want the recipes to those 2 dishes. LOL Especially the 'not so good' one. Compare those pics to some 'healthy' ones. Not happening. :( Report
Also, I might be inclined to bag some almonds, raisins, and dried cranberries to carry along as well as a water. I also remember to shop after my meals so I'm not so hungry as the temptations abound during the holidays. Report
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