Educate. Empower. Prevent.

Division of the J. Moss Foundation

Value Menu- Eat Now, Pay Later

 The McDonald’s Dollar Menu, El Pollo Loco’s Loco Value Menu, Taco Bell’s Why Pay More value menu and  the Wendy’s Super Value Menu are all great for our pocketbooks, but what about our waist lines?  When it comes to eating out, everyone would like a deal, but after reviewing the $1 menus at several fast food restaurants, a deal may not be what our body really wants….or needs!

When it comes to fast food, the tricky part is figuring out if a true “value” is being offered, or if it’s an “eat now, pay later” kinda thing? 

Fast food is notorious for being two things, cheap and loaded with fat – especially our heart’s enemy, saturated fat.  Although the cost of the food may leave you with a few extra dollars in your pocketbook for the week, the high fat content can really do some damage on the scale and to your long-term savings. 

What if $1 today would cost you (not your insurance) more than $10,000 in the future? Not sounding much like a value now, does it?

The American Heart Association recommends eating foods with less than 25- 35% of calories coming from fat, eating foods with calories from fat >35% can greatly increase your risk of heart disease, especially if you have high blood pressure or extra weight!  Heart Disease is the #1 killer in the US, and one of the most expensive diseases to treat. Yikes!

So, knowing that we want to keep the % of calories from fat below 35% (ideally below 30%), here’s what I found out about the real value offered at these fast food giants…..

Let’s start with Wendy’s. The Wendy’s Super Value Menu has some delicious items, such as the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger, 5-piece Chicken Nuggets, French Fries, and 3 types of Chicken Go Wraps, but on average 46% of the total calories of all of these “value” items comes from fat!  This (meaning the 46%)  is 150% of our desired maximum calories from fat, which should have 30% or less of the total calories coming from fat.

So these $1 dollar deals are not the best, but what can you order that won’t put your heart and health in danger?  The Grill Chicken Go Wrap has the lowest % of calories from fat at 36%, this would go nicely with a side salad, mandarin orange cup, or baked potato that would decrease the meals fat composition closer to 30%. 

America’s favorite fast food chain, McDonald’s, received the wrath of the media with the documentary “Super Size Me”, but also responded with an attempt to make their menu items “healthier”.   But how did they do?  Yes, they are using healthier oils, trans fat free, and have added the Apple Dippers, yogurt parfaits, and a variety of  salads to the menu, but what about the Dollar Menu?  The lunch (or non breakfast) menu contains one sandwich, the McDouble, which has 44% calories from fat, again 150% of our desired maximum calories from fat (which should be less than 30%) and don’t forget the fries, another whopping 45% calories from fat! 

The dollar menu does include healthier options of the side salad and Yogurt Parfaits, both great choices all around! 

This topic could go on and on, including the Jack in the Box Value Menu as well as the Taco Bell Why Pay More Menu, both containing multiple items with 50% calories from fat! 

When eating out, you must do your homework!  Look for key words such as grilled and baked and ask for no mayo or dressings!  Looking for healthy dining choices marked on the menu or check out to find the best choices on the run!    

Oh, and don’t fall into the label trap! Nutrition labels can be very misleading. Remember to look at the cute little line “Calories from fat”, it is hiding below the total calories, to see what percent of the calories in your food is coming from fat.  Our goal is to have the calories from fat be less than 20-30% of the total calories.   The other line that says total fat, followed by daily value % is usually a small number that doesn’t tell us what we really need to know! 

Still a little confusing? Here’s an example…. Quaker Corn Bran cereal has 90 calories per 3/4 cup serving – 10 of the 90 calories are from fat, therefore we can conclude this in an excellent choice of cereal with a total of 11% calories from fat!  The confusing part of the label says the cereal is 2% daily value of fat, but that is based on a 2000 calorie diet – but it’s not specific to you!  Another reason this cereal is a great choice is the 5 whopping grams of fiber, but we can talk more about that later!

If you have questions about reading labels and finding  the % of fat, please email me at

By Emily Barr, MS, RD, CNSC

Leave a Reply