Smart, tasty options at the mall food court

GLENDALE, Calif. "Once you're hungry and you're in the mall, you throw nutrition out the door and you just want to eat whatever you see first," said dietitian Patricia Bannan.

With food courts packed with fast-food restaurants, shoppers are fueling up on pastries, pizza and piles of fried rice.

"The best thing you can do is have a plan before you head out the door, throw some healthy things in your bag possibly, or know things you can get at the food court that are better options," said Bannan.

Just like hunting for a good sale, scour the food court for reduced fat and calorie bargains.

At the Glendale Galleria there are plenty of healthier food options. Try La Vaca's Brazilian rotisserie meats with plenty of produce, or La Salsa's grilled chicken, lard-free beans and plenty of salsa.

But watch out, things that appear healthy might be misleading.

"A Chinese dinner that's orange chicken, fried rice and egg roll could be 1,120 calories, which would take a 140-pound woman about five and a half hours to shop off," said Bannan.

Yet Panda Express offers plenty of lean chicken options with either black peppers, broccoli, string beans or mushrooms, for about 200 calories for 5 ounces. Just say "no" to the lo mien or rice, which piles on calories in generous helpings.

Aim for lean protein, less sauce, less cheese, less fried and more greens. You can also order ala carte to cut portions.

If your sweet tooth calls, go for the 300-calorie Cinnabon's Minibon roll, versus the fully loaded version at over 1,100 calories.

"The caramel-pecan Cinnabon is going to take you five hours to shop off," said Bannan.

Share your 500-calorie slice of cheese pizza and add a side salad for lighter, satisfying meal.

To save money and eat healthier during your shopping trip, Bannan suggests packing a purse with nuts, fruit, cheese sticks and such that run about 150 calories a snack.

"All the snacks I recommended are about $1 or less. At a food court you're easily spending $5 or more," said Bannan.

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