If you want to keep both your wallet and your waistline happy this holiday season, don’t shop on an empty stomach. Researchers from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota analyzed the purchases of 81 department store shoppers as they left the store and found that those who were hungry bought more and spent about 64 percent more than those who weren’t famished.

And marathon gift buying works up an appetite—and the wafting scent of cinnamon rolls or burgers can lead you by the nose right to the mall food court. To help you make smart choices, Consumer Reports’ dietitians scoured the menus at 10 popular mall food-court chain restaurants and found some better alternatives to 20 not-so-healthy dishes.


Go to Consumer Reports' 2016 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. Be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide, and sign up to get an e-newsletter with top picks, trusted product reviews, and the latest news from CR.
 

Au Bon Pain

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Chicken Caesar Asiago Salad With Caesar Dressing

520

35

8.5

6

1,350

Pick

Chicken Caesar Asiago Salad With Balsamic Vinaigrette

380

19

5.5

9

1,010

Skip

2 Egg, Ham & Cheddar on a Plain Bagel

490

17

8

5

1,040

Pick

2 Egg & Ham on a Skinny Wheat Bagel

270

12

4.5

2

740

Small swaps at this mall food-court eatery can make a big dietary difference. At Au Bon Pain, a simple change in salad dressing on the Chicken Caesar Asiago Salad results in a savings of 140 calories and 16 grams of fat. Leaving off the cheddar cheese on the plain bagel sandwich saves 50 calories (and 5 grams of fat). But skip the cheese and choose the smaller Skinny Bagel, and you'll cut almost half the calories.

Auntie Anne’s

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Original Pretzel with Cheese Dip

440

13

5.5

10

1,460

Pick

Original Pretzel
(no butter, no salt, with Marinara Dip)

355

2

0

14

640

Skip

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel

470

12

7

29

400

Pick

Sweet Almond Pretzel
(no butter)

350

2

1

17

400

Pretzels have a reputation for being a low-fat snack, but not at Auntie Anne’s, where they’re slathered in butter. Plus, the savory options are often rolled in salt. Fortunately, the chain gives you the option of ordering many of the pretzels sans butter and salt, which cuts calories, fat, and sodium. If you must have a dip, your best option is the marinara. The other savory dips and the sweet glaze and caramel dips from this food-court favorite pack in too many calories and too much fat, sugars, or sodium.  

California Pizza Kitchen

Skip

or Pick?

Menu ItemCaloriesFat

 (g)

Saturated Fat (g)Sugars

(g)

Sodium

(mg)

SkipMoroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad (half order)75050514690
PickRoasted Veggie Salad with Grilled Chicken Breast (half order)550313.511620
SkipCalifornia Veggie 7" Lunch Pizza60014681,270
PickCalifornia Veggie Original Hand-Tossed Pizza, 1/2 of a pie53515.57.5

8.5

1,145

The Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad is a healthier option on a menu full of some pretty calorie- and sodium-laden dishes.

Although the calorie and total fat counts are high for a single meal, it’s packed with super nutritious foods such as avocado, butternut squash, and beets.

Plus much of the fat it contains is the heart-healthy unsaturated type, and the sodium content, though not low, isn’t awful for a restaurant dish.

Still, you can do better with the Roasted Veggie Salad with Chicken. You’ll get a hefty dose of vegetables—artichoke hearts, asparagus, and eggplant, to name a few—for 200 fewer calories, 14 fewer fat grams, and a bit less sodium.

With either of these dishes, you can save calories, fat, and sodium by asking for the dressing on the side and using just a small amount.

But it’s likely that when you go to a restaurant with “pizza” in its name, you want pizza. Unfortunately, not a single one of the original hand-tossed pizzas at this mall food court sit-down restaurant contains less than 1,000 calories, and some have more than a day’s worth of sodium and almost all the saturated fat you should have in a day. At lunchtime the chain does offer 7” Lunch Size Pizzas, but as the example here shows, you’d be better off ordering the regular pizza and splitting it with a friend.

Opt for the thin crust on the original hand-tossed pizzas here if you prefer it, but don't expect it to be lighter. It will save you just 5 calories per half a pizza. And it's not worth ordering your hand-tossed pizza with a whole-grain crust, either. You'll get just 2 extra grams of fiber per half a pie, while adding 70 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 7 grams of sugars.

Cinnabon

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Classic Roll

880

37

17

58

820

Pick

Churro

280

11

2

8

375

Skip

Cinnabon Stix (5)

400

21

9

16

400

Pick

Cinnasweeties (5)

260

13

7

13

220

Cinnabon certainly isn’t the healthiest place you could eat at the mall food court, but if you can’t resist, it’s good to know that there are some better choices.

Be sure to say no thanks to the frosting cup that comes with the Cinnabon Stix and Cinnasweeties, though—it adds 210 calories, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 21 grams of sugars, and 120 mg of sodium.  

Five Guys

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Cheeseburger

840

55

 26.5

9

1,050

Pick

Little Cheeseburger

550

32

15

8.5

690

Skip

Hamburger

700

43

19.5

8

430

Pick

Little Hamburger

480

26

11.5

8

380

Portion control is the secret to having the burger you crave without going overboard. The “little” options are still a satisfying 6 to 7 ounces, compared with 11 ounces for the regular-sized burgers.

Forgo the fries, though: An order here will set you back 953 calories, 41 grams of fat, and 962 mg of sodium. 

Panda Express

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Beijing Beef

470

26

5

24

660

Pick

Broccoli Beef

150

7

1.5

7

520

Skip

Veggie Spring Roll

190

8

1.5

3

520

Pick

Chicken Potsticker

160

6

1.5

2

250

You probably wouldn’t expect a beef dish to have the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugars (24 grams). Some of the sugars in the Beijing Beef at this food-court Asian restaurant come from the onions and red peppers, but a fair amount is found in the “sweet-tangy” sauce everything is tossed in.

The Veggie Spring Roll is actually not such a bad option, but we included it here to show you that the vegetarian choice isn’t always the better nutritional choice. 

Starbucks

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Old-Fashioned Grilled Cheese

580

29

13

7

1,110

Pick

Roasted Tomato & Mozarella Panini

420

18

6

3

620

It may come as a surprise, but the vegetarian Old-Fashioned Grilled Cheese is the highest-calorie sandwich on Starbucks’ menu, containing even more than the BBQ Beef Brisket on Sourdough (510 calories) and the Chicken BLT Salad Sandwich (470 calories). Pick the Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella Panini and you’ll still get the cheesy goodness for 160 fewer calories. Plus you’ll save on fat, saturated fat, sugars, too, and take in 44 percent less sodium.

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item
(16 oz.)

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Caffe Mocha

360

15

9

35

150

Pick

Skinny Mocha

160

1.5

1

15

140

The Caffè Mocha is made with 2 percent milk and comes topped with sweetened whipped cream. Skip the whip and the calories drop to 290, the fat to 8 grams, and the saturated fat to 5 grams. The Skinny is made with nonfat milk, sugar-free syrup, and no whipped cream. These nutritional values are for the 16-ounce Grande; order a Short (8 ounces) and you’ll slash the numbers in half. Tempted by one of the holiday coffee offerings? Be aware that they can be calorie and sugar bombs, not just at Starbucks but also at other coffee chains. 

Subway

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item
(6-inch subs)

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Steak & Cheese with Light Mayo

430

15

5

9

1,130

Pick

Roast Beef With Mustard

320

5

1.5

7

780

Skip

Carved Turkey With Honey Mustard

360

5

0.5

13

1,010

Pick

Rotisserie-Style Chicken With Honey Mustard

380

6

1.5

13

660

Although the Carved Turkey sandwich is a little lower in fat and calories, the Rotisserie-Style Chicken sandwich is far lower in sodium, and it is made with chicken that’s been raised without antibiotics.

In a recent survey from Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, and other consumer organizations, Subway was one of just nine fast-food chains out of 25 that have made at least some commitment to serving meat raised without antibiotics.

Roast beef is one of the leanest cold cut options. Adding cheddar cheese increases the calories by 60 and the sodium by 110 milligrams.

No matter which sandwich you choose, skip condiments if you can—they add lots of sodium and sometimes calories. For example, mustard is practically calorie-free, but it contributes 120 milligrams of sodium to the roast beef sandwich. Add extra veggies for flavor and moisture instead. 

Taco Bell

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Fiesta Taco Salad-Chicken

720

33

7

7

1,390

Pick

Fresco Soft Taco, Shredded Chicken (2)

280

7

2

4

940

Skip

XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito, Beef

860

41

14

6

2,170

Pick

Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller

370

15

4

3

810

The Fresco Soft Tacos are on the small side, but as you can see, even if you eat two, you still making a healthier move by choosing the tacos over the taco salad. And the sodium count of the Grilled Stuffed Burrito—just 100 mg shy of your maximum daily allotment—is a good example of why it’s best to stay away from foods with XXL in their name. We found a hearty alternative that has less sodium along with far fewer calories and much less fat, saturated fat, and sodium. 

TCBY

Skip
or
Pick?

Menu Item
(4 oz.)

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Sorbet Fizz

340

0

0

68

55

Pick

Orange Sorbet

100

0

0

19

15

Skip

Cookies & Cream Yogurt with Hot Fudge

230

7

1.5

30

105

Pick

Dutch Chocolate Yogurt with Strawberries

108

0

0

17.5

66

Sorbet Fizz sounds so light, doesn’t it? When you look at the numbers you see it’s anything but. The drink is made with sorbet and Sprite. Nutritional information depends on the flavor of sorbet and the serving size; what we used here is the best possible scenario. The counts can rise far higher—up to 610 calories and a whopping 111 grams of sugars. That’s 28 teaspoons. Plain sorbet is a far better pick, or if you want something creamy, frozen yogurt is okay—just watch what you top it with.