Shopping while hungry has its hazards. First of all, if you’re at the mall, you’ll come home with more stuff. Researchers from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota analyzed the purchases of 81 department store shoppers and found that those who were hungry bought more items and spent about 64 percent more money than those who weren’t famished.

But you’ll also likely end up picking up extra calories. That’s because the scent of cinnamon rolls or char-broiled burgers can lead you by the nose directly to the mall food court, where you can easily pack half a day’s worth—not to mention loads of fat, sodium, and sugars—into a single meal or snack.

Your best defense against shopping on an empty stomach is to have something healthy and satisfying before you leave the house (or stuff a snack into your backpack). But if you’re stranded and starving, there are ways to avoid dietary disaster at the mall food court.

You’re not doomed to salads sans dressing either. To help you make smarter choices when hunger strikes, Consumer Reports’ dietitians scanned the menus at several popular mall food-court chain restaurants and found better alternatives to some dietary don’ts on the menus.

Au Bon Pain

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or
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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 Eggs, Ham & Cheddar on a Plain Bagel

490

17

8

5

1,040

Pick

2 Eggs & Ham on a Skinny Wheat Bagel

270

12

4.5

2

740

Skip

Double Chocolate Chunk Muffin

580

24

7

49

500

Pick

Double Chocolate Cupcake

320

13

6

34

250

Small swaps at this mall food court eatery can make a big dietary difference. 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.

Craving something sweet? Don't be tricked into thinking muffins are healthy options; most of the time they're essentially cake. In fact, you can have a Double Chocolate Cupcake in place of the Double Chocolate Chunk Muffin for 260 fewer calories and 15 fewer grams (about 4 teaspoons) of sugars.

Auntie Anne’s

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or
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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 that's only if you're talking about the ones that come in bags. At Auntie Anne’s, these chewy temptations are slathered in butter and rolled in salt—a double-header of nutrition no-nos. 

Fortunately, the chain gives you the option of holding the butter and salt, which cuts calories, fat, and sodium. If only dip'll do ya, go for the marinara. The other dips cram extra calories, fat, sodium, or sugars into these twisters.

California Pizza Kitchen

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or Pick?

Menu ItemCaloriesFat

 (g)

Saturated Fat (g)Sugars

(g)

Sodium

(mg)

SkipMoroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad (half order)750505

40

690
PickRoasted Veggie Salad with Grilled Chicken Breast (half order)550313.5

13

620
Skip

Margherita Thin Crust Pizza (half pie)

665

31

14

4

1,325

PickCalifornia Veggie Original Hand-Tossed Pizza (half pie)
53515.57.5

8.5

1,145

The Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Salad sounds healthy especially when you consider that it’s packed with nutritious foods such as avocado, butternut squash, and beets.

But even the half order has too many calories for a single meal and is too high in sugars. Choose the Roasted Veggie Salad with Chicken (half order) and you'll still get a hefty dose of vegetables—artichoke hearts, asparagus, and eggplant, to name a few—with substantially fewer calories and less fat and sugars, along with a little less sodium. To cut calories, fat, and sodium even more, get the dressing on the side and use just a little bit on your salad.

But it’s likely that when you go to a restaurant with “pizza” in its name, you want pizza. Unfortunately, not a one of the Original Hand-Tossed Pizzas has less than 1,000 calories, and some have more sodium and almost all the saturated fat you should have in a day. Changing the crust won't help. The thin crust saves only 10 calories per pie, and the whole-wheat crust actually adds 140 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 14 grams of sugars to any pizza. Our advice: split a pie with a friend (or two) and choose the California Veggie. It's one of the options lowest in calories and sodium, and highest in fiber, so having a smaller portion will satisfy your appetite.

Cinnabon

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Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Cinnabon Classic Roll

880

37

17

58

820

Pick

Churro

280

11

2

8

375

Skip

Cinnabon Stix (5)

400

21

9

16

440

Pick

CinnaSweeties (5)

260

13

7

13

220

The siren song of the Cinnabon scent makes it nearly impossible to walk by without stopping, and we can swear that the aroma alone must be fattening. So if you find yourself tempted, choose the Churro over the Classic Roll, or the CinnaSweeties instead of the Stix.  

Be sure to say no thanks to the frosting cup: it adds 210 calories, 13 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 21 grams of sugars, and 120 mg of sodium.  

Five Guys

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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 9 to 11 ounces for the regular-sized burgers.

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

Panda Express

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or
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Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Beijing Beef1

470

26

5

24

660

Pick

Broccoli Beef1

150

7

1.5

7

520

Skip

Veggie Spring Roll (2)

190

8

1.5

3

520

Pick

Chicken Potsticker (3)

160

6

1.5

2

250

  1. Half an order of brown steamed rice adds 210 calories, 2 grams fat, ≤ 1 gram saturated fat, ≤ 1 gram sugars, and 7 mg sodium.

You 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 mall food-court Chinese restaurant come from the onions and red bell peppers, but it's likely that a fair amount is found in the “sweet-tangy” sauce everything is tossed in. Avoid this beef bomber and choose the Broccoli Beef instead.

The Veggie Spring Rolls are a respectable choice, but the Chicken Potstickers actually edge them out as a better nutritional pick, proving that just because "veggie" is in the name, it doesn't always win the game.

Starbucks

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or
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Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Turkey Pesto Panini

560

23

6

2

1,230

Pick

Smoked Turkey and Swiss Sandwich Bistro Box (with apples and baby carrots)

370

12

6

15

940

Skip

Caffé Mocha

360

15

9

35

150

Pick

Skinny Mocha

160

1.5

1

15

140

Though turkey breast is a low-calorie, low-fat deli meat, you can't assume all turkey sandwiches are the same nutritionally. We suggest the Smoked Turkey and Swiss Sandwich (Bistro Box) over the Turkey Pesto Panini. The ingredients are similar—turkey, cheese, peppers, bread—but there's a big difference in the calories and fat. Plus it comes with apple slices and baby carrots, which are factored into the nutrition numbers.

But how much diet damage can you do if you pop in just for a coffee? It depends.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. 

Subway

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Menu Item
(6-inch subs)

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

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Steak & Cheese with Light Mayo

430

15

5.5

9

1,130

Pick

Roast Beef With Yellow Mustard

325

5

1.5

7

775

Skip

Carved Turkey With Honey Mustard

360

5

0.5

14

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 55 and the sodium by 95 milligrams.

No matter which sandwich you choose, skip condiments if you can—they add lots of sodium and sometimes calories. For example, yellow mustard is practically calorie-free, but it contributes 115 milligrams of sodium to the roast beef sandwich. Add extra veggies for flavor and moisture instead. 

Taco Bell

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or
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Menu Item

Calories

Fat
(g)

Saturated Fat
(g)

Sugars
(g)

Sodium
(mg)

Skip

Fiesta Taco Salad, Chicken

710

33

7

6

1,280

Pick

Fresco Soft Taco, Shredded Chicken (2)

270

7

2

4

950

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 you can eat two, and still be way better off nutritionally than if you picked—surprisingly—the Fiesta Taco Salad. And the sodium count of the Grilled Stuft Burrito—just 100 mg shy of your maximum daily allotment—is a good example of why it’s best to stay away from food with XXL in its name. We found a hearty alternative—the Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller—that has less sodium, far fewer calories and much less saturated fat.

TCBY

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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

231

7

1.6

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.