Category Archives: Food Stars

A Road Trip Stop at Wendy’s

On a road trip a few weeks ago we steered our 6 person, gas guzzling, but entirely cozy, SUV into a Wendy’s for halfway home dinner.  I’m a fan of Wendy’s but hadn’t been to one in a while.

Like other fast food restaurants, Wendy’s is trying to increase its offerings, both healthy and unhealthy, and give the interior decor a warmer, sit down restaurant kind of feel.

I have no opinion on the decor (sure looked like a Wendy’s to me), but I figured it was time to put one of my favorite fast food joints to the Eat by Stars test.

We’ll cover best and worst in sandwiches, salads, and sides.  And the Frosty will make an appearance.  Full Wendy’s Nutritional Info

Sandwiches & Nuggets

It’s easy to pick a burger at Wendy’s that won’t weigh you down, opt for those with “Junior” in the title.  Outside of that, you’re in risky waters.

The chicken sandwiches fall in the middle with the grilled sandwich being vastly superior (and 200 calories lighter) than the breaded Spicy and Homestyle varieties.  A wrap is decent compromise. And for nuggets, the 5 piece isn’t the worst thing ever.  But adding the dipping sauces (esp ranch) is a major pothole.

Best: Junior Hamburger  calories 250, fat 10g, carbs 25g, protein 15g, (salt 26% DV)

Worst: 3/4 lb Triple    calories 1060, fat 67g, carbs 42g, protein 72g, (salt 87% DV)


Like every restaurant, fast food or otherwise, you can go incredibly right or horribly wrong with your salad choice.  Grabbing the half-size portion is a step in the right direction.  As always, a wise ( i.e. non-creamy) dressing choice can make or break your field of greens.

 Best: Apple Pecan Chicken Salad  calories 350, fat 11g, carbs 30g, protein 35g, (salt 41% DV)

Worst: Baja Salad  calories 540, fat 32g, carbs 34g, protein 32g, (salt 69% DV)


Wendy’s has followed suit with McDonald’s and is offering healthier options to accompany your sandwich.  The default is still fries, which usually contain as many calories as your between bread choice.

I don’t consider it a side, but a bowl of chili is a decent fast food option.  Skip the crackers and cheese and you’ll save adding 100 calories to the 310 calorie large cup of hot beans and beef.

Best: Apple Slices calories 40, fat 0g, carbs 9g, protein0g

Worst: Chili Cheese Fries  calories 570, fat 30g, carbs 58g, protein 18g, (salt 48% DV)

 The Frosty®

Per SMALL: calories 300, fat 8g, carbs 49g, protein 7g

Ever dip your fries in a frosty?  It’s marvelously delicious.  And as healthy as ice cream covered french fries would seem.  Hey, when you’re a 16-year-old boy with a bottomless pit you can handle anything.  Those were the days…

Anyway, the Frosty is ice cream.  Ice cream is a treat.  I didn’t know they had “Frosty Shakes” but I’m glad I do now.  They’re roughly twice as bad as the standard version. 

Breakfast Nuts & Sweet Corn

Every Thursday Eat by Stars brings you 5 grocery items chosen at random.  Here we go!

Sweet Corn on the Cob

Per 6’’ ear: calories 78, fat 1g, carbs 17g, protein 3g

Sweet corn on the cob is a summer barbecue treasure.  Picking out your teeth afterward is the only drawback.  Unless you slather your ear in butter.  Try salt & pepper, olive oil, thyme, or cayenne pepper instead.  Or go light on the butter smear.

Goat Cheese Crumbles 

Per ounce (a large pinch): calories 70, fat 6g, carbs 1g, protein 4g

Goat cheese is soft and adds a nice creamy texture to a summer salad.  It’s high in saturated fat, so go easy.  A little goes a long way.

Emerald Breakfast on the Go Nut Pouch®

Per pouch:  calories 200, fat 11g, carbs 23g, protein 5g

It’s not exactly the greatest breakfast around.  Too much saturated fat, dietary sugar, and weird ingredients.  But, like many breakfast options, something in the morning is better than nothing.

Cheddar Popcorn

Per 2 & 2/3rd cup (2 large handfuls):  calories 180, fat 14g, carbs 11g, protein 2g

It’s definitely not a daily snack or regular pantry candidate, but as a party or occasional indulgence it surpasses most other bagged snacks.

Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup®

Per 2 tbsps (2 big glugs): calories 100, fat 0g, carbs 24g, protein <1g

Man, I miss this stuff.  What a joy to use Hershey’s syrup to make chocolate milk or a sundae as a child.   Naturally, chocolate syrup isn’t health food.  But the kid inside could care less.

Disclaimer: I take all these pics myself at local markets.  Unless specifically noted(®), I am not attempting to single out a specific brand or company.  One company’s product is not different or better than another’s similar product. I get all my nutritional info from the package.  For items without packages I consult and the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory website.

Black Popcorn & The Breakfast of Champions

Eat by Stars continues with 5 grocery items chosen while I wandered the aisles.

Good Sense Organic Tropical Trail Mix®

Per ¼ cup (small handful): calories 140, fat 8g, carbs 18g, protein 2g

This mixture of dehydrated fruit and nuts is a solid snack choice.  It packs a caloric punch so a little goes a long way.  But whether hiking or running errands it satisfies your hunger and gives a good mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fats.  If you’ve got the wherewithal, making your own would be a superior option.

Franklin Farms Veggie Burger®

Per patty: calories 100, fat 2g, carbs 10g, protein 12g

I can’t comment on taste and texture of this vegetarian burger, but it certainly has a superior nutrition profile to a standard beef patty.  Anyone who has tried one let me know how they stack up at a summer barbecue.

Wheaties Cereal®

Per Bowl: calories 280, fat 1g, carbs 44g, protein 4g

Yeah, yeah, the breakfast of champions.  We get it.  In case you weren’t aware, eating cereal will not make you an Olympic athlete.  Or even a marginal pickup basketball player.  Still, if it’s this or no breakfast at all, eat your Wheaties.  (Tip: Cereals are notorious under serving size culprits.  Double all nutritional values.)

Black Jewell Black Popcorn®

Per popped bag: calories 420, fat 17.5g, carbs 56, protein 7g

The box tells me black popcorn is superior because it contains more antioxidants.  If you down a whole popper bag yourself I promise it isn’t.  Share among 2 or 3 others and it’s a decent movie time snack.

 Late July Organic Mini Cheddar Cheese Crackers®

Per 13 crackers (one heaping handful): calories 110, fat 9g, carbs 16g, protein 4g

I’m a big fan of organic foods.  I’m not a big fan of slapping organic on a label to make white flour crackers and fake cheese look healthy.  These are the same category as Ritz Bits and their kin.

Disclaimer: I take all these pics myself at local markets.  Unless specifically noted(®), I am not attempting to single out a specific brand or company.  One company’s product is not different or better than another’s similar product. I get all my nutritional info from the package.  For items without packages I consult and the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory website.

Favorite Eats from the Big Easy

I’m not a native, but I can relate when Billie Holiday asks, “Do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans?”.  It’s been 2 years since I visited on of my favorite cities.  Thank god we’re heading out early tomorrow morning for what will be my 7th visit to the crescent city for Jazz Fest.

If you’ve never been, the food in New Orleans is some of the best in the world.  Today Eat by Stars looks at five classic New Orleans dishes.

While in the French Quarter I won’t have access to nutritional information, so I’ll assign stars using only my reason and wits.  While I still have them….

(Prep style and serving size can greatly affect the healthfulness of these choices)

Crawfish Boil 

Like most everything from Cajun/creole country, a crawfish boil has a mess of goodies mixed together.  You’ll find it chock full of veggies, especially corn and potatoes.  And like most crustaceans, crawfish meat is fairly lean.   If you’re ever at a proper, newspaper on the table, crawfish boil, enjoy to your heart’s content.  Sucking the head is optional.


My favorite.  And, depending on the serving size, a decent option.  Jambalaya packs in lots of veggies and various protein sources.  The tomato based broth is also a plus. A considerable drawback is the white rice.  And potentially a good deal of salt.

Seafood Gumbo 

Gumbo is like soup.  I understand this may deeply offend natives of Louisiana, but it’s the easiest reference point for the uninititated.  The base is a broth which is thickened by a roux (a combo of butter/oil and flour).  That puts it somewhere between broth and cream-based traditional soups.  Most gumbos go heavy on the veggies and seafood so that puts it in solid 3 star territory.

Shrimp Po’Boy 

Three problems: the fried shrimp, the remoulade sauce, the white bread roll.  The fired shrimp is manageable and the mayonnaise based remoulade can be mitigated by asking for a small slather.  But the white bread roll is hard to spin.  And, as always, the roll makes the sandwich.

Red Beans and Rice 

It has protein packed beans going for it, but the white rice hurts.   The lack of veggies knocks it below the jambalaya.  And, if memory serves, there’s more going on in those beans.  I seem to remember bacon grease…

Any true Louisianans feel free to tell educate me where I’ve gone embarrassingly astray.  

Eating at the Drugstore

For Eat by Stars I typically give samplings from my local grocery or pick menu items from chain restaurants.  Obviously there are plenty of other places to get food.  Let’s visit one this week.

Today’s center of the food universe, my local drugstore.  Food aisle here I come…


Per cup (heaping handful with shells): calories 160, fat 14g, carbs 8g, protein 6g

In establishments that only offer ‘convenience’ foods, nuts are usually the best option.  Pistachios fit that bill.  Similar to almonds they pack a caloric punch but also contain heart healthy fats and a good dose of fiber.  Plus, they’ve got cool commercials.

Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers Ziti & Meat Sauce® 

Per container: calories 340, fat 6g, carbs 56g, protein 15g (salt 25%)

This pasta and sauce microwaveable offering packs in a little too much added sugar and salt.  A common theme of packaged foods.  Still, if you’re in a real pinch for lunch, you can do worse.  But it shouldn’t reside in your pantry.

Rice Works Snack with Sea Salt® 

Per 10 chips: calories 140, fat 7g, carbs 18g, protein 2g

Another “Finally a Healthy Chip!” offering.  This one purports to be made of brown rice.  It too, is a healthy food imposter.  Better than Doritos, but not that much.  The giveaway is ingredient #2: “Brown and white rice flour”.

Lipton Iced Tea w/Lemon mix® 

Per 8 oz glass: calories 70, fat 0g, carbs 18g, protein 0g

Don’t get Iced tea confused with green tea.  Green tea=good.  Sweetened iced tea= soft drink.  This mix is straight sugar with flavoring.  Essentially tea flavored Kool-Aid.  And the serving size is skewed on the small size.  Brew your own tea and judiciously add sugar.

Starbucks Frappucino Vanilla® 

Per bottle: calories 200, fat 3g, carbs 37g, protein 6g

Another soft drink.  Lots of those in drugstores apparently.  It just looks loaded with sugar.  It is.  Plus caffeine.  At least it should wake you up.  Before the crash…

Disclaimer: I take all these pics myself at local markets.  Unless specifically noted(®), I am not attempting to single out a specific brand or company.  One company’s product is not different or better than another’s similar product. I get all my nutritional info from the package.  For items without packages I consult and the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory website.

A Run to the Bell

Today Eat by Stars is making a Run for the Border to Think Outside the Bun with our Doritos Locos Tacos.  Or something like that.

Taco Bell has a bad reputation of not using the highest quality products, but compared to other fast food chains there are several reasonably healthy options on the Bell menu.  Rumored Grade D meat notwithstanding.

(Bear in mind, this IS fast food.  There is not much food in drive thru establishments that warrants higher than a three star)

We’re gonna break this down by menu category.  Fresco, Tacos, Burritos, Gorditos & Chalupas, and Nachos are on tap.  All the salads are more than 700 calories so I’m not even gonna dignify them with a response.  I read something once about taco salads.

Fresco Menu®

This is Taco Bell’s “healthy” menu.  It’s not exactly healthy compared to a homemade salad or turkey sandwich on whole grain, but it’s provides solid options for fast food fare.  Per usual, the taco options outpace the burritos.

Fresco Crunchy Taco  calories 150, fat 8g, carbs 13g, protein 6g

Fresco Chicken Soft Taco  calories 150, fat 3.5g, carbs 18g, protein 12g

Fresco Burrito Supreme Chicken  calories 350, fat 8g, carbs 50g, protein 18g, (Sodium 50% DV)


The Bell’s namesake is one of the safer menu categories.  Remember the golden rule of tacos: Corn tortilla trumps flour.  And flour trumps some kind of strange stack combo thing.

Crunchy Corn Taco  calories 170, fat 10g, carbs 12g, protein 8g

Soft Taco Supreme calories 230, fat 11g, carbs 22g, protein 10g

Double Decker Taco Supreme® calories 350, fat 15g, carbs 40g, protein 14g


I love burritos.  Unfortunately they’re huge white flour tortillas stuffed with white rice and fixins.  Carbs wrapped in carbs doesn’t keep the waistline stable.  Some are worse than others. (Hint: A title using ‘XXL’ indicates a prediction for your gut.  Ditto for ‘Stuft’.)

Grilled Chicken Burrito calories 430, fat 18, carbs 48, protein 18

Beefy 5-layer Burrito®  calories 540, fat 8g, carbs 68g, protein 19, (Sodium 60% DV)

XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito®  calories 880, fat 42g, carbs 95g, protein 32, (Sodium 93% DV)

Gorditas & Chalupas

I’m putting these together because they eschew the traditional taco pockets of corn and flour tortillas for some style of flatbread.  The chalupa’s flatbread is fried.  Much to my college diet’s dismay, it’s a wise idea to Drop the Chalupa.

Baja Chicken Gordita  calories 310, fat 15g, carbs 28g, protein 17g

Baja Chicken Chalupa  calories 390, fat 23g, carbs 28g, protein 16g


I’m not sure why, but most folks get the impression nachos are a healthier option.  Maybe it’s the lettuce thrown in on occasion.  It’s a trick.  Skip nachos unless your sharing them with a group.  And then, it oughta be at sports bar.  Not the Bell.

Nachos Supreme  calories 440, fat 2g, carbs 42g, protein 12g

Nachos Bell Grande® calories 770, fat 42g, carbs 79g, protein 19g

Volcano Nachos®  calories 980, fat 60g, carbs 89g, protein 21g

Mexican Pizza 

Calories 540, fat 30g, carbs 47g, protein20g

Nostalgia and sentimentality require me to include this icon.  An icon to me, at least.  Sadly a trip down Mexican pizza memory lane will have to be a rare occurrence.




A Shake n Bake Knockoff

It’s Eat by Stars time!  Five more grocery items chosen at random.  This week more squeezable fruits, a Shake n Bake challenger, and making a decision without nutritional info…

Organic Girl Super Greens®

Per half package: calories 20, fat 0g, carbs 3g, protein 2g

Even products that are practically perfect can’t resist sticking big exciting words on the package to increase the perceived health benefit.  At least here it’s accurate.  Dark leafy greens are food powerhouses.  Just don’t screw it up by adding creamy dressing, croutons, or other salad ruiners.

Buddy Fruits®

Per pouch: calories 60, fat og, carbs 15g, protein 0g

Like this fruit in a squeezable form we recently reviewed, Buddy Fruits are not nearly as bad as fruit in a pouch seems.  Again, actual fruit is far superior, but as portable packaged snacks go this 5 ingredient pureed fruit mix isn’t a horrible choice.

Kraft Fresh Take Savory Four Cheese®

Per 1/6 packet: calories 100, fat 5g, carbs 8g, protein 6g

It appears Kraft is out to improve upon good old fashioned Shake n Bake.  I assumed we’d gone as far as we could with coating chicken breast with quasi bread crumbs and fillers.  No matter.  Grilled chicken with herbs is always preferred, but if this new concoction gets you or your family to eat more chicken, so be it.

Cracker Creations 5 Grain with Peanut Butter®

Per 2 cracker pack: calories 140, fat 7g, carbs 15g, protein 4g

The folks at Lance are trying to fool you.  They’re making the typical cracker packs seem more exotic and slapping the work “grain” on the cover.  It’s a ruse.  While these may be arguably better tasting then the Lance in your pants, they’re similar in health profile.

Deli Cajun Krab Dip

No nutritional info available

Here’s a tricky one.  No nutritional info is given on this deli-packed kinda-seafood dip.  The creamy complexion should be a giveaway this isn’t your best option.  So should the long ingredient list with cream cheese as the headliner.  (And remember, crab spelled with a k means imitation meat.)

Disclaimer: I take all these pics myself at local markets.  Unless specifically noted(®), I am not attempting to single out a specific brand or company.  One company’s product is not different or better than another’s similar product. I get all my nutritional info from the package.  For items without packages I consult and the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory website.