By Stephanie S. Saunders

Rule one of avoiding fast food may be to drive right by, but what happens when the fast food restaurants start driving to you? The food truck has become the newest culinary craze, announcing their scheduled appearances via Web sites, Facebook®, and Twitter®, which results in thousands of people cyberstalking their whereabouts every day. In most major cities around the United States, chefs and entrepreneurs alike have been taking these "meals on wheels" to a whole new level. You want samosas, tacos, pad thai, sausage, cupcakes, falafel, or sushi? There's a truck out there that'll sell it to you. But what if you've been diligently following your nutrition plan and everyone in your department decides to "graze at the curb" for lunch? The easy answer would be to submit and go back to your old ways, wallowing in grilled cheeses and cupcakes. But you're better than that. Instead, let's look at some healthier options for food truck feasting. (Note: Specific nutritional information for each dish will vary from truck to truck.)


Tacos have been traditional street food for generations. In their authentic form, a corn tortilla, a couple of tablespoons of chopped meat, and some cilantro aren't actually too much to be concerned about. Unfortunately, gourmet food trucks tend to deviate quite a bit. Most trucks offer tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, many topped with fancy crème sauces, loaded with four types of cheese, and accompanied by a slew of fried tortilla chips. Whatever your local food trucks are offering up, the rule with Mexican food is this: the fewer the ingredients, the better. The traditional taco I just described has about 150 calories, whereas a fully loaded burrito can have 800 or more! Stick to corn tortillas, lean protein, and veggies, and leave your chips for the pigeons.


Many people, myself included, have been led to believe that a tortilla must be better for you than a slice (or two) of bread. Unfortunately, we were all wrong. Your average wrap-sized tortilla has about 300 calories, and up to 6 grams of fat. This is before you stuff it with yummy fillings. And just because the wrap is spinach- or sundried tomato-flavored doesn't seem to make all that much difference. They're still high in calories and carbs, and not so low in fat. So even if you fill your wrap with chicken or turkey and cram it full of veggies, you're looking at a sandwich that's got a minimum of 400 calories. So how do you survive the wrap truck? Ask if they'll make the filling ingredients into a salad, or just dissect the tortilla and eat the insides. This might cause your cool factor to drop among your colleagues, but really, this isn't Spago®, so who cares?


How they get that big smoky flavor out of a truck is anyone's guess. But yummy meat dripping in sauce seems to be a food truck staple. And although chicken, tri-tip, and smoked ham are okay calorically, every tablespoon of barbeque sauce can add 70 calories of sugar to your entrée. And I think the likelihood of their stopping at 1 tablespoon is about as likely as we all are to win the lottery. Then there are the sides: baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, and Texas toast (also known as pork fat [beans], mayo fat ["salads"], and butterfat [toast]). Yes, several trips to the BBQ truck could lead to a trip to the cardiologist. Try ordering the chicken with no sauce and some unbuttered toast. If they have collard greens or corn on the cob, again avoid the butter and eat it plain.


Chinese cuisine seems to follow the yin and yang of ancient Chinese philosophy. It's either relatively healthy or horrible for you. Both can exist side by side in the same food truck and comingle in your to-go container. An order of mu shu pork at 800 calories a pop, a side of eggplant in garlic sauce for another 300, and a serving of white rice and a single egg roll at 200 each adds up to a day's worth of calories and a week's worth of sodium. If the East is calling your taste buds, ask the chef on wheels if there's a steamer on board. A few ounces of steamed tofu or chicken, steamed veggies, and a half-cup of brown rice could save you upwards of 1,000 calories. For some added flavor, ask for the sauce on the side and use chopsticks to drizzle it on.

Hot dogs

Most people who work hard doing an hour of intense exercise daily are probably not going to be lining up outside a hot dog truck. Most of the population would not construe any type of frankfurter as a health food. Especially when you order the gourmet bacon, guacamole, onion, and bean monstrosity that could clog an artery if you look at it. Your average dog sans toppings is between 200 and 300 calories; the bun adds an additional 100. The biggest problem is that most of those calories come from fat. Your best bet is to ask if they have a turkey or tofu version, a whole wheat bun, and more traditional toppings like mustard and onions. Or walk to the next truck in line.


Nutritionally, sushi is probably the least scary of food truck options. Until you do anything fun with it. At around 40 calories a pop, a piece of fish on a tablespoon of rice isn't going to affect you adversely. But the minute you stir in some spicy mayo, roll it in more rice, and top it with tempura, you're looking at hundreds of calories. Stick to fish and rice, with perhaps some edamame if they're available. If you need flavor, add some wasabi and low-sodium soy sauce. And most importantly, if it tastes and smells overly "fishy," use caution. You always have a greater danger of bacterial issues with raw meat or fish.


People have been peddling dessert to us off trucks for decades. Summer wouldn't seem like summer without the ubiquitous ice cream man. Yet what's peddled in trucks today isn't a Big Stick® or a Sno-Cone. Think about homemade ice cream piled between two fresh-baked cookies. Warm crepes filled with Nutella® and sliced banana and drizzled in Godiva® chocolate. Warm chocolate bread pudding with vanilla custard. Crème fraiche cheesecake with a blueberry compote. Yeah, just reading it could send you into a diabetic coma. If you must indulge in something, try a single scoop of ice cream. Or split something with four other people. Or run.

The "roach coach" has been around forever, and especially with this latest gourmet reinvention, it looks as if it'll hang around at least as long as the critters it's named after. Visiting a food truck is essentially the same as going to a fast food restaurant, except the food's slightly more expensive and there are no plastic tables to sit at. Use them the same way you would Subway® or Taco Bell®, which is rarely and judiciously. And if you need to cyberstalk something, use Twitter and Facebook for their original intentions: finding ex-boyfriends/girlfriends and flaunting how hot you are after 60 days of INSANITY®.