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Healthier Trend continued...

McDonald's, with 13,000 franchises feeding 23 million people each day, is among the many fast-food chains now offering premium salads.

"We have sold 300 million salads in the U.S., equaling 600 million vegetable servings," says Cathy Kapica, PhD, RD, global director of nutrition for McDonald's.

Low-fat milk bottled in fun, easy-to-handle "chugs" has also been a home run for McDonald's. Sales have tripled since the introduction of the containers last year, Kapica said.

"Making food fun and nutritious is the key" says Kapica. She noted that when the restaurant tried offering carrot and celery sticks in its child-friendly Happy Meals, "they bombed."

Then McDonald's began offering Apple Dippers, sliced apples that children can dip into a container of caramel sauce. "Once we found a fruit that kids love, gave them the dipping experience that simulates French fries in ketchup, we made it easy for them to choose apples over fries," Kapica says.

Another nutrition success story is Subway, the quick-service sandwich shop. Former college student Jared Fogle became the face of Subway after "right-sizing" himself with the help of the chain's low-fat subs.

In the past four years, since Fogle has been doing commercials for Subway, annual sales in the United States have grown from $3.8 billion to $6.2 billion, says Subway spokesman Kevin Kane. And Fogle's low-fat favorite, turkey, is the leading seller at the fast-growing Subway chain.

Know Your Nutrition

One pitfall that could trip up some fast-food customers trying to eat leaner: Just because something sounds healthier doesn't mean that it is.

Take chicken, for example. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that Americans will continue to increase their consumption of poultry in the next 10 years. One reason is that people see chicken as a healthy choice.

But not all chicken qualifies as healthy. In fact, a recent report from Consumer Reports found that some fast-food chicken salads pack more fat and calories than a Big Mac.

Fried chicken has one of the fastest-growing fast food menu items over the past 10 years, according to the NPD Group. Yet it generally has much more fat and calories than grilled chicken. Some restaurants use names like "crispy strips" rather than "fried" to describe these products, which could add to consumers' confusion.

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