Nutritionists weigh in on Trump's fast-food order for Clemson team: 'This sets a bad example'

The White House hosted football players from Clemson University on Monday for dinner, after the team won the National Football Championship, and many were less than impressed with the menu: fast food from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King, along with pizza.

President Donald Trump told reporters before the event that a lot of his household staff is furloughed due to the government shutdown. “Because of the shutdown, you know we have the great Clemson team with us, the national champions. So we went out and we ordered American fast food, paid for by me,” Trump said, per CNN. “Lots of hamburgers, lots of pizza…We have some very large people that like eating. So I think we’re going to have a little fun.”

Photos and video from the event show Trump standing by a table heaped with fast food served on silver platters, with ornate candelabra in between. Plenty of people are having a field day on social media over it, pointing out that Clemson has chefs and nutritionist that work with the team — and fast food is not usually part of their diet.

One player was even captured off-camera saying, “I thought it was a joke.”

While nutritionists say football players in general need more calories than the average person, they aren’t exactly thrilled about the approach here. “College football players, who generally are men aged 18-24 and are very active need more calories and protein than the average person should consume,” Gina Keatley, a certified-dietitian nutritionist practicing in New York City, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. They can burn more than 1,000 calories an hour during games and practice and “need to recharge,” she says. What they eat during the off-season matters too, Keatley says: “Many players are trying to stay lean but strong and need more food.”

But while football players usually need to eat a lot, “there are a lot of healthy foods that are calorie dense,” New York City-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Lifestyle. For example, a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese has 530 calories, but “you can also get that level of calories from a chicken breast, avocado, and a sweet potato,” Cording says. “Then you would be getting way more nutrition that will fuel your body and brain.” In general, Keatley says these athletes should be focused on “meals based around lean proteins (like fish, chicken, dairy and certain cuts of beef and pork), colorful veggies, whole-grains, and healthy oils like olive oil.”

Clearly, Big Macs and Baconators don’t fit the bill.

“Food for athletes should be looked at as fuel, an aid for recovery and also a means of enjoyment and team bonding,” Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“This sets a bad example,” Cording says. “It’s perpetuating this idea that college students are supposed to be eating junk food. It’s a missed opportunity to show that healthy food can be accessible, enjoyable, and fuel young athletes.”

Still, Keatley says, it’s OK for them to have cheat meals here and there — it’s just better to space them out. Ultimately, it’s not the end of the world. “One meal won’t make or break an athlete’s performance, especially when it’s not on a game or tough practice day,” Rumsey says. Sometimes, Keatley adds, “an open-faced quarter pounder may just do the trick.”

Healthier fast food options:

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10 up-and-coming healthy fast food chains
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10 up-and-coming healthy fast food chains

Leon — a European fast food chain that's coming to the US

The London-based fast-food chain Leon offers wraps, salads, sandwiches, and bowls made from fresh ingredients. 

Launched in 2004, Leon now has almost 50 restaurants in the United Kindom and Netherlands. After a $31 million funding boost in 2017, the company announced it will expand to the US market.

Leon founders John Vincent, Henry Dimbleby, and Allegra McEvedy have said that their long-term goal is to become more valuable than McDonald's.

Credit: Instagram

Salad and Go — A drive-thru salad chain

Salad and Go sells 48-ounce salads for around $6, as well as soups, smoothies, and breakfast items for around $4.

The brand is trying to rival more established drive-thru chains by making the ordering experience fast and convenient, cofounder Roushan Christofellis told Business Insider. 

Since launching in the fall of 2016, Salad and Go now has six locations in Arizona, with plans to open eight more by 2018 and to expand elsewhere in the US by 2020.

Credit: Instagram

LYFE Kitchen — A healthy chain backed by Oprah's former personal chef

Founded in 2011 in Palo Alto, California, LYFE has 20 locations in six states (California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Tennessee, and Texas).

While the chain doesn't explicitly brand itself as healthy, everything on the menu contains less than 600 calories and 1,000 mg of sodium, and the dishes are free of high-fructose corn syrup, butter, cream, trans fats, MSG, and preservatives. Most items cost less than $10.

As noted by First We Feast, LYFE is backed by Art Smith, Oprah’s former personal chef, who has also appeared on "Top Chef."

Credit: Instagram

Veggie Grill — A vegan chain that claims its burger tastes better than a Big Mac

The vegan chain Veggie Grill serves burgers primarily made of pea protein, while its "chicken" sandwiches contain soy, pea, and wheat protein. Prices range from $3.50 to $11.50.

The chain has 28 locations, all of which are in California, Washington, and Oregon. In late 2016, the chain announced it will expand nationally after getting $22 million in funding from investors. By 2020, Veggie Grill plans to double in size.

"Today’s consumer is more mindful and aware that eating a diet made up primarily of veggies, fruits, grains and nuts is better for you," CEO Steve Heeley told Business Insider. (Unsurprisingly, Heeley is a vegan himself.)

Credit: Instagram

Eatsa — An automated vegetarian chain

At the vegetarian chain Eatsa, customers place their orders on iPads and pick up their food from automated cubbies. Human workers prepare everything in the back.

Specializing in quinoa bowls that cost around $7, the chain's meals range from 450 to 700 calories.

Currently, Eatsa (which debuted in 2015) has four locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In November 2016, it added a DC location and opened its first New York City location in December.

Credit: Instagram

Dig Inn — A farm-to-table eatery

With a menu that emphasizes locally sourced vegetables, Dig Inn offers items like maple and sriracha-glazed Brussels sprouts and poached wild salmon. Diners order pre-made main dishes and sides at a counter, which are placed in compostable boxes.

Since its launch in 2011, the farm-to-table chain has opened 14 locations in New York City and one in Boston. Dig Inn's CEO Adam Eskin told BI that the company plans to open more Massachusetts locations and add others in a third state by 2018.

Dig Inn forms partnerships with local farmers, which allows it to keep its prices relatively low, Eskin said. However, a plate from Dig Inn generally costs between $8-$11, which is more expensive than most food from McDonald's or Burger King. (However in New York City, where real estate prices are among the highest in the country, a McDonald's Big Mac meal costs around $8.)

Credit: Instagram

The Kitchenette — A grab-and-go joint where most items cost $5

In August 2016, Kimbal Musk (yes, he's Elon's brother) launched a fast food restaurant that serves sandwiches, soups, and salads — the majority of which cost $4.95. Called the Kitchenette, it's located inside the visitor's center at Shelby Farms Park, a 4,500-acre urban park and conservancy in Memphis, Tennessee.

The grab-and-go spot is part of Musk's larger chain of restaurants, called the Kitchen, which strives to use produce and meat from local purveyors. Musk plans to launch more Kitchenette locations within Memphis and eventually nationwide, though there's no firm timeline yet.

Credit: Instagram

Freshii — A plant-based chain that's been around for 10 years

Freshii, a Canadian fast food franchise founded in 2005, offers salads, wraps, and bowls, the majority of which are under 700 calories and cost $7. It boasts more than 300 locations worldwide and is one of America's most popular healthy fast food chains. In the past few years, new locations have opened inside airports, stadiums, and Target stores.

In 2015, after McDonald's announced its menu improvements, Freshii's CEO Matthew Corrin sent an open letter to McDonald's, in which he offered to partner with the fast-food giant and pushed the chain to serve healthier food.

Credit: Instagram

Everytable — A chain that changes its prices based on the average income in the neighborhood where it's located

Everytable, which launched its first Los Angeles location in 2016, adjusts its prices depending on what its local customers can afford.

The South LA location (where households earn a median salary of $30,882), for example, offers salads and bowls for less than $4.50. In early 2017, Everytable opened a second location in downtown LA (where the median salary is $99,990), which offers the same items for around $8. Both stores' ingredients will be sourced from local purveyors, but the idea is that sales in wealthier neighborhoods can partially subsidize operations in lower-income areas.

Everytable's cofounders, Sam Polk and David Foster, told BI they plan to expand the chain to more LA neighborhoods and eventually to other cities around the US.

Credit: Instagram

LocoL — A California eatery where everything costs $6 or less

LocoL, a fast food concept spawned by famed chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, offers a new take on traditional fast food.

The chain's dishes contain more calories than, say, a salad, but everything is made with high-quality, locally sourced, whole ingredients. In LocoL's cheeseburgers, for example, cooked grains and tofu make up 30% of the beef patties. Its chicken nuggets also contain fermented barley. Instead of soda, fruity aguas frescas are made in-house every day.

The chain, which launched in 2016, currently has three permanent locations and an array of food trucks in Los Angeles. In coming years, Choi and Patterson hope to have nine locations nationwide, including a coffee shop and a kitchen where their staff can prepare the trucks' food off-site, according to Eater.

If you're in LA and inkling for a cheeseburger, LocoL's $4 one is served as quickly as McDonald's, is better for the environment, and according to First We Feast, tastes great.

Credit: Instagram

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