Fast food is quick, convenient, and sometimes necessary when life gets busy, or when you’re on the road and don’t have a lot of options. When we think of fast food, we think “unhealthy”—but that really doesn’t have to be the case.
“When choosing items at fast food restaurants, always try and look for non-fried options, whole grains and at least one veggie included,” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet. “But if all else fails, remember there is really never a good reason to super-size—err on the side of small!”
If you’re looking to make healthier choices at the drive-thru, here are a few things to keep in mind, according to Dr. Amy Lee, MD, bariatric physician and head of nutrition for Nucific:
- Avoid the fried and choose the grilled options. This way, you are conserving some calories for more options.
- You do not need to super-size anything. Today’s food industry has brainwashed us to a new normal size, which is oftentimes double the size of a normal portion.
- Hold the sauce! Sometimes, the amount of sauces that are added into one sandwich can add up in calories; they are also made with sugar and fat, which are filler calories.
- You do have to order the fries or tater tots as a side, considering they are high carb and fats.
But you don’t have to completely deprive yourself, either.
“As a Registered Dietitian and Personal Chef, I encourage people to start with something they like, and then modify from there,” says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and founder of The Stirlist. “If you can find items that taste good and offer nutrient benefits, such as fiber and protein with minimal sodium, that’s a really good place to start.”
Want more specifics? Here are 19 of the healthiest fast food orders, according to dietitians.
Healthy Fast Food Options
“At 320 calories, you get 4 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and you can save 30 calories if you skip the sugar. Incredibly delicious and nutritious fast pick,” says Sylvia Klinger, DBA, MS, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Hispanic Food Communications.
Nutrition: 320 calories, 4.5g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 64g carbs, 31g sugar, 6g protein
“I don’t care much for biscuits and English muffins, but I love eggs so much. I would order just scrambled eggs off the menu, and they are happy to make that happen,” says Dr. Lee. “Sometimes if I feel adventurous, I would use 1-2 packs of their spicy hot salsa. This is a good way to get in extra protein and good fats without added carbs and fat from the bread, sauces, etc.”
Nutrition: 140 calories, 9g fat, 3.5g sat fat, 1g carbs, 0g sugar, 13g protein
“It is packed with veggies, fiber and protein—the perfect combo for keeping you full for hours,” says Gans.
Nutrition: 270 calories, 4.5g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 41g carbs, 8g sugar, 21g protein
“The 6-inch Veggie Delight has only 200 calories and 2 grams of fat and 5 grams of fat, without adding the cheese or condiments,” says Klinger. “Double on the veggies – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers and ask for the whole wheat grain bread.”
Nutrition: 190 calories, 2g fat, .5g sat fat, 39g carbs, 6g sugar, 9g protein
“This is truly an appropriate portion for lunch, and you can save more calories by minimizing the sauces and the cheese,” says Dr. Lee. “It also has a good amount of dietary fiber from the vegetables and the wheat bread. “
Nutrition: 250 calories, 2.5g fat, .5g sat fat, 41g carbs, 7g sugar, 20g protein
“A portion of the calories are from the sauce, so hold the sauce and you are getting a good amount of lean protein plus a bit of vegetables,” says Dr. Lee.
Nutrition: 320 calories, 6g fat, 1g sat fat, 41g carbs, 9g sugar, 28g protein
“You can get 12 of these nuggets for only 200 calories, leaving room for something extra. For example, a fruit cup or side salad, OR even those waffle potato fries you are really eyeing,” says Gans.
Nutrition: 200 calories, 4.5g fat, 1g sat fat, 2g carbs, 1g sugar, 38g protein
“This breakfast sandwich contains only 290 calories, 8 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbohydrate and 26 grams of protein. The combination of grilled chicken and egg whites provides high-quality protein and it makes for a very satisfying breakfast. A high protein breakfast can keep you full until midafternoon, which can help with weight management and maintain lean muscle,” says Pankonin.
Nutrition: 290 calories, 8g fat, 3.5g sat fat, 30g carbs, 2g sugar, 26g protein
At Taco Bell…
“The power bowl options at Taco Bell are delicious and satisfying! It can be very challenging for vegetarians to find healthy options at fast food places, which is why I always recommend Taco Bell. The veggie power bowl at Taco Bell contains 430 calories,10 grams of fiber and 12 grams of protein. With that much fiber and plant-based protein, this is a very delicious and filling option for lunch or dinner especially if you’re a vegetarian,” says Pankonin.
Nutrition: 430 calories, 17g fat, 5g sat fat, 57g carbs, 2g sugar, 12g protein
“This bean burrito is a delicious and filling meal at 350 calories, with 11 grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein. And if that is not enough, it only has 9 grams of fat! A real delight,” says Klinger.
Nutrition: 350 calories, 9g fat, 3.5g sat fat, 54g carbs, 3g sugar, 13g protein
“This sandwich does not disappoint. Besides being delicious, it includes veggies, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats from the avocado,” says Gans.
Nutrition: 360 calories, 14g fat, 6g sat fat, 39g carbs, 5g sugar, 19g protein
“The first thing that appeals to me about this salad is the size. We tend to eat with our eyes, so visually this salad is beautiful and looks really appetizing. This salad only contains 360 calories, 15 grams of fat, 480 mg of sodium, 8 grams of fiber, 34 grams of carbohydrate and 28 grams of protein. I also love that it is high in protein and provides 8 grams of fiber. Most fast food salad options can contain a high amount of sodium due to the salad dressing but this salad only has 480 mg of sodium making it a great option for those watching their sodium intake,” says Pankonin.
Nutrition: 360 calories, 15g fat, 2g sat fat, 34g carbs, 23g sugar, 28g protein
At El Pollo Loco…
“It’s a large bowl packed with proteins with fresh salsa ingredients, says Dr. Lee. “Super diet-friendly with cauliflower rice and fresh avocado.”
Nutrition: 390 calories, 16g fat, 7g sat fat, 15g carbs, 5g sugar, 51g protein
“With a Starbucks on every corner, this is a convenient and quick lunch option that only contains 300 calories, 9 grams of fat, 7 grams of fiber and 22 grams of protein. I love the combination of grilled chicken and hummus paired with fresh vegetables. This provides both plant and animal protein, and iron from plant and animal sources,” says Pankonin.
Nutrition: 300 calories, 9g fat, 2g sat fat, 32g carbs, 6g sugar, 22g protein
Related: Best Starbucks Secret Menu Drinks
“My favorite bowl starts with sofritas–a soy based veggie meat seasoned to perfection. Then I add my favorite black beans and cilantro-lime cauliflower rice topped with fresh tomato salsa and lettuce–all for 350 calories and 19 grams of protein,” says Klinger.
Nutrition: 350 calories, 12.5g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 43g carbs, 10g sugar, 19g protein
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“Many fast food sandwiches contain over 1,000mg in sodium, however this sandwich is at 850mg,” says Gans. “It also provides a whopping 33grams of protein for those seeking a higher protein option for lunch or dinner.”
Nutrition: 350 calories, 8g fat, 1.5g sat fat, 35g carbs, 7g sugar, 33g protein
Related: How to Eat Keto at Taco Bell
“This filling and super delicious menu item is filled with veggies, topped with avocados and tomatoes and served with a small bowl of fruit–all for 330 calories and 29 grams of protein!” says Klinger.
Nutrition: 330 calories, 20g fat, 6g sat fat, 13g carbs, 3g sugar, 28g protein
At Long John Silver’s…
“It’s not common to find fish, let alone grilled fish, in fast food. But having that option can be very beneficial and gives you much more control in your eating,” says Dr. Lee. “Order the grilled fish over salads and you are definitely getting all your fiber in, as well as good fats and protein.”
Nutrition: 250 calories, 15g fat, 3g sat fat, 0g carbs, 0g sugar, 27g protein
“The single butterburger only contains 390 calories, 17 grams of fat, 38 grams of carbohydrate, 20 grams of protein and only 480 mg of sodium. For those who are watching sodium intake because of high blood pressure, this is a good option if you’re craving a burger,” says Pankonin.
Nutrition: 390 calories, 17g fat, 7g sat fat, 38g carbs, 6g sugar, 20g protein
Next up, here are the top Whole30-approved fast food options.
- Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet
- Dr. Amy Lee, MD, bariatric physician and head of nutrition for Nucific
- Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and founder of The Stirlist
- Sylvia Klinger, DBA, MS, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Hispanic Food Communications