We all want to feel good. And if we’re honest, most of us eat healthy to look good too.
But what if you don’t have time to make lunch to bring with you? What if you’re in the airport and there are nothing but fast food chain restaurants as far as the eye can see?
It’s important to prepare for whatever situations you might find yourself in.
Enter The Complete Guide to Healthy Fast Food. Below, we’ll go over what to order at common fast food restaurants and discuss strategies for staying healthy when you can’t find an obvious healthy choice.
Before we start, here’s a good rule of thumb. Order a burger, no cheese, no sauce wrapped in lettuce. Not all fast food restaurants do it well enough that you can eat with your hands (ahem, Burger King and McDonalds). But if you have a knife and fork, it works.
Also keep in mind that this is not condoning frequent drive-through runs. These options are healthy for fast food.
Most of the picks noted below are extremely high in sodium, processed fats (example: manmade soybean oil) and manufactured ingredients. They’re also low in fiber.
Drink a ton of water during and after eating out, no matter what restaurant you’re at. Make your next meal at home full of fresh vegetables and meats if you can.
The Healthy Fast Food Picks
Ah, the poplar mega-lith of the fast food industry. They’ve caught the healthy fast food bug and created a “Favorites Under 400” menu, but not many meet our definition of healthy. Most are protein-poor and carb-rich, which doesn’t provide for a filling meal. Here’s the ones Fitzala recommends.
Deluxe Quarter Pounder, no bun, no cheese, no mayo
Calories: 260, Protein: 19g, Fat: 16g, Carbs 3g, Sodium: 340mg
Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken
Calories: 230, Protein: 30g, Fat:9g, Carbs:10g, Sodium:700mg
Notes: This is without dressing. If you add a creamy full fat dressing, it brings the calorie above the 400s. The bacon should provide enough flavor that you don’t need salad dressing. The calorie count is still a little low for a meal, but it’s a healthier option.
Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken
Calories: 190, Protein: 27g, Fat: 5g, Carbs: 9g, Sodium: 580mg
Notes: This one is a little light on calories for a full meal, so supplement with a Quest Bar or apple slices. Adding full fat dressing will increase the calorie, fat and carb counts.
Egg McMuffin or Egg-white McMuffin
Calories: 290, Protein 17g, Fat 12g, Carbs: 31g, Sodium: 740mg
Notes: The calorie and nutritional value is pretty similar, so it doesn’t matter which one.
Healthy food at Burger King exists, but not in abundance. The salad menu only has one item with protein and since they use shredded lettuce for their burgers, the lettuce wrap isn’t so much of an option. You’ll have to use a knife and fork here.
Whopper Sandwich, no bun, no mayo
Calories: 280, Protein: 15g, Fat: 19g, Carbs: 8g, Sodium: 420mg
Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich, no bun, no mayo
Calories: 130, Protein: 24g, Fat: 4g, Carbs: 2g, Sodium: 360mg
Chicken Caesar Garden Salad
Calories: 450, Protein: 35g, Fat: 27g, Carbs: 20g, Sodium: 1150mg
Notes: You can decrease the calorie and carb count by opting for no dressing. Nutritional information for a salad with no dressing was not available.
Touting their new salad commercials, you can find healthy food at Wendy’s in the salad department. As always, shy away from dressings to avoid added fat and carbs.
Double Stack, no bun, no cheese, no mayo
Calories: 260, Protein: 26g, Fat: 17g, Carbs: 2g, Sodium: 670mg
Asian Chicken Salad, no dressing
Calories: 290, Protein: 35g, Fat: 10g, Carbs: 18g, Sodium: 580mg
BBQ Chicken Ranch, no dressing, no honey BBQ glaze
Calories: 360, Protein 39g, Fat 15g, Carbs: 19g, Sodium: 830mg
This is the best place hands-down to find a lettuce wrapped burger. They do it right and it tastes good (speaking from experience here). Healthy food at Carl’s Jr can be made with a few alterations which the staff is usually happy to do.
The Low Carb Thickburger, no cheese, no mayo, no ketchup
Calories: 370, Protein: 32g, Fat: 25g, Carbs: 6g, Sodium: 710mg
Famous Star, wrapped in lettuce, no cheese, no mayo
Calories: 230, Protein: 17g, Fat: 14g, Carbs: 8g, Sodium: 340mg
Jalapeño Turkey Burger, wrapped in lettuce
Calories: 290, Protein: 25g, Fat: 19g, Carbs 4g, Sodium: 830mg
Notes: This one comes with cheese and their Santa Fe sauce. You can lower the calories by opting for no cheese or sauce but it’s pretty good stats for the taste!
Grilled Chicken Salad
Calories: 280, Protein: 18g, Fat: 12g, Carbs: 26g, Sodium: 880mg
Healthy food at Arby’s is a bit disguised. Yes, they have wraps and sandwiches but those calorie and carb counts are HIGH! You can take a Roast Turkey and bacon wrap minus the wrap and sauce from 620 cal to 270 cal. Stick with a salad or sandwich minus the bun.
Max Roast Beef Sandwich, no bun, Arby’s sauce
Calories: 370, Protein: 37g, Fat: 23, Carbs: 3g, Sodium: 1730mg
Notes: you can choose the classic or medium for less calories, fat and sodium
Grand Turkey Club, no bun, no mayo
Calories: 190, Protein: 26g, Fat: 9g, Carbs: 3g, Sodium: 1300mg
Notes: add a bun and you’re only at 380 calories
Roast Chopped Farmhouse Salad, no dressing
Calories: 230, Protein: 23g, Fat: 13g, Carbs 8g, Sodium: 780mg
Jack in the Box
Nutritional information is a bit harder to come by here. Other sites provide nifty calculators so you can modify your choice and get the exact measurements. Not so here.
They’re one of the few restaurants that sells grilled chicken strips. Eat healthy at Jack in the Box by sticking to salads and the grilled chicken strips.
Grilled Chicken Strips
Calories: 250, Protein: 43g, Fat 7g, Carbs: 5g, Sodium: 1070mg
Grilled Chicken Club Salad
Calories: 366, Protein: 37g, Fat 20g, Carbs: 12g, Sodium: 976mg
Jumbo Jack Burger
Calories: 489, Protein: 26g, Fat 23g, Carbs: 44g, Sodium: 907mg
Notes: Go bunless and no mayo to decrease the fat and carbs of this order.
Before we dive in, let’s examine a few constants. All breads are about 200 calories. Italian Herbs and Cheese is the highest at 250 and the 9 Grain, Italian, and Garlic are the lowest at 210. All cheese (2 triangles) are 60 calories.
Most sandwiches won’t get you in too much trouble if you don’t add a ton of dressing or oil. Stick with the “6 grams of fat” or less sandwiches. They’re the ones that don’t have a ton of extras that are high in calories, fat, or sugar. Those sandwiches will be between 290-370 calories for a six-inch depending on which sandwich and what you add.
You can’t go wrong with a six-inch turkey or turkey-ham with double meat. It’s a bit more expensive, but you get the filling protein and more than enough carbs to keep you full. Add almost every veggie they have as well as mustard and vinegar for a filling and flavorful meal.
The mini-subs are a low calorie option, but they only have about 10 grams of protein. If you get the mini, ask for double meat. They’ll usually charge it as a six inch.
You can also opt for a salad. It’s a healthy option, but not always the best tasting since there’s no bread to disguise the processed meat taste.
The popular Italian BMT is not a healthy fast food option because of the high level of processed meat and fat. The Chicken Bacon Ranch is also not healthy coming in at 570 calories before cheese and other toppings.
Note: Studies indicate that people think they’re eating much healthier at Subway than they really are, as they tend to justify cookies and full sugar soda. This isn’t the case. It’s a normal meal, no extra’s are deserved.
Panera Bread is the “upper crust” of fast food. You have a nice place to sit and eat with fresher ingredients. But it’s not necessarily healthier because of the high calorie breads often used. You can’t go wrong with their “hidden menu” but paninis, sandwiches, soups and Pick Two are on the higher end of the carb and calorie scale.
Roasted Turkey Avocado BLT, no bread
Calories: 300, Protein: 31g, Fat: 16g, Carbs: 10g, Sodium: 580mg
Sierra Turkey on Sourdough, no mayo
Calories: 320, Protein: 29g, Fat: 3g, Carbs: 44g, Sodium: 1450mg
Notes: Make sure to ask for sourdough, it’s the bread lowest in calories (200)
Frontega Chicken Panini on Sourdough
Calories: 520, Protein: 38g, Fat: 21g, Carbs: 49g, Sodium: 1660mg
Notes: even though this is a good option for a panini, it’s still really high in carbohydrates and sodium. The sodium and carbs may make you feel hungry afterwards even though you’re not.
Power Chicken Hummus Bowl
Calories: 330, Protein: 33g, Fat: 14g, Carbs: 20g, Sodium: 550mg
Power Chicken Mediterranean Bowl
Calories: 360, Protein: 35g, Fat: 22g, Carbs: 8g, Sodium: 430mg
Notes: Anything from the hidden menu is a great option.
Similar to Jack in the Box, there were issues discovering the nutritional value of modified items. Healthy food at Sonic is a bit sparse compared to their huge menu.
Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Calories: 450, Protein: 32g, Fat: 17g, Carbs: 44g, Sodium: 1240mg
Notes: Take away the bun and you remove about 175 calories
*Sonic Burger with mustard, no bun
Calories: 460, Protein: 31g, Fat: 37, Carbs: 0, Sodium: 790
*Grilled Asiago Casesar Chicken Sandwich, no bun
Calories: 358, Protein: 36g, Fat: 24g, Carbs: 0g, Sodium: 1320mg
Upon investigation of Chick-fil-A’s menu, it was surprising to see the nutritional value of their items. It was assumed that their dishes would be higher in fat and calories than they are. Healthy food at Chick-fil-A includes most of their grilled items.
Grilled Chicken Club
Calories: 440, Protein: 38g, Fat: 14g, Carbs: 41g, Sodium: 1090mg
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Calories: 320, Protein: 30g, Fat: 5g, Carbs: 40g, Sodium: 800mg
12-Count Grilled Nuggets
Calories: 200, Protein: 34g, Fat: 5g, Carbs: 6g, Sodium: 800mg
Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
Calories: 340, Protein: 34g, Fat: 13g, Carbs: 30g, Sodium: 900mg
Any of their salads are also a good option (sans dressing).
Another pleasant surprise upon investigation of KFC’s menu was the discovery of a grilled bucket. Eat healthy food at KFC by ordering grilled chicken and either the close slaw or green beans. Yes, stay away from the mashed potatoes, gravy and biscuits. They might taste good but aren’t worth the fat, carb and calorie bombs that they are.
Grilled Chicken Breast
Calories: 220, Protein: 40g, Fat: 7g, Carbs: 0g, Sodium: 730mg
Grilled Chicken Drumstick
Calories: 90, Protein: 13g, Fat: 4g, Carbs: 0g, Sodium: 290mg
Individual Cole Slaw
Calories: 170, Protein: 1g, Fat: 10g, Carbs: 19g, Sodium: 170mg
Individual Green Beans
Calories: 25, Protein: 1g, Fat: 0g, Carbs: 4g, Sodium: 260mg
They do have their fresco menu, but the stats aren’t favorable. The dishes were high in carbs and low in protein and calories. It’s important to aim for higher protein counts. Eat healthy at Taco Bell by going for the Cantina Bowl minus rice or the taco salad minus the shell.
Cantina Bowl with Chicken
Calories: 530, Protein: 26g, Fat: 21g, Carbs: 59g, Sodium: 1450mg
Notes: Order this without rice. It’s uncertain how much it bring the carb and calorie count down but it would impact it significantly.
Fresco Chicken Soft Taco
Calories: 140, Protein: 10g, Fat: 21g, Carbs: 16g, Sodium: 470mg
Chicken Fiesta Taco Salad, no shell
Calories: 430, Protein: 30g, Fat: 18g, Carbs: 27g, Sodium: 1560mg
Notes: Found this dish elsewhere than the Taco bell website. It does not include dressing.
It was difficult to find a menu item that meets Fitzala’s nutritional criteria. All their food is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Even if you ordered a big meat pizza, thin crust, small, and ate a quarter of it, most of your calories will come from refined carbohydrates with a measly 15-ish grams of protein.
They have a “lighter” menu, but there’s hardly any protein. And who only has ONE 1/8th piece of pizza?
Same thing as above. The only way eating here can be slightly healthy is to scrape off the meat of a few slices of pizza and eat just that along with one slice of normal pizza. However that gets expensive.
*Adjusted calorie counts calculated based on provide nutrition sheets. Calorie counts and nutrition values are not exact.