As much as we'd like it to be, fast food just isn't healthy. It's made some serious strides, but sadly the bottom line is this: if you want to be "good," it's salad, protein and quinoa. This is really hard when fast food is so convenient, inexpensive and tasty.
Know that you are not alone, and that you and almost 50 percent of Americans eat at fast-food restaurants at least once a week. Given that its consumption is practically woven into the fabric of society, it would be harsh to tell you to stop eating completely.
The solution? No, not "ordering salad": just healthier options. By healthier, I mean you've got to avoid those "2,000 calorie" fat-bombs like that triple-decker cheeseburger and jumbo fries I see you eyeing (yeah, that's right - I'm in your mind).
With that, here are the healthiest orders you can get at a fast food restaurant. You'll notice there isn't a junior or a fruit bag in sight. You're welcome. Please note: "and" in each example does not mean it comes as a meal.
1. Burger King - Grilled chicken sandwich without mayo and value sized onion rings
BK's grilled chicken sandwich (at 370 calories, seven grams fat, two grams saturated, six grams fiber, 36 grams protein) may not make your mouth water the way a Whopper does, but by ordering the white-meat sandwich, you're saving 130 calories and 15 grams of fat, while also scoring an extra eight grams of protein. Tack on some onion rings (at 150 calories, eight grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, one gram fiber, one gram protein) and have a solid meal.
2. Sonic - Grilled chicken wrap and small fries
There are one or two items on Sonic's menu that have fewer calories than the grilled chicken wrap (at 440 calories, 15 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated, two grams fiber, 32 grams protein), but they also feature less fiber, less protein and an unfortunate dollop of trans fatty acids - the things you don't want inside you. As a result, you're better off eating a few more calories to get better nutrition overall.
Whilst the small order of natural cut fries (at 250 calories, 12 grams fat, two grams saturated, three grams fiber, three grams protein) may not win any major health prizes, at least they offer three grams of fiber, and less fat than the onion rings or tots.
3. Taco Bell - Two fresco tacos with steak and black beans & rice
If you thought chicken is always the healthiest option, this time you're wrong. The steak version of the fresco soft tacos (at 280 calories, eight grams of fat, three grams saturated, two grams fiber, 20 grams protein) on Taco Bell's menu has fewer calories, less fat, saturated fat, and more protein in total than their chicken variety.
If you pair them with a serving of black beans and rice (at 190 calories, 3.5 grams fat, zero grams saturated, six grams fiber, six grams protein), you get a nice injection of protein and a rather hefty dose of fiber, too. The meal comes in under 500 calories. Result!
4. KFC - Kentucky grilled chicken breast and green beans
A single KFCgrilled chicken breast (at 210 calories, seven grams fat, two grams saturated, 38 grams protein) offers more protein and less fat than any combination of two pieces of grilled chicken from KFC (thighs, drumsticks etc).
Pair your chicken with a serving of green beans (at 25 calories, 0 gram fat, two grams fiber, one gram protein), and your total meal is still less than 250 calories. If you're still hungry, throw in a side salad with light dressing or a grilled drumstick if you want more meat. Either option adds less than 90 calories and four grams of fat.
5. Arby's - Chopped Farmhouse salad with roast turkey and light Italian dressing and two potato cakes
Stay away from Arby's go-to sandwiches, and opt instead for the chain's Chopped Farmhouse Salad with roast turkey and light dressing (250 calories, 14 grams fat, seven grams saturated, two grams fiber, 22 grams protein). You'll get a dose of protein and some added fiber, roughly for 250 calories. Add two potato cakes (250 calories, 14 grams fat, two grams saturated, two grams fiber, two grams protein) and your order is guaranteed to fill you up.
6. Chick-fil-A - Eight-count grilled chicken nuggets with barbecue dipping sauce and Superfood side salad
We all know Chick-fil-A is one of the best fast food joints to visit if you're looking for reasonably healthy fare. The eight-count grilled chicken nuggets (at 185 calories, 3.5 grams fat, one gram saturated, 25 grams protein) is a large enough serving (with enough protein) to help keep you full.
The superfood side salad (at 140 calories, seven grams fat, one gram saturated, two grams fiber, three grams protein) featuring kale, broccolini, dried cherries, and nuts, is legitimately chock-full of vitamins and minerals. A single serving offers 45 and 80 percent of your daily vitamin A and C needs, respectively.
7. Popeyes - Three-piece blackened chicken tenders and regular green beans
If your doctor asked you to steer clear of saturated fat, you're in luck. This Popeyes combo of blackened (grilled) chicken tenders (at 170 calories, two grams fat, zero grams saturated, zero grams fiber, 26 grams protein) and green beans (at 55 calories, two grams fat, zero grams saturated, two grams fiber, three grams protein) is completely free of the stuff.
If the total calorie count of about 225 calories just can't keep you full, you can allow yourself to splurge on the five-piece blackened chicken tenders. The two extra pieces increase the total calorie content of the meal to just 333 calories.
8. Five Guys - Veggie sandwich and little fry
Five Guys makes it especially hard to track down detailed information about their nutritional content (probably for good reason). A plain veggie sandwich, without cheese or mayo is 440 calories (with 15 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated, two grams fiber and seven grams protein), thanks to the whopping 280 calories and nine grams of fat in the bun alone.
Add the "little fry" (at 528 calories, 23 grams fat, four grams saturated, eight grams fiber, eight grams protein) and you're looking at a meal that's almost 1000 calories and 38 grams of fat.
9. McDonald's - regular hamburger and Side salad with Newman's Own low-fat balsamic vinaigrette
There's not much to a McDonald's classic hamburger (at 250 calories, eight grams fat, three grams saturated, two grams fiber, 13 grams protein) and you get a pretty low-calorie meal when combining it with a simple side salad (at 50 calories, 1.5 grams fat, one gram fiber, one gram protein). At just 300 calories, it's almost guaranteed to fit into a calorie controlled eating plan.
10. Dairy Queen - Grilled chicken BLT salad and oven baked Lay's Original Potato Crisps
The Grilled Chicken BLT Salad (at 270 calories, 11 grams fat, five grams saturated, three grams fiber, 35 grams protein) is probably your best bet when you swing by Dairy Queen. When you pair it with a pre-packaged bag of baked potato chips (at 130 calories, two grams fat, zero grams saturated, two grams fiber, two grams protein), the items add up to only 400 calories (minus the salad dressing).
Like Five Guys, Dairy Queen doesn't make the nutritional information easy to find, so be careful if you want something else. Maybe choose one of their "light" dressings to keep any additional damage in check.
11. Wendy's - Power Mediterranean chicken salad, half size and small chili
Wendy's has a pretty nice assortment of salads, and the half-size of their Power Mediterranean chicken salad (at 250 calories, nine grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated, five grams fiber, five grams protein) makes the perfect mid-day meal when paired with a small cup of chili (at 170 calories, five grams fat, two grams saturated, four grams fiber, 15 grams protein).
12. In-N-Out - Protein-style hamburger with onions and french fries
Similar to Five Guys, In-N-Out isn't the best chain to go to if you want to be healthy. While the protein style hamburger (at 240 calories, 17 grams fat, four grams saturated, three grams fiber, 13 grams protein) with a lettuce wrap in place of a bun isn’t a terrible option, the chain only offers French fries as a side, and they only come in one size - high-calorie and fatty (at 395 calories, 18 grams fat, five grams saturated, two grams fiber, seven grams protein).
13. Whataburger - Apple and cranberry chicken salad with low-fat herb vinaigrette and small french fry
There's a lower-calorie version of this same apple and cranberry salad (at 390 calories, 13 grams fat, seven grams saturated, eight grams fiber, 34 grams protein), but it doesn't come with chicken. It, therefore, lacks about 24 grams of protein, which plays a significant role in keeping you full.
Granted, the small french fry order sets you back a bit in the meal's calorie count (at 280 calories, 14 grams fat, two grams saturated, three grams fiber, three grams protein), but at least you're accumulating 11 grams of fiber in the process. Together, it's almost half the recommended daily value.
14. White Castle - Two original sliders and small clam chips
White Castle is another one of those fast food chains that don't worry about catering to the health-conscious crowd. You can only really stick to the two original sliders (280 calories, 12 grams fat, five grams saturated, two grams fiber, 14 grams protein) and a small order of clam strips (210 calories, 17 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated, zero grams fiber, eight grams protein). This way, the meal comes in at under 500 calories.
15. Subway - Veggie Delite salad and eight-ounce homestyle chicken noodle soup
When you’re looking to keep your meal extra-lean, look no further than Subway’s Veggie Delite salad and chicken noodle soup combo (at 60 calories, one gram fat, zero grams saturated, four grams fiber, three grams protein and 110 calories, three grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, one gram fiber, eight grams protein respectively).
If you would like to, you can add some protein, but the portion serving is pretty generous so you may find yourself full before you know it. I highly doubt it though: If the salad doesn't fill you up, the noodle soup will.
16. Shake Shack - Chicken Dog and regular fries
The healthier meat option here is the Chicken-Dog (at 320 calories, 13 grams fat, four grams saturated, four grams fiber, 20 grams protein) but once again, a regular order of French fries (at 420 calories, 19 grams fat, three grams saturated, five grams fiber, five grams protein) pushes an otherwise OK meal into one with excess of calories and fat. You'd probably be better off hitting up Shake Shack with a friend, and splitting a meal.
17. Chipotle - Chicken salad with black beans, fajita vegetables and extra salsa and guacamole
With all of Chipotle's options, it's easy for a healthy meal to get out of hand, but stick with the basics and you should be okay. Get yourself a chicken salad featuring black beans, fajita vegetables, and extra salsa (at 410 calories, 8.5 grams fat, three grams saturated, 11 grams fiber, 42 grams protein), then splurge on a side of guacamole.
Yes, guac's got 22 grams of fat, but they’re almost all the healthy kind, and if you mix the guac with the salsa on top of your salad, you won’t need to add a dressing of any kind.
If you order wisely, watching your portion sizes, avoiding trans fats and excessive saturated fat, you can leave your fast food joint of choice with some sort of nutritional value. Try and come away with some quality protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals and you'll feel great, or at least full.