With a busy lifestyle, it can be hard to maintain a healthy diet. Many people turn to fast-food joints for nutrition, but options are typically loaded with calories, sodium, and saturated fat. In fact, one meal at a fast-food restaurant can exceed your recommended fat and calorie intake for the entire day, while providing little nutrients or fiber.
It’s no secret that fast food isn’t good for us. But life happens, right? Sometimes we find ourselves in a pinch when plans go haywire.
And we get it. Fast food is convenient, inexpensive and in our busy society – sometimes the only option. But if you learn the tricks to ordering healthy fast food, you’ll feel better prepared the next time your only choice is the drive-thru.
The truth is that it’s extremely difficult to follow a healthy diet when you’re eating regularly at fast food restaurants. Fast food is typically loaded with calories, sodium, and unhealthy fat—often enough in one meal for an entire day. it also tends to be low in nutrients and almost totally lacking in fruits, vegetables, and fiber.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid fast food entirely. When you’re hungry and on the run, fast food can really hit the spot. It’s cheap, tasty, and, best of all, convenient. But while it’s OK to indulge a craving every now and then, to stay healthy you can’t make it a regular habit. The key is moderation—both in how often you frequent fast food chains and what you order once you’re there.
Fast food menus are tricky when you’re watching your weight or your health. Finding a healthy, well-balanced meal in most fast food restaurants is a challenge. But there are always choices you can make that are healthier than others. The following tips and menu recommendations can help you stay on track.
1. Chipotle: Burrito Bowl
Go for fajita steak and pinto beans, plus all the salsa and veggies your heart desires, to get plenty of protein without a lot of extra fat. Say "no thank you" to calorie-heavy rice, guacamole, and cheese and opt for pico de gallo for flavor, instead.
2. Culver's: Beef Pot Roast Sandwich
Just because you're watching your intake doesn't mean you have to stick to salads. Braised chuck roast piled on a bun makes this a decent choice for the meat lover. Skip the pickle to lower your salt intake and don't give in to the siren call of the fries.
3. Au Bon Pain: Vegetarian Deluxe Salad
Get your strive-for-five with this vegetarian salad. It's full of greens, peppers, kalamata olives, feta, chickpeas, and other veggies to give your body the nutrition it needs.
4. Dunkin' Donuts: Wake-Up Wrap
Start your day off right by ordering the ham, egg, and cheese version of Dunkin's wake-up wrap. It has less sodium and saturated fat than other options, and tastes great too.
5. Einstein Bros.: Egg and Cheese Bagel
If you've got a hankerin' for a bagel sandwich, ditch the bacon and go strictly egg and cheese. It's a little high in sodium, so try to limit your salt intake elsewhere that day.
6. Five Guys: Little Hamburger
A burger with the bun with run you about 500 calories, but it also weighs in at 25 grams of protein to keep you satisfied. Load that baby up with all the lettuce, green peppers, grilled mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes your heart desires — they're all free!
7. Boston Market: Rotisserie Chicken Bowl
Skip the gravy (yes, even though it's tempting) and go for a double portion of fresh steamed vegetables and green beans over the mashed potatoes and corn. You can even pass on the potatoes and go for double veggies for an even healthier option.
8. Chick-Fil-A: Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
Stay strong and look away from the iconic chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A. Instead, go for grilled chicken breast rolled with lettuce, shredded cabbage, carrots, and cheese in a flaxseed flour flatbread.
9. Hardee's: Low Carb Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Since bread is one of the top sources of salt in the diet, switch out the bun for a lettuce wrap and you'll save both carbs and sodium.
This fast food staple can pack in the calories and leave you feeling gross. But if you’re craving a burger, there’s ways it can be calorie controlled.
- Order the leanest type of burger you can. Or better yet, ask if they have a turkey burger.
- Order a single burger, rather than a double or triple stack.
- Order a junior or kid size.
- Stack your burger with as many veggies as you can. (Skip the iceberg lettuce and aim for baby spinach instead.)
- Order your burger without a bun and ask for it to be lettuce wrapped.
- Skip the bacon (we know, sorry).
11. Dairy Queen: Small Cone
Let's face it: Sometimes your sweet tooth just won't be ignored. When a sweet craving hits, go for a small soft serve. It has less fat than other options, and just enough sugar to tickle your taste buds. A kids cone is even better.
12. Denny's: Fit Fare Loaded Veggie Omelet
Denny's keeps its healthiest options on the Fit Fare menu, where you'll get an English muffin and a side of fruit instead of fatty breakfast meat and greasy potatoes. Try the loaded veggie omelet for a satisfying breakfast or brunch under 500 calories.
A step up in nutrients from traditional meat burgers, chicken sandwiches or chicken nuggets can be a good source of lean protein.
- Always opt for grilled chicken instead of fried. (Pay attention to words on the menu like grilled and roasted.)
- Skip the sauce (like mayo) and order without cheese. These things can quickly add calories.
- Try ordering without a bun and dipping the chicken in mustard.
If you’re looking for a taste of the sea when it comes to fast food, tread carefully. A lot of fish options come with a high price tag in calories and fat.
- Avoid breaded fish items.
- Tuna salad is usually packed with mayonnaise and is often beyond a normal day’s fat guidelines. Ask to see a list of ingredients before ordering.
No one really goes to a fast food restaurant to order a salad, but surprisingly there are several healthy options if you order correctly.
- Aim for a lean source of protein like grilled chicken, beans or eggs.
- Include a variety of food groups in your salad like fruits, nuts and seeds.
- Ask if you can have spinach or other dark leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce.
- Order dressing on the side, bring your own healthier version or dip your fork in before you spear the salad.