Not All Fast Food Is Terrible for You
We associate fast food with dense calories, nutritional nightmares that do little more than fill us up and make us fat. The good news is that you can actually make better choices when you eat out. While that probably isn’t the best news to those who think a spin through the drive-thru is license to cast all efforts to eat right to the wind, it should be a relief to everyone else. Here are some fast food choices that aren’t awful.
Panera Bread: Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich
While chicken salad might not be your first choice, there’s no disputing that there are some healthy things between the sourdough slices. There’s celery, red grapes, toasted almonds, greens, and tomatoes — plus a manageable 640 calories.
Arby’s: Classic Roast Beef Sandwich
OK, it’s tempting to upsize this one, but try to resist. The chain once had some pretty great salads on the menu, but — like other fast food joints, they’ve been tossed during the pandemic. Still, this Arby’s sandwich isn’t a total miss. It has 23 grams of protein and 360 calories. While sodium is high (970mg) and there are no fresh vegetables, you could do worse.
Chick-fil-A: Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Yes, you may want fried chicken, but Chick-fil-A serves up a pretty tasty and much healthier grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato on a multigrain bun. For just 390 calories you get 28 grams of protein.
McDonald’s: Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
While McDonald’s got rid of all its surprisingly decent salads during the pandemic, the good news is that one healthy option remains — oatmeal. With red and green apples, cranberries, and two varieties of raisins added (and yes, some brown sugar and cream), it’s just 320 calories. Compare that to the 550-calorie Sausage, Egg, and Cheese McGriddle.
Starbucks: Tomato and Mozzarella on Focaccia
If you’re looking for a vegetarian fast-food option, the good news is that there are more than there used to be. The Starbucks mozzarella and tomato sandwich is surprisingly high in protein (15 grams) and low in calories (360). With basil and spinach, you can almost convince yourself this is a health food.
Dunkin’ Wake-Up Wrap
Not only is this 220 calories (if you choose bacon), you can customize the eggs, cheese, and meat in this filling Dunkin’ breakfast wrap. Even with other meat choices, the calorie count stays below 300. Will it fill you up? For a little while, at least.
Wendy’s: Apple Pecan Salad
Oh, Wendy. One of the few burger chains to stick with post-pandemic salads, this Apple Pecan Salad is chock full of good things. Greens, red and green apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese, and grilled chicken are topped with a Pomegranate Vinaigrette dressing for 540 calories, but you can save 90 calories by skipping the dressing altogether.
Chipotle: Sofritas Salad Without Rice
Eating at Chipotle is usually a pretty healthy choice, though some options are healthier than others. Pick the sofritas (tied with steak as the lowest calorie protein and a must for plant-based diets) and save 210 calories by skipping the rice. Add black beans for extra fiber, and your entire meal is just 505 calories. Pick salsas (except roasted chili-corn) instead of cheese and sour cream, and you won’t raise the calorie count much higher, either.
Panda Express: Bowl With Super Greens and Broccoli Beef
Yes, chow mein and rice are tempting, but if you can just load up on Super Greens at Panda Express, you can have a healthy meal of Chinese food without a side of guilt. A medley of kale, broccoli, and cabbage, the Super Greens are just 90 calories. Note that Super Greens don’t seem to be available at every Panda Express location, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if they’re available anyway. If not, you can always substitute mixed veggies (80 cal). Add the Broccoli Beef for another 150 calories, and it’s surprisingly good for you.
Domino’s: Pacific Veggie Pizza With Thin Crust
You may not think of pizza as a health-conscious choice, but Domino’s has a way to get you to eat your veggies, at least. The pizza has roasted red peppers, baby spinach, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and black olives for a fully vegetarian option. The three kinds of cheese — feta, provolone, and mozzarella — aren’t as healthy, but the size-small thin crust keeps each slice to around 240 calories.
Au Bon Pain: Mediterranean Salad
This vegetarian salad has plenty of heart-healthy ingredients: greens, hummus, avocado, Kalamata olives, feta, grape tomatoes, red bell peppers, and cucumbers. While 220 calories are from fat (and a good amount are from healthy sources like the olives), there are just 350 in the whole thing.
Five Guys: Hamburgers
Five Guys is known for massive burgers, but there are still ways to hack the menu to make it healthier. Skip the cheese on the basic hamburger and load up on the available veggies (they’re free and you can go nuts). Lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, green peppers — while they can’t cancel out the burger itself (it’s still going to clock in at around 550 calories), they can make it a little healthier. Want to really improve your order? Swap the buns for lettuce or order the smaller Little Burger.
In-N-Out: Protein-Style Hamburgers
If you haven’t checked out the secret menu at In-N-Out, protein style is simply swapping the burger for a lettuce wrap. Order extra tomatoes, add pickle, and forgo spread for a really healthy burger that clocks in at around 240 calories and 13 grams of protein.
McDonald’s: Classic Cheeseburger
Go ahead, get the cheese. The cheeseburger is just 300-ish calories, and while it’s not exactly a nutrient-bomb or anything, this little burger just might hit the spot with 15 grams of protein.
Taco Bell: Beef Soft Tacos
This basic menu staple from Taco Bell might not be as high profile as, say, the Crunchwrap Supreme or the latest item to be wrapped in Doritos, but it’s just 180 calories with 9 grams of protein. Or you can order the chicken soft taco for 160 calories and 12 grams of protein. Resist the urge to add too much more, but black beans are a good source of fiber and only 50 more calories.
Want more fast food news in your inbox? Sign up for our free newsletters.