When you are looking for a nutritious meal on the go, fast food restaurants can be a minefield of less healthy, high-calorie choices. Having in mind what to choose can help you avoid tempting “meal deals” that will add 200 or more calories.
If you are dieting or simply looking for the best nutrition, aim for a meal that is 500 calories or less, including the drink. It is helpful that many chains now show the calorie total with the items on their displays.
Many chains also have an app with a nutrition calculator that can help you customize your meal and even order it ahead. This can help you ensure you are staying within the bounds of your diet, whether it be low-carb, calorie-controlled, or another popular format. These will also help you spot which items provide more vitamins, minerals, and fiber as is needed for a balanced and healthy diet.
Nutrition Rules of Thumb for Fast Food
- Meals of 500 calories or less
- Grilled rather than fried
- Choose salads and avoid high-fat toppings
- 6-inch subs rather than foot-long sandwiches
- Single-patty burgers without bacon or mayonnaise
- No-calorie drinks (water, diet sodas, coffee, unsweetened tea)
- Order ahead on the restaurant’s app so you aren’t tempted by worse choices.
Subway Best Choices
Subway features its “Fresh Fit” sandwiches, and it is easy to find options for under 500 calories that are low in fat and packed with healthy vegetables.
Their Fresh Fit subs have a standard recipe of being served on 9-grain wheat bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and cucumbers. Even if choosing one of their less-lean meat sandwiches, having them hold the mayo and oil can reduce the calories and fat. You can also choose to have any of the sandwiches as a salad.
- Nutrition Information
- Best Choices for Subs: The lowest-calorie sub is the 6-inch Veggie Delite, 230 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 37 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams protein. Other good choices for under 350 calories and under 6 grams of fat include the 6-inch ham, turkey, Subway Club, oven-roasted chicken, and rotisserie-roasted chicken.
- Best Low-Carb Diet Choices: The salads are your best bet when eating low-carb. Choose the same meats as in the healthier subs (ham, turkey, oven-roasted chicken) as well as tuna. The lower-carb dressings are oil and vinegar dressing or the fat-free Italian dressing.
- Avoid: Skip adding cheese, mayonnaise, and other high-fat toppings and condiments to your sandwich or salad. Don’t add on a bag of chips or a cookie.
Wendy’s Best Choices
Wendy’s has some good options for a quick stop, including a wrap that is quick and easy to eat, high in protein, and low in fat. The chili is a great choice and they have a very healthy grilled chicken sandwich.
- Nutrition Information
- Caesar Side Salad: With the Caesar dressing and croutons, this salad has 240 calories. 8 grams protein, and 15 grams fat. If you take away the dressing and croutons, that goes down to 70 calories, 4 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrate, and 7 grams protein. It provides 45 percent of your daily vitamin A and 30 percent vitamin C. Use one of their fat-free or reduced fat dressings if you want less fat.
- Grilled Chicken Go Wrap: 270 calories, 10 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrate, 20 grams protein. Note that the spicy version is significantly higher in calories and has twice as much fat, so it is not as good of a choice.
- Grilled Chicken Sandwich: 370 calories, 34 grams protein, 10 grams fat. They keep the fat low with a smokey honey mustard dressing and a healthy spring mix of greens.
- Chili: You make a good choice here whether you choose the small or the large chili. The small has only 170 calories, while the large is still low at 250 calories, 7 grams fat, 23 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrate, and 5 grams fiber. This is acceptable for Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet.
- Sour Cream and Chive Potato: 320 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 63 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams protein, 60 percent vitamin C, 20 percent iron.
- Avoid: The breaded and fried chicken sandwich choices are high in fat and calories, so don’t choose those over the grilled chicken.
McDonald’s Best Choices
You can find a few nutritious choices at McDonald’s, especially if you select the side salad rather than fries.
- McDonalds USA Nutrition Calculator: McDonald’s helps you make good choices by selecting current items and customizing ingredients to see the results.
- Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad: If you leave off the cheese and tortilla strips, it drops to 260 calories and 5 grams fat. The standard prep with cheese and torilla strips is 350 calories, 11 grams fat, 37 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fiber. It provides 180 percent of daily value for vitamin A and 50 percent vitamin C.
- Side Salad: Never fear adding this instead of fries, as it has only 15 calories but provides all of your daily vitamin A and 20 percent of your daily vitamin C. You will need to check the nutrition info for any dressing you add.
- Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich: This sandwich has 380 calories, 6 grams fat, 36 grams protein, and 45 grams carbohydrates. Pair it with the side salad for a nutritious meal.
- Hamburger or Cheeseburger: The single burger and single cheeseburger are surprisingly low in calories (250 and 300), and if teamed with a side salad rather than fries, they are good choices. The hamburger has 8 grams of fat while the cheeseburger has 12 grams.
- Avoid: Hold the fries, breaded chicken sandwiches, and salads with breaded chicken.
Burger King Best Choices
Burger King has a few good options, but you must select carefully.
- Burger King Nutrition Calculator: Burger King helps you find current best items based on criteria including under 200 calories, under 500 calories, less than 10 grams fat, less than 20 grams carbohydrates, less than 800 milligrams sodium, and less than 20 grams sugar.
- Chicken Garden Salad: As provided, this is high in fat (33 grams) and has 520 calories. Skipping the dressing or using a fat-free dressing will make it healthier and lower in calories.
- Grilled Chicken Sandwich: Skip the mayonnaise and this sandwich is 360 calories, 7 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 55 grams protein. With mayo (the standard preparation), it is 470 calories with 19 grams fat.
- Whopper Jr.: Order without mayo or cheese for 260 calories, 10 grams fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams protein. The standard preparation (with mayo and cheese) is 310 calories, 18 grams fat.
- MorningStar Veggie Burger: Order without mayonnaise for 310 calories, 8 grams fat, 21 grams protein, 5 grams fiber.
- Side Garden Salad: The standard salad includes cheese and is 60 calories, 4 grams fat. 3 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams protein. You can order it without cheese to drop it to 15 calories. Note that this does not include any dressing.
- Avoid: Fries, onion rings, cheeseburgers
Taco Bell Best Choices
Taco Bell provides a Fresco Menu of items with reduced fat and calories that skip the cheese and use fresh salsa. You can find items easily that way for 350 calories or less. You may be able to lighten other items by ordering them “Fresco Style” as well. Those on low-carb diets can do well with ordering chicken items without sour cream and not eating the tortilla or shell.
Portion control is important at Taco Bell. While many menu items are low enough in calories, the temptation is to eat more than one.
- Taco Bell Nutrition Calculator: Use their calculator to see nutrition for each item, including results when adding or subtracting ingredients.
- Taco: The basic beef soft taco is 180 calories, 9 grams fat, 9 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates. The beef crunchy taco has 170 calories, 9 grams fat, 8 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates.
- Fresco Tacos (Beef): The soft taco has 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 8 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates. The crunchy taco has 140 calories, 7 grams fat, 6 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates.
- Fresco Burrito Supreme (Chicken): 340 calories, 8 grams fat, 18 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates.
- Fresco Bean Burrito: 350 calories, 9 grams fat, 13 grams protein, 56 grams carbohydrates.