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Healthy Eating

Here you will find tons of information about healthy eating and incorporating the principles of healthy nutrition into your daily life. Built around Dr. Cederquist’s nutritional foundation for healthy weight loss, these articles place a wealth of information right at your fingertips.

How to Order Healthy Food Meals & Snacks

Whether looking for a healthy fast food lunch, snack, or anything in between, order up convenience and health with these options and tips!

How to Order Healthy Food Meals & Snacks


Fast food is notorious for being "unhealthy." Fast foods like burgers, fried chicken, tacos, and fries attend to be high in calories, fat, and sodium and low in healthy nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In fact, some fast food meals can provide as many calories as are recommended for a whole day.

While limiting fast food can be helpful for eating an overall healthy diet, sometimes eating fast food is the last resort. So, if you are trying to eat healthy but find yourself at a drive thru, check out these straightforward options and tips for making low-calorie choices easier while eating fast food.

7 Healthy Fast Food Options & Tips

Find yourself having to eat fast food but still want something on the healthy side? Stick with these options and tips for picking the healthiest fast food options.

1. Go for Grilled Chicken Options

A general rule of thumb for the leanest options on a fast food menu is entrees with grilled chicken instead of entrees with fried chicken or red meat. 

For example, Chick-Fil-A's grilled chicken sandwich is lower in calories compared to the fried chicken sandwiches, with each providing almost 30 grams of protein! The same goes for the grilled nuggets, as they contain 130 calories per serving compared to 250 calories for the fried chicken nuggets!

So when in doubt, and if available, opt for a grilled chicken breast or nuggets to keep calories in check without compromising protein. 

2. Order Salads with Dressing on the Side

Salads are usually considered a healthy and low-calorie fast food menu option, and they feature a vegetable instead of being just a bread and meat entree. 

However, salads can be surprisingly higher in calories than you think due to high-fat, high-calorie salad dressings. For example, the Cobb salad with nuggets from Chick-Fil-A is 850 calories which is higher than any entree sandwich!

To make salads a lower calorie choice, stick with getting the dressing on the side for the healthiest fast food options. If possible, avoid creamy dressings and choose oil vinaigrette as an alternative dressing. 

Likewise, watch out for high-calorie salad toppings like bacon, cheese, croutons, and fried toppings. They are sneaky extra calories and can add up quickly!

If there are no entree salads available or you want something more filling, get a salad with dressing on the side. Pair with an entree like a grilled chicken sandwich.

3. Skip those "Upgrades"

Fast food chains make it easy to order large sizes of food. Avoid the urge to "upgrade" serving sizes if looking for the healthiest options. 

Instead of a double or large sandwich, order a simple sandwich, like a plain hamburger or chicken sandwich. For example, a Spicy Crispy Chicken Jr. sandwich from Burger King is only 387 calories compared to the Original Chicken Sandwich which is 684 calories.

Ordering from a kid's menu or dollar menus can help keep portion sizes smaller and lower in calories. They also still provide the taste you may be craving from fast food!

Finally, while it may be extra messy, eating a sandwich without the top or bottom bun can be a way to cut back on calories and simple carbs when eating fast food. Some fast food chains also offer lettuce wraps to cut back on calories. 

4. Limit Fried Options

Limiting fried entrees and sides is one of the easiest tips for finding the healthiest fast food items. Choose grilled options, like chicken, or non-fried vegetarian items like a bean burrito or Veggie Power Menu Bowl from Taco Bell for the healthiest menu items.

Instead of fries with an entree, choose a side salad or cut apples.

5. Build a Meal with Healthy Sides

The healthiest fast food option could be pairing some sides together instead of ordering an entree. This can also add fruits and vegetables to the meal and, therefore, offer more fiber compared to a traditional fast food meal.

For example, you could pair a fruit cup, kale crunch salad, and a side of chicken noodle soup at Chick-Fil-A for a balanced, healthy meal option.

At most fast food restaurants, you can opt for a side of apples or other fruit if available instead of fries. At Wendy’s, a side of chili can be paired with a baked potato or apple bites.

These healthier options also make for a great on the go snack!

6. Watch Out for Liquid Calories

Meal deals can make adding a soda to your meal an easy choice. However, for the healthiest option, avoid drinking soda with your fast food meal. Soda is notorious for being an empty source of calories and added sugar.

Additionally, sweet coffee drinks or smoothies can also be high in sugar that can add in sneaky, unsuspecting extra calories to a fast food meal. Stick with water or unsweetened tea for the healthiest beverages.

7. Check the Menu Before You Go

It can sometimes be hard to judge how healthy menu items are on a fast food menu. That's why it can be most helpful to look at the menu and nutrition information before heading to the restaurant.

Some seemingly healthy items, especially salads, may be higher in calories than you may suspect. Therefore, do your own research before ordering to find the best options, including allergen-friendly if needed.

Healthy Fast Food Bottom Line 

It can be challenging, but not impossible, to find healthy alternatives at fast food restaurants. While health experts recommend cooking at home as often as possible for healthy eating, sometimes it is unavoidable to eat out at fast food restaurants. 

When this happens, it is helpful to rely on general tips for ordering lower-calorie and healthy menu items. These include ordering grilled options over fried, choosing smaller portions, foregoing sweet drinks, and not overlooking sides to build a healthier, balanced meal. 

Lastly, remember to do your own research on menu items before eating. Sometimes a healthier-sounding item may not always be the healthiest choice!

References:

Full nutrition info. Taco Bell Nutrition Information. https://www.tacobell.com/nutrition/info

McDonald's menu: Our full McDonald's food menu. https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/full-menu.html

Nutrition and allergens. Chick-Fil-A. https://www.chick-fil-a.com/nutrition-allergens.

Online offers and ordering. Burger King. https://www.bk.com/nutrition-explorer.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on July 19, 2022. Updated on August 05, 2022.

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