There’s a lot you can do with 500 calories. You could eat 5 apples, 5 pounds of raw spinach, or over half a dozen eggs. It’s somewhat surprising to learn exactly how much nutrient-dense food you need to reach the 500-calorie benchmark. It may also surprise you to learn how little fast food you’d be able to eat to hit the same mark. For example, you can indulge in just over half of Taco Bell’s XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito or you can nibble on a third of Burger King’s American Brewhouse King (that’s like—what—four bites?).
What are we getting at? You see, the macronutrient composition of ultra-processed fast food items is vastly different from the whole foods you pick up in the produce section. While one (whole foods) is rich in satiating fiber and low-calorie water, the other (fast food) is high in calorie-dense fat and sugar. As a result, you end up eating a smaller amount of fast food for the same number of calories.
Of course, if you’re cruising the drive-thru at your favorite fast-food joint, you’re probably not looking for the most nutritious meal. But that doesn’t mean you should go overboard on empty calories. And, trust us, those calories add up quickly.
To get the most nutritional bang for your calorie buck, we’ve rounded up a list of 500-calorie combos at your favorite fast food places. Although each order comes in at under 500 calories, many of these meals don’t exactly get a clean bill of health; Chances are you’ll still be consuming more fat, sodium, and sugar than you’d like. (Which is why you should keep these orders to a once-in-a-while treat.) So read on to find out what 500-calorie fast food looks like at your favorite chain. And for more drive-thru guides and healthy swaps subscribe to the Eat This, Not That! magazine. You’ll get 50 percent off the cover price for a limited time!
McDonald’s Hamburger and Small Fries
Good news: You can have your hamburger and fries at McDonald’s and eat them, too! While this classic combo will cost you 480 calories—under the 500-calorie benchmark—it does come close to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans‘ recommendation to stick to 20 to 35 grams of fat per day if you’re following a 2,000-calorie diet. Coming in at 19 grams of fat, this fried combo tops the charts and should not be a regular dinner if you’d like to keep your heart healthy.
Burger King Cheeseburger and Chicken Nuggets
OK, so a Whopper Jr. and a side of chicken fries are out of the equation, but you can still enjoy the King’s juicy cheeseburger and perfectly seasoned chicken nuggets for 450 calories and 23 grams of hunger-curbing protein. Unfortunately, this pair clocks in at 870 milligrams of sodium—almost 40 percent of the 2,300 milligrams upper limit for adults. Ideally, you should keep your sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams, according to the American Heart Association. So remember to enjoy your meal with a tall glass of water instead of a large Coke to offset the salt.
Wendy’s 4-Piece Chicken Nuggets and Garden Side Salad
Many of Wendy’s burgers and chicken sandwiches are upwards of 360 calories, which breaks the calorie bank when you pair it with any side. Instead, we recommend sticking to their lower-calorie sides. By pairing the crispy 4-piece chicken nuggets with a garden side salad, you’re saving yourself from seven additional grams of saturated fat in Dave’s Single burger and getting 16 grams of hunger-curbing protein. However, this meal is still high in belly-bloating sodium, so watch your salt intake for the remainder of the day.
Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich and Side Salad
When you’re craving a chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A is where you want to go. At 310 calories, the grilled chicken sandwich is your safest bet. The warm, multi-grain bun and protein-packed chicken breast will stave off the midnight munchies. To further enhance your meal, enjoy your sandwich with their side salad. Filled with Romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, carrots, red cabbage, and crispy red bell peppers, you’ll get at least three grams of waist-cinching fiber. Like many dishes on this list, we raise a red flag for the high sodium in the chicken sandwich so keep the rest of your salt consumption for the day to a minimum.
Arby’s Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad
Filled with a bountiful bowl of lettuce, mixed greens, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, bacon, and roast turkey, the Farmhouse Salad is one of the best choices on the Arby’s menu for its low-calorie count and high protein. Just be sure to keep an eye on your sodium count as this salad is generous with the salt. And since other Arby’s menu items are loaded with calories, fat and sodium, you’re better off passing on them — even the kids’ menu.
Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl
While you can certainly eat healthily at Chipotle, not all options are ideal. A simple chicken burrito sounds good until you realize the flour tortilla alone will costs you 320 calories and more than half a day’s worth of sodium. But if you want to slim down your order, the burrito bowl is the way to go. Build your own bowl with chicken, brown rice, and fresh tomato salsa.
Sonic Jr. Deluxe Burger
Many people assume that the healthiest thing on a fast food menu is either a salad or a veggie burger, but with all the additives in these items, it’s not always the case! Sonic’s veggie burger, for example, has 1,750 milligrams of sodium! So when it comes to choosing the healthiest burger on the menu, you should actually go for the Jr. Deluxe. At 380 calories and 540 milligrams of sodium, it’s the burger with the lowest calories and the least amount of sodium.
Taco Bell Soft Chicken Taco and Soft Beef Taco
A great rule for dining at fast food restaurants is to choose simple items. It’s easier to calculate your calories, and you’ll most likely be eating more whole ingredients. By choosing the basic chicken and beef soft tacos at Taco Bell, you’ll not only get a good serving of protein (18 g for the whole meal) but won’t overdo your sodium or sugar for the day.
Jack in the Box 5-Piece Chicken Nuggets and a Side Salad
Three items for under 500 calories seems great until you realize there’s 31 grams of fat and 1,330 mg of sodium included. So if you decide to indulge in these dishes, be sure to minimize your salt and fat intake for the rest of the day.
KFC Grilled Chicken Breast, Mashed Potatoes, Coleslaw
Opting for grilled instead of fried items at fast food restaurants will always save you calories, as will forgoing any extra sauces or gravy. While many people think that coleslaw is a healthy option, this KFC version contains quite a lot of sugar and fat. (Check out some other totally surprising foods full of hidden sugar.) The sodium content for all three dishes is also on the high side, so enjoy a glass or two of water with your meal.