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The Best Ice Creams to Order at Fast-Food Chains, Say Dietitians

A dietitian saying you can eat ice cream? You better believe it!

I scream, you scream…you get it. We all want a cold ice cream cone on a hot summer day, especially on National Ice Cream Day, which is celebrated on Sunday, July 18. If you find yourself craving a sweet cone of your favorite soft serve or scoop as this national holiday rolls around, but you want to keep up with your nutritious eating plan, we have some solutions! Jaclyn London, RD, MS, CDN, Head of Nutrition and Wellness at WW (formerly Weight Watchers), shared a few of her favorite best fast food ice creams to order at your favorite chains if you plan on stopping in for a cone.

"If you know me, you know I love sweets! That's why I make it a point to eat dessert every day, which often includes ice cream—especially during the summer months," says London.

No matter where you go, London shares a specific tip to keep in mind when ordering any dessert: Look for making it nutrient-dense!

"Make sure you're maximizing nutrient-dense, satisfying foods throughout the day—and limiting sneaky sources of added sugar," says London. "That way, you can feel empowered to choose to eat dessert—and enjoy every bite. And when you're on the go, fast food and other chain ice cream spots can be super-convenient and delicious!"

Here are a few of the best fast food ice creams to order at fast-food chains that London recommends. And if you're looking for some healthy meals to enjoy before indulging in your treat, here are 11 Healthy Fast-Food Meals to Order, According to a Dietitian.

McDonald's: Vanilla Cone

mcdonalds soft serve
per 1 treat: 200 calories, 5 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 80 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (0 g fiber, 23 g sugar), 5 g protein

"The iconic fast-food spot is pretty infamous for their more indulgent desserts like McFlurries and milkshakes, but a sneaky dessert hit: A vanilla cone," says London. "It packs up to 15% of your daily value for calcium, and can help you stay satisfied with 5 g of protein."

Along with the cone, here's The #1 Healthiest Order at McDonald's, According to a Nutritionist.

Dairy Queen: Hot Fudge Sundae, Small

dairy queen hot fudge sundae
Courtesy of Dairy Queen
per 1 treat: 300 calories, 10 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 125 mg sodium, 46 g carbs (0 g fiber, 36 g sugar), 6 g protein

"My personal favorite [is] the Dairy Queen classic (small) Hot Fudge Sundae, which will give you 6 grams protein for a 300 calorie delight," says London. "If Hot Fudge isn't your bag, opt for the Pineapple or Strawberry, which are also lighter options on the menu."

London also says that a classic soft serve cone is also a great option, as well as Dilly Bars (around 220 calories each) or even a dipped cone (around 300 calories).

Carvel: Junior Soft Serve

carvel junior soft serve
Courtesy of Carvel
per 1 treat: 260 calories, 12 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 130 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (0 g fiber, 26 g sugar), 5 g protein

"You can't go wrong with a soft-serve of any flavor—they're lower in calories from added sugar and saturated fat—versus other types of frozen desserts without skimping on the satisfaction factor," says London.

Shake Shack: Vanilla & Chocolate Custard Cup, Single

shake shack frozen custard
Courtesy of Shake Shack
per 1 treat: 290 calories, 17 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 150 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (0 g fiber, 29 g sugar), 6 g protein

"Chocolate or vanilla cup or cone of frozen custard is simple but deliciously underrated Shake Shack choices," says London.

Culver's: Vanilla Custard, 1-Scoop

Courtesy of Culver's
per 1 treat: 310 calories, 18 g fat (11 g saturated fat), 80 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (0 g fiber, 27 g sugar), 5 g protein

"For a classic custard, a 1-scoop of the chocolate or vanilla dish is both deliciously indulgent-tasting and satisfying," says London. "A 1-scoop serving is slightly higher in calories-from-fat—since it's custard vs. ice cream—but is lower in total sugar overall."

Relatd: The Best & Worst Burger at Culver's

Wendy's: Juniors Classic Chocolate Frosty

wendys chocolate frosty
per 1 treat: 200 calories, 5 g fat (3 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat), 90 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (0 g fiber, 27 g sugar), 6 g protein

"A junior frosty is the perfect way to enjoy a delicious summer treat on the go," says London. "Both chocolate and vanilla options hover around 200 calories and pack up to 6 grams of protein per serving. And while I wouldn't recommend using frozen desserts as your exclusive source of the bone-health supporting mineral, calcium: A Wendy's junior frosty does provide 20% of your Daily Value. Just saying!"

Don't see your favorite chain? Keep these tips in mind!

fast food ice cream

If you plan on going to a fast-food chain or ice cream shop near you that serves a swirly soft serve, do not sweat! London has a few expert tips on how to order ice cream like a pro.

  • Look for an ice cream that ranges from around 150 to 200 calories per serving.
  • Aim for plain! Sometimes the toppings or add-ins will overload the ice cream with calories.
  • Look for single-serving, mini-classics when available.
  • Opt for fruit as a first ingredient!
  • London points out that adding fruit to your ice cream gives it an extra boost of fiber, which helps you to feel full.
  • Nuts are also a great option to add an extra kick of protein to your dessert.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten