Culver’s is the Midwestern fast food gem that appeals to both of your savory and sweet taste buds. The family favorite offers both classic American fare (cheeseburgers, onion rings, and chicken tenders) and taste-tempting milkshakes, frozen custards, and floats. While digging into their signature Butter Burgers and melt-in-your-mouth custards are definitely delicious choices, it’s safe to say that they aren’t the most nutritious choices.
But dining out at Culver’s doesn’t have to be a total setback for your diet. There are healthier food items on the menu that can help you make better choices and ensure you won’t go overboard on the calories, sodium, fat, and sugar. To help you make smarter decisions, we consulted some registered dietitians about what are the healthiest and unhealthiest foods on the Culver’s menu.
Premium Chicken Sandwiches
Best: Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Katey Davidson, MSc, RD, says this grilled sandwich is a suitable dining choice for those looking to scale back on the fattening burgers, as it’s relatively low in calories and fat and provides you with a lot of protein. “The protein inside this meal will help fill you up quickly, and may prevent you from overeating or taking a look at the dessert menu,” she suggests.
Worst: Original Chicken Tenders
Just four pieces of chicken tenders set you back 540 calories and 24 grams of fat. However, they suggest that sodium is actually the biggest offender of this dish, as it contains a whopping 1,840 milligrams. “You can almost imagine your blood pressure rising before you even take a bite,” Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos say.
Best: Strawberry Fields Salad with Grilled Chicken and Raspberry Vinaigrette
“This salad gives you a variety of vegetables and fruit while also providing you with a good amount of protein,” Davidson explains. The vegetables and fruit will provide you with good fiber, she says, which will also help you feel full quickly.
Worst: Chicken Cashew with Grilled Chicken Salad
At 450 calories, this salad has the highest amount of calories on the menu. And because it has 845 milligrams of sodium (more than 1/3 of the maximum daily sodium allotment), Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos say it’s too high for it to be considered a nutrient-dense meal.
Best: Beef Pot Roast Sandwich
The roast beef is made of chuck roast that’s been slow braised with herbs and spices. The result is melt-in-your-mouth meat that’s super tender. Davidson says that this sandwich is fairly low in calories and provides the delicious flavor you’re looking for. “Compared to other sandwiches offered, this is one of the lowest sodium items on the menu,” she adds.
Worst: Grilled Reuben Melt Sandwich
Davidson says this is probably the worst sandwich you could order at Culver’s because it has almost double the calories as a grilled chicken sandwich. In addition, she suggests that this sandwich has over four times the recommended amount of saturated fat and is much higher in sodium. “This meal may be tasty, but is probably not worth it,” she explains.
Best: ButterBurger ‘The Original,’ Single (No Cheese)
“Just because you’re trying to eat healthier, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a burger at Culver’s,” Davidson says. Culver’s signature ButterBurgers are fresh beef patties served on a lightly buttered bun with Wisconsin cheddar on top. You have the option to order a single, double, or triple. The original ButterBurger with one patty is a good option according to Davidson, as it’s quite low in calories, fat, and sodium, and provides you a good amount of protein. And even if you were to add cheese to your order, she says that this option won’t sabotage your health goals altogether.
Best: Swiss ButterBurger, Single
If you’re craving a different kind of burger that is beyond the classic beef and cheddar, this bun is for you. “This is one of the lowest calorie ButterBurgers on the menu,” Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, and Tammy Lakatos RDN, CDN, CFT, explain. And with approximately 520 milligrams of sodium, it is less than a quarter of your daily sodium quota, which is better than many burgers.
Worst: The Culver’s Bacon Deluxe, Triple
“The name says it all—triple anything, especially when it includes bacon, is automatically a recipe for a high-calorie, high-fat, high-sodium option, and this is no exception,” say Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos.
They also say this ButterBurger contains almost as many calories you should eat in an entire day, plus more than a day’s worth of saturated fat and half a day’s worth of sodium. Yikes!
Best: North Atlantic Cod Dinner, 2 pieces
Although it has a lot of fat and sodium, Samantha Lynch, MS, RDN, LDN, says this dinner can be a decent meal choice at Culver’s if you split it with a friend.
Worst: Beef Pot Roast Dinner
Davidson says that this meal actually has almost twice the amount of calories and fat, and contains a serious amount of sodium. Most people should get less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, she explains, which is just about the same amount of sodium in this dinner alone.
Worst: North Atlantic Cod Dinner, 3-Piece
Choosing fish for dinner may seem like a good idea, but Davidson suggests that this fried fish dish is coated in batter, which significantly increases the number of calories you consume. “Besides the protein (which is well over the amount anyone would need for a normal meal), you won’t be getting much nutrition from this dinner,” she says.
Best: Tomato Florentine Soup
“Soup is often eaten as an appetizer, so a good soup choice is one that won’t let the calories get out of hand at the gate, or else the entire meal will be a calorie bomb,” the Lakatos sisters explain. Both the Lakatos sisters say that the Tomato Florentine Soup is one of the lowest-calorie soups on the menu.
Worst: George’s Chili Supreme
“If you’re looking to rack up fat, calories, and sodium in soup, simply add cheese and sour cream, and that’s exactly what this chili does,” Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos say. This chili has roughly 300 calories more than the other soups on the menu. And for this amount of calories and fat, it really should be a meal—not an appetizer or side.
Best: Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Regular
Davidson says if you order the mashed potatoes without gravy (or have it on the side), you will decrease the amount of sodium and calories. “Mashed potatoes are great on their own and provide you with flavor without adding a lot of calories to your dish,” she explains.
Worst: Wisconsin Cheese Curds, Large
“Seeing the words ‘cheese’ and ‘large’ together are your clue that this dish isn’t a winner for your waistline or health,” Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos say. A side dish should be low in calories since it’s just an accompaniment to a meal. Plus, there’s not even a gram of fiber for this side dish to redeem itself for all of the calories, sodium, and fat it packs.
Best: Culver’s Root Beer Float, Short
“This is by far the best choice when it comes to the milkshakes, as most shakes on the menu have much more calories,” the Lakatos sisters say. However, they suggest splitting it with a friend (or three!) to save calories, sugar, and artery-clogging fat.
Worst: Chocolate Malt, Tall
The large portion is the real killer in this dessert, but a smaller size of this order nearly cuts the calories in half. Still, it’s extremely high in artery-clogging saturated fat with 28.4 grams.
Best: Chocolate, Dish, 1 Scoop
“Stick to just one scoop and your diet won’t come undone with this gem of a dessert,” say Lyssie and Tammy Lakatos. At just 280 calories, this is a win-win for you and your chocolate cravings.
Worst: Crazy for Cookie Dough Concrete Mixer, Tall
This custard dessert has as many calories most people need in an entire day (1,800-2,000 calories). In addition, it contains more fat than you should get in your entire day—85 grams—that’s nearly two days’ worth of saturated fat.
Best: Grilled Cheese on Sourdough with 1% Milk
While this meal may be slightly high saturated fat, Davidson says you’ll be providing your child with a high-protein meal, which is important for growth and development. She also says that by choosing milk, your child with be getting an array of nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D—important nutrients for bone health.
Worst: ButterBurger Cheese, Single
“This meal is the worst from a calorie standpoint alone—it has 460 calories and is high in saturated fat,” say the Lakatos sisters. To make it healthier, they recommend leaving out the cheese and having low-fat milk instead of a soft drink.
Best: Crinkle Cut Fries, Small
Lowest in calories, fat, and sodium, Lynch says this is the best Snackpak choice at Culver’s because it has the most fiber. However, she says to keep in mind that this item is very low in protein, making it something to consider if you’re looking to up your intake.
Worst: The Culver’s Bacon Deluxe, Single
Lynch says this is one item you should at all costs. While it has a decent amount of protein, it’s high calorie, fat, sugar and sodium counts make it unforgiving.
Best: Hot Tea
This hot tea beverage is low in calories and added sugar. “If you’re going out for dinner, so why waste your calories on beverages?” Davidson says. “By choosing healthier drinks, you can feel better about your main course.”
Worst: Mountain Dew, Small
Soda beverages are very high in calories and added sugar, but Mountain Dew is one of the worst offenders. Add this drink to your main course and you’re looking at a high-calorie meal with little nutritional value, she adds.