20 Healthiest Fast Food Options for Crazy-Busy Days
First, you missed the bus, then you spilled coffee on your shirt—not the best way to kick off a day jam-packed with meetings, carpooling, and social obligations. Oh and to top things off, you forgot your lunch. Ugh! Worst. Day. Ever. Instead of going hungry, you head to the drive-thru. But before you do—arm yourself with the healthiest fast food options for your waistline.
Busy days can lead many of us to pop into a fast food joint for a bite—even though we know it’s not the healthiest meal on the block. And—believe it or not—diet experts and nutritionists also wind up at places like McDonald’s and Chipotle, too. (Yes, seriously!) Curious how they remain the picture of health while dining at a fast food joint? We were, too, which is why we asked some of America’s top experts to spill their go-to healthiest fast food orders. Read on to find out what winds up on their trays!
CHIPOTLE VEGETARIAN BURRITO BOWL
“Occasionally, I will pop into a fast casual restaurant like Chipotle. When I’m there I typically get a vegetarian burrito bowl with black beans, a half-order of rice, peppers and onions, mild salsa, lettuce and guacamole. Packed with protein and fiber, this dish is filling enough that I don’t ever miss the tortilla.” — Marisa Moore, RDN, owner of Marisa Moore Nutrition in Atlanta, GA
CHICK-FIL-A GRILLED CHICKEN COOL WRAP
“When I need to grab fast food, I’ll head to Chick-Fil-A and grab a Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap. With 340 calories and 36 grams of protein, it’s perfect if I’m in a bind during the work week or on the road. Better yet: The wrap contains flax and oat bran flour, which contributes to its 15 grams of dietary fiber, a heart-healthy nutrient that boosts satiety. I like to get the avocado lime sauce on the side and leave off the cheese to ax some of the sodium!” — Jim White, RD, ACSM HFS, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios
To find out where all of your favorite Chick-Fil-A meals fall on the good-for-you spectrum, check out our exclusive report the best and worst menu options at Chick-fil-A!
MCDONALD’S ARTISAN GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWICH
“It’s not something I do often, but if I am on a long road trip or stuck in an airport, there are definitely viable options at fast food establishments. At McDonald’s, for example, I would get the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich. It’s only 360 calories, and it contains 33 grams of protein. It’s so filling by itself, all you need is a bottle of water to go with it. — Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, CDN a registered dietitian with private practices in New York and Connecticut
STARBUCKS ALMONDS & SWEET GREENS JUICE
“Starbucks has really stepped up its ‘health’ game within the quick-service restaurant sphere. And there are lots of great options for people who are looking for a quick healthy meal on the road. For a healthy boost of energy, simply grab a package of almonds and combine with their fresh fruit cup or Sweet Greens Evolution drink. These combos are two of my favorites whenever I don’t have time for lunch, but need energy to power through a meeting or client.” — Jay Cardiello, NSCA, diet expert, celebrity personal trainer and expert on ABC’s My Diet is Better Than Yours
PRET A MANGER SANDWICH & SOUP
“When time is of the essence and I need to find a healthy meal in minutes, I usually find myself in line at quick-service restaurants like Panera or Pret A Manger. At Pret, I opt for the balsamic chicken & avocado or tuna sandwich with Moroccan lentil soup. When I’m a Panera patron, my go-to is the turkey and kale sandwich with a mixed veggie soup.” — Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN founder of The NY Nutrition Group
STARBUCKS OMEGA-3 BISTRO BOX
“The Omega-3 Bistro Box, one of the newer items on the Starbucks menu, is loaded with heart-healthy and satisfying bites like nuts, an Alaskan salmon spread, seed-based gluten-free crackers, edamame hummus, and dark chocolate. Yum! Protein, fiber and healthy fats are the primary things that I look for in a meal, and this healthy grab-n-go option provides all three!” — Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition
SUBWAY 6-INCH TUNA SALAD SANDWICH
“My go-to fast food pick is the Subway 6-inch tuna salad sandwich. I limit my consumption of cured meats and I’m always aiming to meet the recommended two servings of seafood per week—this sandwich helps with both. I order it on a 9-grain wheat roll, with spinach, green peppers, olives, cucumber and banana peppers, which comes in under 500 calories and provides 4 grams fiber and 20 grams protein. It’s also a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Sometimes I also add on avocado, which adds just 60 calories and serves up some good fats. Usually, I enjoy the sandwich with water or unsweetened iced tea, no chips.” — Michelle Dudash, RDN, chef and creator of the Clean Eating Cooking School.
PANERA BREAD MEDITERRANEAN QUINOA SALAD WITH ALMONDS
“When I’m in a pinch, I’ll head to Panera, who recently created a healthier menu and removed many artificial ingredients and additives. I’ll usually order the Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Almonds with the Greek dressing on the side. The salad, made with kale, romaine, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, quinoa and toasted almonds, has 460 calories, 19 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber, which is a perfect amount of calories for a lunch and the amount of protein and fiber help keep me satisfied. The sodium is slightly high for me at 710 milligrams, but most of the foods I eat at home don’t have much sodium so it all balances out.” — Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen
JUICE SHOP SMOOTHIE
“A crazy day wouldn’t lead me to traditional fast food, but it oftentimes leads me to a juice place for a fresh-made smoothie. It’s fast and it’s food.” — Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, author of The Little Book of Thin
BURGER KING GARDEN GRILLED CHICKEN SALAD
“Although I can’t remember the last time I ate fast food, if caught in a bind, I would order a grilled chicken garden salad. Popular places like Panera, Burger King, Wendy’s and McDonald’s carry this item and if you only use 1/3 of the dressing packet (I avoid the low-fat kinds because they carry extra sugar), you can typically get a protein- and fiber-rich meal that weighs in under 500 calories.” — Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN of Real Nutrition NYC
DUNKIN’ DONUTS EGG WHITE FLATBREAD
“Fast food, in general, is not my first choice, but in a pinch, there are definitely things I can find. I like the Dunkin’ Donuts Egg White Flatbread for 320 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 17 grams of protein. The protein and fiber will keep you full (much fuller than a donut), and you don’t have to worry about going off track while you are on the road.” — Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD
CHIPOTLE BARBACOA BURRITO BOWL
“Chipotle has a fantastic option to create your own burrito bowl. I add the barbacoa and black beans for protein and fresh tomato salsa, roasted chili-corn salsa, and lettuce for a plethora of vegetables, spices, and flavor. The bowl contains 18 grams of fiber to really fill you up. It’s a healthy winner for my go-to quick dinners.” — Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN, founder of Family. Food. Fiesta.
To see how Koszyk fills her grocery cart, check out how a nutritionist spends $100 on groceries!
WENDY’S GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWICH
“It is difficult to find an eating establishment, even one classified as fast food, that doesn’t offer a grilled chicken sandwich. That is always my go-to option if I’m out and about, hungry and need something fast and balanced from a fast food restaurant. While it might not be the most exciting menu option, Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich is one of the healthiest fast food orders because it offers the balance of carbohydrates and lean protein I also strive for when putting together a meal.” — Heather Mangieri, MS, RD, CSSD
STARBUCKS CHEESE & FRUIT BOX
“A satisfying yet low-calorie lunch found at Starbucks is the Cheese & Fruit Bistro Box. It only has 470 calories and a mere 470 milligrams of sodium, yet it provides a generous 14 grams of filling protein.” — Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND, a Chicago-area registered dietitian
“Chipotle is my go-to healthiest fast food order when I am in a pinch! I always order the salad with rice and beans, chicken or pork, extra vegetables, salsa, and guacamole. This meal contains a ton of nutrient-dense foods and it fills me up quickly. Since the servings are pretty big, I usually save half for a later meal or snack.” Katie Cavuto, RD, culinary nutritionist, and chef
STARBUCKS SPINACH & FETA WRAP
“My favorite food item from Starbucks is the Spinach & Feta breakfast wrap. It’s made with whole wheat and filled with cage-free egg whites, spinach, feta cheese and tomatoes. Finding healthiest fast food options with a good amount of protein and fiber can often be difficult, but this wrap delivers both—for under 300 calories!” — Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York City-based Dietitian
DIG INN SALMON & VEGGIES
“If I need a quick meal that fits the bill of healthiest fast food orders, I’ll head to Dig Inn and get a small Marketplace with wild sockeye salmon, local greens, roasted sweet potatoes, and Sicilian cauliflower (or their amazing Brussels sprouts if they’re in season). I love the combination of protein, vitamin D and omega-3s fiber, and creatively spiced veggies. This combo is super satisfying and keeps my energy levels steady well through the afternoon.” — Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD, co-owner of C&J Nutrition
PANERA BREAD CHICKEN SOBA NOODLE SALAD
“Panera Bread’s Chicken Soba Noodle Salad with Peanut Sauce is a winning order. The soba noodles serve up hearty, fiber-dense whole grains, the chicken provides protein, and the peanut sauce is rich in healthy fat. This meal keeps my energy and blood sugar levels stable hours after I finish lunch.” — Willow Jarosh, MS, RD co-owner of C&J Nutrition
SUBWAY 6-INCH TURKEY SANDWICH
“My go-to fast food order is the Subway 6″ sandwich made with 9-Grain Wheat Bread, turkey breast, one slice of American cheese, lettuce and tomato and a teaspoon or two of mayo. This combination tastes great (especially when toasted) and provides protein, fiber, whole grains, veggies and dairy to help me meet my daily quotas.” — Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week
“With the calories right on the menu, Panera makes it easier to choose the healthiest fast food order right at the point of purchase. I like to do the You-Pick-2 with their black bean soup and one of the salads like the Fuji Apple, Greek or Mediterranean Quinoa Salad. The variety keeps it interesting and the protein and fiber make for a satisfying meal.” — Marisa Moore, RDN
Images #16, #1, #2 courtesy of Flickr, #7 courtesy of @juicegeneration