20 Healthy Fast-Food Orders, According to Dietitians
Fast food is an affordable way to grab something to eat whether you're tired and don't have the energy to cook, are running out the door and need a quick meal, or are simply craving an indulgence in some of your favorite foods. No matter the circumstances of your fast food ordering, if you're trying to eat healthy, you've probably found it a challenge. The stereotypes about fast food's poor nutrient density are largely true, and many fast-food chains serve up unhealthy options of fried menu items high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat, and those that are low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, dietitians say that there are some healthy fast-food options out there, as long as you know where to look.
When you're on the hunt for healthier fast food, you'll want to check the menu for items that are lower in calories, fat, and sodium, and skip over items like "double" or "triple" burgers. Look for things like bowls, wraps, or salads that generally have more fiber, protein, and servings of vegetables, as well as fewer refined carbohydrates and added sugars.
Not every order is doomed to weigh you down with unhealthful ingredients, and more and more restaurant chains are getting hip to the fact that many consumers actually want to eat right. So, here are 20 of the best healthy fast-food orders around, according to dietitians. Read on, and for more healthy eating tips, check out The 15 Best High-Protein Fast Food Meals.
Subway Grilled Chicken No Bready Bowl
You can certainly find a handful of healthy sub and wrap options at Subway, but if you're more in the mood for a bowl, their No Bready are a great healthy fast-food choice.
"With only 200 calories and four grams of fat, you can load up the Grilled Chicken No Bready Bowl with vegetables for a satisfying high-fiber, high-protein, and low-carbohydrate choice," says Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD.
Panera Bread Greek Salad
When you're craving a hot cup of coffee with your lunch, Panera is the perfect fast-food choice—especially if you're also trying to stick to some healthier options. If it's a flavorful and light salad you're in the mood for, Sabat suggests the Greek Salad from Panera.
"It's a healthy choice because it includes a variety of vegetables and healthy fats from olives and feta cheese," Sabat says. "Plus, it's a lighter option, just 410 calories, compared to some of the calorie-heavy sandwiches and pastries on the menu."
Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Chick-fil-A is famous for its chicken sandwiches—original and grilled. Good fast-food grilled chicken is harder to find these days, but Chick-fil-A is one of the experts. For a healthier sandwich option, try their Grilled Chicken Sandwich.
"Chicken is lean protein, and opting for whole-grain bread and minimal toppings keeps the sandwich relatively low in calories and saturated fat," says Sabat. "It comes in at 390 calories and 12 grams of fat.
Chipotle Balanced Macros Bowl
Chipotle doesn't have the exact nutrition information listed for their Balanced Macro Lifestyle Bowl, but when you learn what it's made of, you'll see why it's on the list for healthy fast-food orders.
"The Balanced Macro Bowl at Chipotle is an excellent healthy option when craving a Mexican dish, as this bowl consists of rice, chicken, black beans, fajita vegetables, fresh salsa, guacamole, and extra romaine lettuce," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN. "This bowl consists of all the macronutrients, as well as other vitamins and minerals, and the chicken and black beans are great sources of protein. The black beans also contribute to the fiber content of the meal, and the guacamole gives the meal heart-healthy fats."
Taco Bell Fresco Soft Tacos
You can personalize quite a bit about the soft tacos at Taco Bell, and if you choose a Fresco Style Soft Taco—which adds diced tomatoes—you'll be able to add some veggies to your order as well as limit your calories to just 180 per taco with only four grams of saturated fat.
"Choosing Fresco-Style substitutes high-calorie ingredients like cheese and sour cream with a flavorful pico de gallo, reducing overall calorie and fat content," Says Sabat. "These changes make for a better choice when you're going to Taco Bell."
Wendy's Grilled Chicken Ranch Wrap
The Wendy's menu is packed full of calorie-dense burgers and sides, but hidden in there are a handful of healthier, lighter options, such as the Wendy's Grilled Chicken Ranch Wrap. "Grilled chicken is a lean protein source, and the use of a whole-grain wrap adds fiber while reducing refined carbohydrates," says Sabat.
KFC Kentucky Grilled Chicken
You may have a hard time imagining anything other than fried chicken from KFC, but their grilled options are just as flavorful and satisfying. Save the fried chicken for special occasions when you're really craving that crispy outer layer, but if it's juicy chicken you're craving, the grilled varieties will fulfill those needs.
"Kentucky Grilled Chicken is a healthier alternative to fried chicken because of its lower fat content," says Sabat. "For 210 calories and only seven grams of fat, this is the healthiest option on the menu. Also, opting for a side salad can add more vegetables to the meal."
In-N-Out Burger Protein Style Burger
Have you tried the "Not So Secret Menu" at In-N-Out yet? It feels like a secret menu because it includes items that aren't on their regular list, but these options are also completely open to the public eye and featured on their website. One of the healthier burger styles on the "Not So Secret Menu" is the Protein Style Burger, "which removes the refined carbohydrates from the bun and replaces it with lettuce, reducing overall calorie intake," says Sabat.
Panda Express String Bean Chicken Breast
One of the benefits of eating at Panda Express is being able to customize your experience. You can choose a base of either low mein, white rice, brown rice, or steamed vegetables, and can then choose from a long list of deliciously savory protein toppings. One of their popular flavor choices, the String Bean Chicken Breast, is also one of the healthier choices on their menu.
"This dish is a better choice because it features lean chicken breast and steamed vegetables, minimizing the use of high-calorie sauces," says Sabat. "For just 190 calories and only two grams of saturated fat, this makes a great choice if eating at Panda Express."
Starbucks Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Wrap
"It's a good source of fiber and protein, which help us to start our day out feeling full and energized," says KeyVion Miller RDN, LDN, culinary nutritionist and owner of The Miller's Kitchen. "The second ingredient on the ingredient list is whole wheat flour. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a common characteristic of a diet associated with positive health outcomes includes whole grains." Miller points out that the wrap also comes pre-loaded with veggies.
Taco Bell Veggie Power Bowl
Plant protein is increasingly having a heyday at fast-food restaurants, including Taco Bell. Their Veggie Power Bowl highlights the protein power of—you guessed it—veggies and beans. "This bowl includes seasoned black beans, seasoned rice, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole, and a tangy sauce. It's a vegetarian option that offers a balance of protein, fiber, and veggies," says Dan LeMoine, RD, co-founder of Re:Vitalize Weight Loss and Wellness and author of Fear No Food.
Panera Napa Almond Chicken Salad
At lunchtime, check out Panera's Napa Almond Chicken Salad. "Unlike most other chicken sandwiches out there, Panera's aren't fried," says Aditi Biswas, certified holistic nutrition consultant. "Instead, the chicken is seared in a pan, then cooked. This makes it less oily than other preparations."
Chick-fil-A Spicy Southwest Salad
"I'm obsessed with Chick-fil-A's Spicy Southwest Salad featuring cold grilled chicken," says Stacey Bender, MA, RD. "It's a protein and fiber powerhouse, thanks to the abundance of pepitas. These pumpkin seeds are a nutritious snack loaded with heart-healthy fats and all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source." Meanwhile, this salad's eight grams of fiber make it one of the highest-fiber options on the Chick-fil-A menu.
Taco Bell Bean Burrito Fresco
Some Mexican fast food tends to be heavy and high-calorie—but not Taco Bell's Bean Burrito Fresco! "This healthy fast-food meal has 410 calories, 13 grams of fat, 13 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein," says Lori A. Stevens, RD, LDN, of The CHF Dietitian. "Like many fast-food meals, it is quite high in sodium with 960 milligrams. But opting for the smaller-portioned soft taco with the same fillings will decrease the calories to 240 and the sodium to 540 milligrams."
Chick-fil-A Cool Wrap
What's so cool about a Chick-fil-A Cool Wrap? "It's packed with fiber and protein and will keep you feeling full without the sluggish feeling after fast food," says Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES. "For fun, I love to wash it down with a diet lemonade!"
Chipotle Salad Bowl
In terms of health, Chipotle stands out for its totally customizable smorgasbord of Tex-Mex ingredients and healthy fast-food options. Next time you're at the fast-casual chain, make your own salad bowl of nutritious veggies. "I usually ask for a little less rice and add sautéed peppers and onions," says Carrie Gabriel, MS, RDN, of Steps 2 Nutrition. "This way I get more vegetables in my meal, which adds more fiber. The vegetables are also naturally more filling with fewer calories." You can also go easy on the sour cream and cheese for fewer calories and less fat.
Panda Express Mushroom Chicken
Mushrooms are a rich source of potassium and B vitamins, and when you combine them with lean chicken and a savory sauce in Panda Express' Mushroom Chicken entree, you've got a tasty and healthy Asian meal. "The Mushroom Chicken offers a good balance of protein and vegetables, making it a healthier choice compared to some other options on the menu," says Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, of One Pot Wellness. "Pairing it with steamed rice and a side of mixed vegetables can create a well-rounded meal."
Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Nuggets
Chick-fil-A wins again with their Grilled Chicken Nuggets. "These are a healthy fast-food option for individuals looking to add a lean source of protein to their meal. An 8-count grilled nuggets provides 25 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of saturated fat," says Mandy Tyler, MEd, RD, LD. Add a tasty veggie side with an order of the Kale Crunch Side.
Panera Mediterranean Bowl
You're probably aware of the array of benefits of a Mediterranean diet, from reduced inflammation to lower risk of chronic disease. When you're trying to stick with this healthy eating plan, opt for the Mediterranean Bowl at Panera.
"This bowl provides a mix of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and vegetables—all of the fixings of a balanced meal. And for a plant-based fast-food dish, it contains a good amount of protein sources (quinoa, hummus, and Greek yogurt)," says Amy Brownstein, MS, RD, of Nutrition Digested. "Plus, the lemon tahini dressing and feta provide some healthy fats, which can contribute to satiety."
Wendy's Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
At certain fast-food joints, even the salads can pack excessive calories and fats. Wendy's Apple Pecan Chicken Salad is a noteworthy exception and a healthy fast-food option. According to LeMoine, its ingredients are mostly healthy, whole foods. "This salad features a blend of greens, grilled chicken breast, diced apples, dried cranberries, roasted pecans, and crumbled blue cheese. It's a flavorful and filling salad option," he says.
A previous version of this story was published on May 24, 2023. It has been updated to include additional copy and proofreading revisions, additional research, and updated contextual links.