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20 Ways to Cut 200 Calories From Your Fast Food Order

By making these quick and easy swaps, you're saving yourself extra calories, sodium, and fat.
panda express orange chicken with rice bowl

The bad news: 92 percent of restaurant meals contain more calories than we need to maintain our weight, says a study published in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The good news: Even dietitians who scour this research daily turn to fast food sometimes. "In a utopian world, we'd all cook from scratch at home using ingredients grown from the backyard garden. But life is messy, things get busy, and sometimes a quick pit-stop through the drive-thru is necessary to get from point A to B," says Caroline Weeks, RD, a clinical registered dietitian in Des Moines, Iowa.

In other words, fast food doesn't need to be off limits. True to the Eat This Not That philosophy, it's all about making smart swaps when you do indulge so those indulgences don't add bulge. Here are 20 expert-approved trades (including a "good" and a "better" health upgrade for 20 menu items) that will cut calories from some of the most common fast food dishes. How many of the 100 most popular fast food items have you tried? And for more drive-thru guides and healthy swaps, subscribe to the Eat This, Not That! magazine—for a limited time, you can get 50 percent off the cover price!


Taco Bell Breakfast Sausage Crunchwrap: 700 calories

Taco bell am sausage crunchwrap
Courtesy of Taco Bell

Ask for extra tomato salsa, lettuce, and choose a meat like beef which will promote greater satiety. Don't go for the 'taco bravo' with two layers of shell.
Good: Surrender the spuds. Order the Breakfast Sausage Quesadilla instead, and you'll bite into all the same breakfast goodies except for the carb-heavy hashbrowns.
Calories trimmed: 190

Better: Make it taco time: Ordering not one but two Breakfast Soft Tacos with sausage still comes in lighter than the larger-tortilla quesadilla. "Ask for extra salsa and lettuce to feel fuller faster," Weeks says.
Calories trimmed: 50


Chick-Fil-A Fried Spicy Deluxe Sandwich: 540 calories

Chick fil a fried chicken sandwich
Courtesy of Chick-fil-A

Good: Cut the cheese. You don't need to stick to the "diet" menu to make a wiser choice, says Adrienne Raimo, RD, a holistic health and wellness coach at One Bite Wellness in Columbus, OH. Start with itty-bitty changes and you'll still be satisfied. "Opt for no cheese or creamy dressings, mayonnaise, or other calorie-rich condiments on top of your meal choice. You'll barely notice the difference while still avoiding some extra calories."
Calories trimmed: 80

Better: Bypass the breading. Stick to chargrilled chicken—plenty flavorful as a result of a well-seasoned marinade—when its an option, Raimo suggests. It will almost always result in a calorie savings of 100 or more, not to mention slashing the saturated fat content of your meal.
Calories trimmed: 130


Chipotle Carnitas Burrito: 1,260 calories

Chipotle carnitas burrito

Good: Hold off on half the guac. True, avocados are loaded with heart-healthy fat, but they're also loaded with calories. Ask for a half scoop of guacamole instead of a full one and you'll still score plenty of creamy texture and nine grams of satisfying monounsaturated fats.
Calories trimmed: 115

Better: "My go-to order on a busy night is a burrito bowl with hot salsa, brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, cheese, and guacamole," Weeks says. "It's chock full of veggies and fiber, just without all the empty tortilla carbs." The brown rice provides plenty of whole grain energy to fuel you through the rest of the day.
Calories trimmed: 320


McDonald's Big Mac: 540 calories

big mac
Courtesy of McDonald's

Good: Made with mustard instead of creamy special sauce, and sans middle bun, a Double Cheeseburger still delivers the same 25 grams of protein as the Big Mac since it's constructed with the same double stack of beef patties.
Calories trimmed: 100

Better: Ask for the McDouble. It's a mirror image of the Double Cheeseburger, just with one slice of American cheese rather than two. This painless change will also save you 200 milligrams of sodium. "Did you know the kid's meal size is a true portion? Ordering off the kid's menu is a simple fix for saving calories and keeping the waistline slimmer," Weeks says.
Calories trimmed: 50


Hardee's/Carl's Jr. Large Crispy Curls: 570 calories

Carl's jr. large fries
Courtesy of Carl's Jr.

Good: Stick with a small order of curly fries to keep the crunch but not all the calories. "One of the easiest ways to cut 200 or more calories from your fast food order is to just say 'no' to supersizing or going large for your order. The amount of calories saved by not having the extra ounces of sugary soda and extra fat from the fries is an easy win for your waistline (and your wallet)," Raimo says.
Calories trimmed: 210

Better: Go for a small order of the stick-shaped Natural-Cut French Fries for an even skinnier side. All those curlicues offer more surface area for oil to penetrate the potatoes.
Calories trimmed: 60


Jason's Deli Black Bean Taco Salad: 1,100 calories

Jasons deli salad black bean taco
Yelp/Martin S.

Good: When it comes to the vegetarian choices at Jason's Deli, the salads are among the biggest diet-busters. The worst culprit of all is the taco salad that's piled high with sour cream, guacamole, and tortilla chips to crank up the fat to 66 grams. Instead of this Mexican bowl, go for the Zucchini Grillini, a hummus, veggie, and cheese sandwich.
Calories trimmed: 510
Better: Trade a tortilla for two slices of bread. This swap isn't always going to be the lighter choice, but compared to the multigrain bread, Jason's wraps have 40 fewer calories. Ask for the Spinach Veggie Wrap, stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, guac and more for a 400-calorie deli fix.
Calories trimmed: 190


Culver's 3-piece North Atlantic Cod Dinner: 1,685 calories

Culvers north atlantic cod dinner 3 piece
Courtesy of Culver's

Good: Grilled salmon and seared scallops are almost always slim selections, but the North Atlantic Cod fried basket is far from it. The name sounds fairly harmless, but the plate itself is piled high with three pieces of battered fish, crinkle-cut fries, mayo-dressed slaw and a white bread roll. The Chopped Steak Dinner—with green beans and mashed potatoes—slashes 62 grams of fat and almost half the calories.
Calories trimmed: 835

Better: While it's still fairly high in calories at 760 for the meal, the Beef Pot Roast Dinner is the smartest choice of the dinner bundles. If your aim is 2,000 per day, this could make for a reasonable splurge if you skip a snack.
Calories trimmed: 90


KFC Nashville Hot Extra Crispy Chicken Breast: 770 calories

Kfc nashville hot extra crispy chicken breast
Courtesy of KFC

Good: Think you're making a savvy choice by asking for chicken breast? Think again. Once it's coated in crispy batter and doused in oodles of oil, spicy sauce, you're looking at one piece with 60 grams of fat and 1,530 milligrams of sodium. Go for a classic Spicy Chicken Breast instead for less than half the calories and 430 milligrams less of salt. And, be sure to skip the dipping sauces.
Calories trimmed: 420

Better: Ask for a Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast to delete 14 grams of fat and even more calories. "Frying oils are pro-inflammatory and are generally prone to oxidation, which is bad for our heart health," Weeks says. "Pay attention to how you feel after you eat a fast-food meal. If you feel energized and clear-headed, then you likely made a good choice! If you have a case of brain fog or feel bloated and groggy, consider avoiding that choice next time," she adds.
Calories trimmed: 140

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Subway 6-inch Double Meat Spicy Italian Sandwich on Italian Bread: 720 calories

Subway spicy italian
Courtesy of Subway

Good:  Sure, it sounds smart to pile on the muscle-building protein. But not when it's by way of sodium-strong and calorie-dense pepperoni and salami, so stick to single meat if you must go for the Spicy Italian.
Calories trimmed: 250

Better:  Try the same toppings on a salad instead of on a roll for an even lighter choice. "Layer on a couple slices of deli meat, then load on the non-starchy veggies," Weeks says. And for an even smarter protein choice for your salad bowl, go for turkey breakfast instead of pepperoni and salami—it's just 110 calories altogether before adding the dressing.
Calories trimmed: 160


Pizza Hut 2 slices of 14-inch Hand-Tossed Meat Lover's Pizza: 880 calories

Pizza hut meat lovers pizza

Good: Get the same toppings on Thin 'N' Crispy pizza, and you'll easily cut 10 grams of carbs and a miles' run-worth of calories, too.
Calories trimmed: 100

Better: Stick with one meat. Garnish your pie with ham and pineapple (instead of pepperoni, two types of sausage, beef, ham and bacon—whew!) and your ticker will be as happy as your waistline. This topping twist subtracts hundreds of calories and 920 milligrams of sodium. RD pro tip: "Look online at the menu and choose beforehand, when perhaps you aren't hungry, and you'll be more likely to stick with your plan. If you're starving by the time you call or type in your order, you might make a less strong choice in a daze of hunger," Raimo says
Calories trimmed: 300 calories


Noodles World Kitchen Regular Pad Thai: 1,240 calories

Noodle world kitchen pad thai
Courtesy of Noodles World

Good: Rice noodles, oil, and soy sauce are three key ingredients in pad Thai that make its calorie count so high.  Keep the Thai vibes by ordering a Regular Thai Green Curry instead. A handful of veggies makes the pasta go further and the sweet-savory mix of the pineapple and curry sauce will make each bite count.
Calories trimmed: 460

Better: New to the Noodles menu is something that's been making a splash in kitchens and supermarkets for several years: zucchini noodles. Ask for your Regular Thai Green Curry with Shrimp to be made with zoodles and you'll save oodles of calories while more than doubling the protein in your bowl.
Calories trimmed: 300


Dairy Queen Large Chocolate Dipped Cone: 640 calories

Diary queen chocolate dipped cone
Courtesy of Dairy Queen

Good: Ask for a medium dipped cone instead of a large. All those soft-serve swirls and swoops add up to a big calorie count. "The cone is usually low in calories, but the portion size and toppings are what add up really quickly," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, creator of and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label to Table.
Calories trimmed: 180

Better: Another example of portion size being king: a Mini Butterfinger Blizzard actually has 110 fewer calories than that medium chocolate-coated cone. This swap also saves you 10 grams of fat and three grams of sugar.
Calories trimmed: 110


Jamba Juice Large Chocolate Moo'd Smoothie: 740 calories

Jamba juice chocolate mood
Courtesy of Jamba Juice

Good: Trade the frozen yogurt-based Moo'd for a Large Chocolate Protein Smoothie (with milk, ice, frozen bananas and whey protein) for about a quarter cup less of sugar and 13 more grams of protein."Smoothies can be fabulous, but can also quickly offer an overload of calories when you blend in syrups, juices and fruit," Taub-Dix says. "Plus a drink will never fill you up unless it has protein."
Calories trimmed: 210

Better: Make the mixers go further by incorporating more whole fruit into your sip, like with a Protein Berry Workout Smoothie that includes strawberries and bananas. Even if you stick with the large, it'll just add 450 calories to your daily calorie tally.
Calories trimmed: 80


Panera Bread Mac and Cheese: 950 calories

Mac and cheese
Courtesy of Panera Bread

Good: The newer Soba Noodle Broth Bowl with Chicken, made with an umami-rich soy-miso base, has fewer than half the calories and one-sixth of the fat as the mac.
Calories trimmed: 560

Better: Go vegan—even if you're a carnivore—at Panera for one of the most diet-friendly choices: Vegan Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl. At 280 calories for the entire fiber-rich recipe, the whole grain, leafy green and tomato concoction is an ideal lunch for days when you're planning a decadent dinner.
Calories trimmed: 110


Starbucks Sausage, Cheddar and Egg Breakfast Sandwich: 500 calories

Sausage and cheddar sandwich
Courtesy of Starbucks

Good: Trim nine grams of carbs, 18 grams of fat and almost half the calories from your morning meal by opting for the Spinach, Feta, and Cage-Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap. In addition to all those body benefits, the tortilla treat also offers five more grams of fiber and nine more grams of protein than the sandwich so you'll stay satiated until lunch.
Calories trimmed: 210

Better: Even lighter than that vegetarian wrap is the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-Free Egg White Breakfast Sandwich. At just 210 calories for the whole sandwich, the turkey bacon (rather than pork sausage or bacon) keeps this dish lean and low in calories. It's also the lowest in sodium of all these 'Bucks buys.
Calories trimmed: 80


Boston Market Quarter White Rotisserie Chicken: 270 calories

boston market chicken and veggies
Courtesy of Boston Market

Good: White meat rotisserie chicken sounds like a slim choice, but you can do a bit better. Just one word, "skinless," can subtract 60 calories and six grams of fat from your entree.
Calories trimmed: 60

Better: An even better choice is the Thanksgiving-inspired Regular Turkey Breast. Try it year round—not just during November—and its 160 calories and four and a half grams of fat will save plenty of wiggle room for sides. Stick to the green beans and rotisserie potatoes for your sides, and your whole plate will have just 370 calories.
Calories trimmed: 50


Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen Regular Onion Rings: 278 calories

Popeyes onion rings
Yelp/Vicky N.

Good: Calling onion rings a "vegetable" is a stretch. Skip the starchy, breaded side and try a Corn on the Cob Cobbet for a third of the fat and fewer calories.
Calories trimmed: 68

Better: The mashed potatoes and gravy you'll find at almost all fast food chicken restaurants is a surprisingly skinny choice, like Popeyes' Mashed Potatoes with Cajun Gravy. A regular-sized order clocks in at just 110 calories and four grams of fat.
Calories trimmed: 100


Wendy's Spicy Caesar Chicken Salad: 720 calories

Wendy's spicy chicken ceasar salad
Yelp/Steve D.

Good:  Order the Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad to trade grilled for fried and scoop up avocado rather than additive-filled croutons. Yes, even with bacon, the Southwest stand-in has more than 100 fewer calories.
Calories trimmed: 120

Better: Even skinnier is the red, white and blue Berry Burst Chicken Salad. The raspberry vinaigrette trumps the Caesar and ranch options in the above salads. Almonds and goat cheese add enough fat to make this a meal much more exciting than a standard supermarket salad kit.
Calories trimmed: 140


Panda Express Orange Chicken: 490 calories

panda express orange chicken with rice bowl
Facebook/Panda Express

Good: Build your meal around the Shanghai Angus Steak for half the cholesterol, more veggies (green beans and mushrooms) and far fewer calories.
Calories trimmed: 180

Better: Not to be confused with the 470-calorie Beijing Beef, Panda's Broccoli Beef main dish, tossed with a surprisingly sodium-smart ginger soy sauce, has just 150 calories for the entire portion.
Calories trimmed: 40


Sonic Ranch Dressing: 110 calories

Sonic ranch dressing packet
Yelp/Janet M.

Good: Dunk in BBQ sauce instead for a 40-calorie fix and zero extra fat. One serving of ranch sauce has 110 calories—nearly all from fat.
Calories trimmed: 70

Better: Marinara isn't just for the mozz sticks! It's a better and brighter choice than BBQ for any item you're saucing up since it has less sugar and more heart-healthy lycopene.
Calories trimmed: 25

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Karla Walsh
Karla Walsh is a freelance health and food writer and level one sommelier. Read more