10 Best Fast-Food Salads for Weight Loss and Overall Health
You never know if she’s going to be nice or a nightmare when she walks into a room. And when it comes to nutrition, fast-foods salads are just as unpredictable. Though a bed of greens topped with veggies and chicken seems innocent enough, it’s hard to say at first glance if your meal of choice will help you lose weight or blow your diet with its sky-high calorie and fat counts.
But thanks to Eat This, Not That!, you’ll no longer be caught off guard when you order one of these best fast food salads from your favorite restaurants. Next time you find yourself eating on the go or craving a salad, refer to this trusty guide.
Our healthy fast-food salad picks are all under 500 calories (which is why you won’t see some of your favorite fast food joints, like Wendy’s and Taco Bell, on the list) and won’t make your blood pressure soar with pools of salt—a truly rare combination of attributes in the fast-food world. Read on to find out exactly what you should order and why. They are ranked from most caloric to least.
Panera Full Asian Sesame Chicken Salad with Asian Sesame Vinaigrette
Panera’s entire salad selection is pretty solid nutritionally, but their sweet and tangy Asian Sesame Chicken salad is one of the healthiest picks, making it a must-try for those on a diet. The restaurant combines chicken, romaine, cilantro, almonds, sesame seeds and crispy wonton strips to create their flavorful, high-protein dish. Even topped with dressing, Panera manages to keep the sodium count impressively low for this fast food salad.
Burger King’s Chicken Garden Salad with Ken’s Golden Italian Dressing
Take a break from salad boredom with BK’s Chicken Garden Salad. The sweet and savory combination of lettuce, chicken, buttery garlic croutons, and shredded cheddar cheese is sure to tantalize your taste buds and fill you up without filling you out. Choosing this healthy fast food salad instead of BK’s other option, the Chicken Club Salad with crispy chicken, automatically saves you 100 calories. When it comes to dressing, pick the 160-calorie Golden Italian. The Honey Balsamic is an additional 7 grams of sugar and the Ranch dressing has nearly double the calories.
Chipotle Salad with Chicken, Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, and Fresh Tomato Salsa
If you’re a big Chipotle fan, you likely saw reports earlier this year claiming that a typical order carries about 1,070 calories. Luckily, you won’t get anywhere near that number if you stick with this salad. As you make your way down the line, ask your server to throw chicken, black beans (their high levels of phytochemicals lower risk of heart disease), fajita veggies, and fresh tomato salsa atop a bed of romaine. You’ll get a whopping 41 grams of muscle-building protein for a mere 355 calories.
We use fresh tomato salsa as our dressing and skip the Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette. Chipotle’s signature salad dressing adds an unhealthy 850 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of fat, 12 grams of sugar, and 220 calories to your fast food salad.
Cosi Smart Fit Salad with Chipotle Lime Dressing
Compared to the industry status quo, most of Cosi’s salads are relatively light, especially in sodium. But their Smart Fit salad is a true nutritional superstar that stands out above the rest, packing an impressive lineup of produce: kale, romaine, avocado, carrots, corn, black beans, red peppers, scallions and sweet potatoes. The orange spud is rich in vitamin A, a nutrient that aids immune function, vision and cellular communication. And while this salad is higher in sugar than we typically like to see, it’s also one of the best sources of fiber on this list, serving up 10 grams of your 28-gram recommended intake of fiber per day. The macronutrient will help your body digest the sugar more slowly, giving a steady stream of energy.
McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad and Newman’s Own Creamy Southwest Dressing
With over 36,000 locations nationwide, McDonald’s menu has one of the easiest to find salads on our list—consider it your go-to safe bet for long road trips. While in theory you can’t go wrong with grilled chicken, McDonald’s goes a bit too far by glamming up their plain chicken with a “Cilantro Lime Glaze” in this Southwest Salad. Because you’re adding a full packet of Southwest Dressing to your salad, ask your waiter to leave off the “Cilantro Lime Glaze,” which is an extra 50 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 135 milligrams of sodium, and 4 grams of sugar (from corn syrup solids and high fructose corn syrup) that you don’t need.
RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you’ll actually look forward to eating.
Subway Rotisserie Chopped Salad with Subway Vinaigrette
At Subway, you can get any of your favorite subs turned into a salad. For a fast food salad with a balanced amount of protein, carbs, and fat, order the Rotisserie Chopped Salad. The 23 grams of protein means it’s super satiating and can help preserve your hard-earned muscle mass.
Steak ‘n Shake Grilled Chicken Salad with Lite Italian Dressing
For a chain named after two of the most calorie-packed foods on the planet, Steak ‘n Shake could be far more dangerous for your waistline. Earning second place on our list is its Grilled Chicken Salad with Lite Italian Dressing. It’s hard to go wrong—taste or nutrition wise—with juicy grilled chicken breast served over fresh lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, tomatoes, cheese and croutons.
Chick-fil-A Grilled Market Salad with Grilled Nuggets and Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
Coming in at just 350 calories, Chick-fil-A‘s Grilled Market Salad is the best bang for your nutritional buck in the fast-food salad world. And we can’t say we’re surprised. Chick-fil-A ranks among the best of the country’s major fast-food establishments in terms of overall healthfulness of the menu. This seriously healthy salad is made with berries, apples, red cabbage and carrots, and blue cheese, all on top of a bed of mixed greens. You can also top it off with harvest nut granola and a roasted nut blend for added crunch, fiber, protein, and healthy fats. While the original order will come with sliced grilled chicken breast, if you opt for the grilled nuggets instead, you’ll get an additional 5 grams of protein for only 10 extra calories. We couldn’t have designed a better muscle-up, slim-down food ourselves.
Pret a Manger’s Coconut Chicken & Sweet Potato Balance Box
The healthiest fast food salad on the Pret a Manger menu is the Coconut Chicken & Sweet Potato Balance Box, which “offers a filling 12 grams of fiber and 33 grams of protein for only 500 calories and 2.5 grams of saturated fat,” shares Summer Yule, MS, RDN. This entrée also offers healthy fats from the avocado and sesame as well as a rainbow of phytonutrients from spinach, sweet potatoes, beets, and pomegranates, she adds.
Skip the Mediterranean Mezze Salad because it contains a whopping 1,050 milligrams of sodium, which is 46 percent of your daily recommended value of sodium. If you have high blood pressure, you should read up on these low-sodium fast food orders.
Jack in the Box Grilled Chicken Salad with Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
Opting for the Low Fat Balsamic dressing over the creamy southwest dressing will save you 370 milligrams of sodium, or about the equivalent of a one-ounce bag of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips. For a salad this big, it’s impressively very low in calories, earning it a spot as one of the best fast food salads.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published June 17, 2015, and has since been updated to reflect current nutritional facts.