While “healthy” and “fast food” appear to be mortal enemies on the surface, the recent health movement sweeping the nation has brought these two closer together than we thought possible. If you’re unsure of what to order to put together a healthy meal at your favorite chain, check out the tips for eating healthy fast food below. We’ve also provided some examples of healthy meals found at popular fast food joints, so you can get an idea of what this looks like on a menu.
1. Choose Small Portions
Luckily, nutrition and calorie information for each size item on fast food menus is widely available. If you take a look, you’ll see the reason it’s important to stick to the smallest portion sizes when you’re trying to keep things light at the drive-through.
For instance: a small McDonald’s fry has only 230 calories. If you chose the large size, this would jump up to 510 calories, almost reaching the number of calories in some hamburgers.
One of the best tips for eating healthy fast food is to try to stick to small sizes when you order. You can save yourself hundreds of calories.
Again, order the small fries instead of the large, and also go for a single patty hamburger over a double. Avoid up-sizing, even if they’re offering you a deal.
Instead of ordering the 4-count Chick-N-Strips for 480 calories, try ordering the 12-count Chick-Fil-A nuggets for 380 calories. A thing to keep in mind: just because a menu item is a count shorter (AKA, 4 vs. 12) doesn’t mean the portion size is necessarily smaller. Chick-Fil-A nuggets are smaller in general. When in doubt, check the nutrition facts quickly before stopping in.
As always, opt for the small waffle fry over the large.
For Subway, always order a 1/2 footlong over the full. This could save you hundreds of calories, depending on the sandwich. Go for extra veggies to bulk it up and grab a bag of chips over the cookies.
Always chose the small fries at Burger King, and opt for the Whopper Junior or Single Quarter Pound if you’re going for a burger. These have hundreds less calories than their Double or Triple Pound friends.
Again, choose single patties over double – or even opt for a grilled chicken sandwich instead. If you’re really feigning dessert, ditch the fries and go for a small Frosty.
2. Choose Healthier Sides
This tip may be even easier than trying to order a small version of a high-calorie side like french fries. Another one of the best tips for eating healthy fast food is to try choosing a veggies side option, such as a salad – or go for a fruit side, like apple slices. This will save tons of calories, fat, and carbohydrates over the course of your day. See some examples below:
Go for the apple slices or the side salad over fries – or, you could order both and avoid the apple pie for dessert.
Order the Superfood side with kale and broccolini or a fruit cup (or both) over the waffle fries.
Opt for the applesauce, Baked chips, or Sun Chips over a cookie.
The apple fries are your best bet for a healthy side at BK. They even come sliced and in a cup similar to regular fries, so you can get the feeling of indulging.
Opt for a plain baked potato, garden side salad, or apple bites for a variety of healthy side options at Wendy’s.
3. No or Lite Dressing on Salads
Salads are the traditional healthy choice when it comes to any menu; however, they can be tricky if you don’t pay attention to what dressing you’re using. Many dressings (especially the creamy varieties) can add hundreds of calories to a salad. Some general tips:
• Avoid any dressing with “cream” in the title. If you must have a creamy dressing, only use 1/2 or even 1/4 of the packet. Opt for “lite” dressings or choose balsamic when possible.
• Always ask for dressing on the side, just in case.
• When in doubt, avoid dressing all together.
4. Go Easy on the Sauces
For the same reason you should go easy on dressings on your salads, you should try and avoid adding any extra sauces to your meal. You can also ask that the restaurant not put sauces on your burger or sandwich, which could save you at least 100 calories.
This also goes for dipping sauces: if you must have a dip, choose either plain ketchup or mustard, and go easy, sticking to one packet or pump.
5. Go Green
Almost every fast food joint now offers at least one variation of a green salad you can order (sans heavy dressings, of course) that will be loaded with fiber and healthy veggies to keep you feeling full while also keeping your calories down.
Snag the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad for a filling yet low-calorie option. This salad is layered with savory black beans, roasted corn, tomatoes, and poblano peppers, sprinkled with cheddar and jack cheeses, chili-lime tortilla strips, and cilantro. All atop crisp chopped romaine, baby spinach, baby kale, red leaf lettuce, and ribbon cut carrots, it’s a veggie feast you won’t regret. Just be sure to go light, or even forgo, the dressing.
Go for the Grilled Market Salad, which includes grilled chicken breast served on a fresh bed of baby greens, topped with shredded red cabbage and carrots, blue cheesek and a mix of red and green apples, strawberries, and blueberries. Have it sans dressing for the healthiest option.
Go for the Turkey Breast Salad or Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast Salad at Subway. Avoid other salads with heavy dressings or toppings, such as the Chicken and Bacon Ranch, as these contain extra calories and fat. Go light on the dressing and order extra veggie toppings.
Your best bet at Burger King for greens is to order the Chicken Garden Salad. Order it without cheese and only use half the dressing to keep it even lighter.
Wendy’s has quite a few great choices for salads. Grab the Harvest Chicken Salad, Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad, Apple Pecan Chicken Salad, or even the Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad.
6. Choose Grilled
No matter which fast food chain you’re visiting, your best choice when it comes to keeping your meal healthy is ordering your meat grilled. This helps you avoid the extra calories and fat in the breading and frying oil.
On any menu, you’ll most likely be able to find a grilled chicken sandwich or even a grilled chicken salad; however, most fast food chains offer many more grilled options, so don’t be afraid to inquire.
7. Avoid Drinks
Sticking to water at your favorite fast food joint is one of the best ways to avoid hundreds of extra calories and more than a day’s worth of extra sugar (ouch). Avoid soft drinks with your meal; if you must have something flavored, ask for juice or sparkling water.
The great thing about modern fast food is that most menus have become almost entirely customizeable. It’s never too much to ask for an apple as a side in lieu of fries or to ask that your burger of grilled chicken patty be wrapped in lettuce instead of being served on a bun.
You can also focus on adding more veggies to a sandwich or salad, possibly for a small extra charge, but it will help keep you full.
When it comes down to it, there are almost too many options for eating healthy at your favorite fast food joint. What about something sweet? Check out these healthy fast food desserts to cleanse your palette.