Nothing will push you further into your post-lunch slump than a fast-food burger and fries. But when you’ve got a million things to do before the end of the day, whipping up a fresh and nutritious lunch isn’t always realistic. Fortunately, fast food restaurants have adapted their menus to accommodate healthy eaters, but it’s not always obvious what’s nutritious – and what’s not. We’ve rounded up 27 healthy fast food lunch options for you to choose from, so you can swing through the drive-through or order online without letting a grease-soaked sandwich hold you back.
Spoiler alert: they’re not all grilled chicken.
Fast Food Lunch Nutrition Tips
If you’re skeptical about healthy fast food lunches, we get it. The fast food industry was built on convenience – not farm-to-table principles. So while we can’t promise your fast food salad will be the freshest, most nutritious bowl of greens you’ve ever had, we can promise that these options are healthier alternatives to traditional fast food (and they taste pretty darn good, too).
But before we start, we should go over the basics of eating healthy at a fast food joint. There are four main factors to consider when choosing a healthy fast food lunch: calories, fat, sugar, and protein. But, before you go straight for the salad or skip over the burger, let’s consider what’s really behind those values.
Calories – Many people glance at the calorie count of their lunch and skip all of the other nutritional values, but how will you know what factors are playing into those calories? Protein is high in calories, but that doesn’t mean the meal is unhealthy. On the other hand, high carb loads contribute to high calorie counts – but that is a sign of an unhealthy meal. Simply look past the calories before you make up your mind.
Fat – Is your meal high in fat because it’s enveloped in cheese and drenched in mayo? Or is it high in fat because it has healthy fats in it like avocado and nuts? Look into the ingredients first if you are skeptical of a meal that’s high in fat.
Sugar – As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to stay away from meals high in sugar if you are looking for a healthy fast food lunch. However, sometimes sugar counts are high because the meal contains fruit, which is a natural source of sugar. If the high sugar content is coming from salad dressing or bread, you’ll want to find something else.
Protein – Your meal doesn’t need to be high in protein for it to be considered healthy, but it is a good idea to eat some form of protein at every meal. The healthiest forms of protein that we’ve listed below come from foods like lean meats, eggs, and fish.
Oh, and always order a water with your meal and skip the sugary sodas and juices.
27 Healthy Fast Food Lunches
Out of all fast food establishments, McDonald’s would be one of the last places clean eaters would think to go for lunch. However, over the years, the restaurant has progressed to offer a more balanced menu – one with the greasy burgers we all know and love – and with grilled options, salads, and low-cal snacks. To keep your fast food lunch healthy at McDonald’s – regardless of what you order – stay away from breaded sandwiches, mayo, and cheese. You’ll also want to opt for apple slices as your side rather than fries. Some of the McDonald’s salads might sound like a delicious and healthy lunch, but many of them are actually full of fat and sugar (you can thank the breaded chicken and fattening dressing for that one). If you plan to order a salad, be sure to order it with grilled chicken and a lighter dressing like the Newman’s Own® Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing or the Newman’s Own® Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette. Anything else will take your “healthy” salad and turn it into a calorie monster.
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad
Egg White Delight
Looking for another healthy item? Check out McDonald’s nutrition to find out more.
Starbucks is more well-known for its healthy lunch options than, say, places like McDonald’s or Burger King. But, they have their fair share of fattening, sugar-loaded beverages and treats, too, so, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what you are ordering if you are hoping to eat clean. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to stay away from the baked goods (i.e. muffins, cookies, danishes, and scones), as well as crafted beverages like lattes, frappuccinos, and pretty much anything labeled “sweetened.” Instead, go for options with lean meats like turkey or chicken, as well as egg whites and veggies. Fortunately, Starbucks has a lot to offer in the healthy fast food lunch department, and the meals below are just a few of our favorites.
Spinach, Feta, and Cage-Free Egg White Wrap
Smoked Turkey Protein Box
Egg White and Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg Bites
If you’re looking for the perfect coffee pairing to order with one of the above healthy lunch options, opt for an americano, an iced or hot coffee with almond milk, or – if you’re craving something sweet – a Skinny Vanilla Latte. Take a peek at more Starbucks nutrition if you’re craving something else on the menu.
Popeyes is no Starbucks when it comes to offering a healthy fast food lunch, but there are a couple of surprisingly clean (and tasty) options to choose from. When ordering from Popeyes, it is easy to get sucked into the idea of comfort food. From biscuits and honey to fried chicken and coleslaw, the entire menu sounds mouthwatering – but if you are focused on healthy eating – it’s a total trap. Stay away from all things fried, whether it’s chicken, shrimp, or a Po’boy. Instead, go for one of the below “naked” options, which is just a fancy way of saying the chicken is grilled rather than crispy. And if you want a side, your best bet is an order of green beans.
Naked Tenders (3-piece)
Naked Chicken Wrap
Blackened Chicken Tenders (3-piece)
If you’re curious about something else on the menu, check out more Popeyes nutrition facts.
Wendy’s has upped its healthy fast food lunch game tremendously over the years. With the addition of garden fresh salads and grilled chicken options, it’s one of the best places to grab something (mostly) clean on the go. Of course, Wendy’s isn’t all leafy greens and superfoods, though. Be sure to stay away from breaded chicken and burgers with bacon, mayo, and cheese. Even worse? Their cozy comfort foods like the cheese fries, baked potato, and chili are loaded with sodium, fat, and sugar, so they definitely don’t qualify for our healthy fast food lunch list.
Regardless of what you order, you can add a side salad or apple bites to your meal without feeling guilty for adding a few extra calories. So, while you’re dreaming of slurping that chocolate Frosty, you’ll have to opt for one of the healthy options below, instead. (They still taste good – don’t worry.)
Grilled Chicken Wrap
Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad
See more Wendy’s nutrition facts if you want to know about something else on the menu.
Burger King is another restaurant that doesn’t scream healthy fast food. However, with the addition of a few new salads and the Impossible Whopper, BK is giving its competitors a run for their money.
You’ve made it this far, so you know it’s not the best idea to order a Whopper and fries and chicken nuggets if you’re looking for a healthy fast food lunch. Be sure to avoid fattening salad dressings like ranch and Thousand Island, and opt for ones that are vinegar and oil-based. Skip the sugary desserts, burgers with bacon, and breaded sandwiches. And if you’re looking for a clean side, your only safe bets are the side salad and apple slices from the kids’ menu.
Chicken, Apple, and Cranberry Salad
If you’re wondering about another menu item’s nutritional value, see our Burger King nutrition page.
When you think Chick-Fil-A, you might think of their classic breaded chicken sandwich and mouthwatering waffle fries. But if you’re looking for a healthy fast food lunch, those fried foods won’t make the cut. Fortunately Chick-Fil-A has several nutritious options and is always continuing to expand their menu to cater to clean eaters. A fast food restaurant with a Superfood Side on their menu? You know they mean business, and Chick-Fil-A is serious about offering consumers healthy, fresh, and whole foods – in addition to their greasier, comfort foods we all know and love.
Grilled Nuggets (12-Count)
Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
Spicy Southwest Salad
If you’d like to try something else, check out Chick-Fil-A nutrition facts.
Subway is the OG healthy fast food joint, but is the food really as nutritious as they claim? Unfortunately, most subs at Subway are loaded with calories, sodium, and carbs. You can thank the condiments, bread, and processed meat for that. However, Subway does have one major advantage over other restaurants serving healthy fast food lunches – everything on the menu can be customized. Next time you order, skip the mayo and opt for oil, salt, and pepper to season your sandwich. If you have the will power, order your sub without cheese and pile on the veggies for added flavor. If you stick to a six-inch sub, you can still enjoy a delicious and healthy fast food lunch with no regrets.
Oven Roasted Chicken
Subway has more healthy options. Check out our Subway nutrition page.
Taco Bell and healthy food don’t go together, do they? Historically, Taco Bell has had a reputation of offering cheap, greasy Mexican fast food – nothing more. But it’s 2019, so everything’s going through some sort of revolution – including Taco Bell’s health standards. This year, the fast food restaurant claimed that more than half of their menu includes items that are less than 500 calories. Impressive? Yes. Healthy? Not necessarily. Just because a menu item’s calories aren’t through the roof doesn’t mean that it has any nutritional value. However, even the cleanest eaters can now find nutritious options on the Taco Bell menu, so don’t count them out when you are looking for a healthy fast food lunch. Some of our favorites are outlined below.
Veggie Power Menu Bowl
Chicken Soft Taco “Fresco Style”
Burrito Supreme with Steak “Fresco Style”
Curious about other options at Taco Bell? See our Taco Bell nutrition page.
Jimmy John’s is likely one of the fast food joints people associate with healthy eating, but not everything on the menu passes the test. From the carb loaded bread to fattening condiments and meats to cheese, it’s important to look past the lettuce and tomato and pay attention to what’s really in your sandwich. For a healthy fast food lunch, try an Unwich – a sandwich nestled in a lettuce wrap rather than bread. This will cut your calories and carb load in half. If you can’t do without the bread, go for an option with lean meats like turkey or chicken, or opt for tuna.
And even though they look harmless, skip the potato chips and pickles!
Club Tuna Unwich
The Gargantuan Unwich (keto)
If you’re looking for another healthy option, check out Jimmy John’s nutrition.