Food on the Run: Are Your Favorites in the Healthy or Unhealthy Top 10?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Recently Health Magazine created a list of the 100 largest quick-serve chains in America. "Largest chains" was based on the number of locations throughout the nation. An expert panel consisting of Registered Dietitians, a physician and a certified nutritionist, scored the list of 100. They used criteria such as the use of healthy fats and preparation, sodium content of entrees, availability of nutrition information for the foods served and the inclusion of organic produce to determine a list of the top 10 healthiest chains. A couple Nutrition Health Experts from Men's Health Eat This Not That review identified America's unhealthiest restaurants.

Where does your favorite fit?

It was great to see that many of the top 10 chains are places we have already reviewed in our ongoing Food on the Run series. Here are the top 10 healthiest restaurant chains in America.
  1. Panera Bread - over 1,230 locations nationwide and in Canada.
  2. Jason's Deli – 206 locations in the West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and South portions of the nation.
  3. Au Bon Pain – 280 locations nationwide
  4. Noodles & Company - 204 locations in the West, Midwest, and South portions of the nation.
  5. Corner Bakery Café – 111 locations in the West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South portions of the nation.
  6. Chipotle - over 800 locations nationwide.
  7. Atlanta Bread – 106 locations in 24 states in the Southeast, West and North portions of the nation.
  8. McDonald's - over 14,000 locations nationwide
  9. Einstein Bros. Bagels – 649 locations nationwide
  10. Taco Del Mar – 270 locations in 22 states throughout the nation

Here are some of the tops on the list of unhealthiest restaurants in America.
  1. Baskin-Robbins
  2. Carl's Jr.
  3. Denny's
  4. Dairy Queen
  5. Ruby Tuesday
  6. Chili's
  7. Uno Chicago Grill
  8. Chevy's
  9. On the Border
  10. Romano's Macaroni Grill
  11. Baja Fresh
  12. Applebee's, IHOP, Outback and T.G.I. Friday's which scored the worst

So, there they are – where does your favorite fit? How does this information change your approach to eating away from home? Do you think they used the best criteria for scoring the healthiest chains?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


LIN1263 3/19/2017
McDonalds and Taco Del Mar are the only ones in Canada,taco del mar,you can have 2 tacos without being high calorie,our subway has a list of 6" healthy subs on their menu that are low fat,low salt subs. Report
While I don't eat much at fast food restaurants, when I do want something quick and good, I do try and find the closest Chipotle. I love that place and can always find something good to eat and still stay within my daily ranges. Report
I was sorry to see Applebees and Ruby Tuesday on the bad list. Applebees has some wonderful under 500 calorie meals and they are great! Ruby Tuesday also has some lighter fare. I feel spoiled when I get to go to one of these places, as they don't just offer "grilled chicken breast". Boring!!!! I can make that myself quite readily at home and often do! I like a treat when I go out, but am happy to know I am not wrecking my diet by doing so! Report
It is quite entertaining to see how emotional everyone gets defending their food. Most restaurants have salad but I was amazed to find out after eating Applebee's oriental grilled chicken salad that it has 1200 calories. And that came directly from their website. Congress has so much fun passing regulations, perhaps we should all lobby that a list containing nutition facts be available upon request at restaurants. Report
This article should be retired. It's from April 2009 and I am writing this comment in 2012. Menus have changed! Some of these restaurants closed their doors years ago and are no longer in my area! Report
I find healthy items at lots of the ones listed as bad.
i will eat Uno's anytime before McDonalds.. Report
I'm really surprised that McDonalds made the list but not Subway. Report
I can't really say that any of these restaurants are healthy, however, they all have healthy choices. If you really want to eat healthy you are going to have to make that decision yourself. More than likely you will have to prepare your own meals. It does get easier. Quit whining because your favorite restaurant isn't on the list or that your least favorite is. Report
Dennys may be in the bottom ten, but they do have some very good healthy choices. I like to order from the senior menu and get the salmon or chicken. It all depends on how you order and which part of the menu you order from. Report
I rarely eat fast food and if I do it's the Veggie Max at Subway or a veggie burrito at Taco Del Mar, minus the cheese and rice. You CAN eat out, just have to be super careful. I also eat the Veggie burger at Burger King, minus mayo. Report
Surprised Subway wasn't there. My sandwiches (veggie delite, wheat bread, no cheese, no mayo, no dressing, plus avocado) I think are pretty good! Report
For me the most dangerous restaurants are the ones that refuse to publically post their nutrition information. I can eat at any of the restaurants named on either list if I can see ahead of time what they offer and what the nutritional information is for each item. Panera's, for example, posts calorie counts on the menu board. While calories alone don't give us enough information it does help me make better decisions. Report
Where is Subway? I thought they were one of the healthiest "fast food" restaurants out there.....

McDonald's surprised me. "Supersize Me" sorta freaked me out.

Fortunately for me, I only eat out once a month...sometimes even less than that. It's too tempting to order the unhealthiest item on the menu. Report
The lists weren't even based on the same criteria. Apples to oranges. And I agree with the commenter below that noted Panera's food often looks healthy but is surprisingly not. Look up their nutrition website for a reality check. Sure, there are good choices you can make there, but that goes for most of the restaurants listed. Report
McDonald's GOOD?! Like heck it is! ("Super-Size Me" ring any bells?) Report
Hard to believe Mickey D's beat out Wendy's. I am totally in agreement about Chili's! But where are all the pizza places? Report
Thanks for the updates. This is really useful. Report
I really dont think these lists are legit: you can find health food at ANY fast food restaurant, and all of them also have foods that are horribly high in calories, carbs and fat. It is all about the choices we make. Report
TGIF doesn't surprise me AT ALL! They went from about 8 "healthy" options (that aren't that much) to about 2. I refuse to even go there anymore!! (Never much cared for their food anyhow.)

I am pleasantly surprised to see McDonald's on the healthier options list. They've done a bang up job in recent years and months providing healthy options for those willing to make the choice to forego the Big Mac! Glad to see their giving the boys some credit! Report
Since when did Baskin Robbin's become a "restaurant"?? Oh really, an ice cream shop is "unhealthy", what a surprise. Did they know breathing can be unhealthy too, or did they need to have a Grant paid out first for research??? Someone put a muzzle around these groups, magazines, whatever they do to get publicity, as if they are doing something for their own existance. Report
The only one in the top ten that I ever heard of was McDonalds and I never eat there, we all make choices choose wisely Report
It all still boils down to personal responsibility. We have to take ownership of what we are willing to put in our own mouths. Report
I rarely eat fast food, but was surprised about Outback and Chili's. Report
It's amazing how much things can change in less than a year. IHOP now has the IHOP for me menu with cal, carb, protein and fats. Appleby's has the less than 500 calorie options. In almost every instance, with careful thought you can find something to eat that is healthy. Report
I don't think it is as easy as "this restaurant = good, this restaurant = bad." It's about the choices I make with the specific food I order. Report
Grilled chicken salad is a bad choice from Denny's? I think not. Report
If you get the grilled chicken sandwish at McD's or Burger King they actually aren't that bad for you considering what your other options are. I've realized more recently that Panera's option look healthy but really aren't - I still would go there over some of the other resturants though. Report
I don't like eating out, but McDonald's CAN be relatively healthy if you do it right. I usually opt for a plain hamburger (the kids size), a water, and a small fruit and yogurt parfait. Not as good as I could do at home, no, but better than many alternatives. Also, I think they are careful about their cooking oils, etc. I can see how Panera is a good option, but you just have to choose healthy. Report
I'm not surprised to see the cheap dinner chains (Chili's, TGIF, et al) on here. The pre-packaged processed foods they serve is horribly unhealthy. Report
Mc D's over Fridays, and chillis I wouldn't have thought. Thanks for the updates!!!! Report
If you get a caesar salad with grilled chicken and balsamic vinegarette dressing at McDonalds with a cup of water, it's a very healthy and balanced meal. This is what I like to get there sometimes, and probably now all the time. Report
I'm always surprised to see Panera marked as healthy. They do have good for you foods, in general, not deep fried or loaded with cheese, but calorie-wise they are totally ridiculous. A turkey sandwich can have 600 calories- sorry, I don't really consider that an option. They also have terrible options like bread as a side dish, creamy soup in bread bowls and tons of pastries. Or are we just talking about eating salad at all of these places? Report
Okay, folks, I'm not the one who put this stuff together, but let's keep in mind that "healthy" in the context of this blog does not mean "the best food you could eat" - I think it means "what should you choose from a fast food menu if you're gonna eat there". Virtually every restaurant/fast food place has something on the menu that you can choose that won't blow your diet or be totally horrible for you - okay, sometimes maybe it's just a plain bowl of iceberg lettuce LOL :) but I think you know what I mean. Every restaurant (including the one's on the "bad list" and the "healthiest list")! I think it's far worse to deprive yourself of/beat yourself up over an occasional low-cal-junk-food-fix that you then keep jonesing after vs. to go ahead and pick something that's the "least bad" for you and get on with your usually healthy eating. I actually think it's great that McD's has some stuff I can build a less-than-400-cal meal with. Report
McDonald's is the only place on the "healthy" list that we have in my neck of the woods. It is great to see some options for when I am traveling. Report
Lots of people seem to be surprised at the inclusion of some of the restaurants on the "good" list like McDonalds and Au Bon Pain, but it all depends on what you're ordering. Those places just have more healthy alternatives than others; it doesn't mean they don't also have some of the WORST to-go items on their menu. For example, I love Chipotle and when I go I get the salad with chicken, black beans, two types of salsa and no dressing and that is under 400 calories (and delicious) but I know that ordering the burrito (which includes heaps of rice, cheese, sour cream, as well as beans, lettuce, salsa and maybe guacamole) means that I have just ordered perhaps the most fattening, high calorie food item possible with well over 1,000 calories. And when I go to McDonalds (not often), I get their grilled chicken sandwich (no mayo) on their whole wheat bun, a diet coke and a fruit parfait and that is also a reasonable meal calorie wise, with some great protein and fiber. It all depends on your choices! Report
It all depends on what you order. Plan ahead, have the nutritional value information available. I pretty much dont eat anymore at places that don't have it available, such as Elhimadores or Dragon Kitchen. While I miss them and may some day go back for a treat, for now they are definately the "dire unknown". I can handle a bad choice or decision much easier if I know HOW bad it was. If I don't know it is somehow harder to get back to business. Report
Definately surprised to see McDonalds there... how did that happen? I'd like to know what the basis of this survey was... Report
As far as fast food goes I would prefer Taco Bells fresco Tacos over McDonalds. Actually I'd prefer Wendy's over Mcdonalds at least you get the option of getting a side salad or chili with your meal instead of fries. Usually when I go there I'd have a small chili and a bottle of water. Report
I rarely eat out, but love Paneras. Report
I checked the Panera Bread web site to see what my favorite meal there added up to. I get the Pick Two cup of low-fat garden vegetable soup and 1/2 MEDITERRANEAN VEGGIE SANDWICH and it comes to 380 calories and 7 grams of fat. Not too bad. Report
McDonalds?????? And as for Panero bread, the only thing that is healthy is the apple! Who came up with this list? Report
I want to seriously know how mcdonalds got on the healthy list. Even their healthy stuff is not healthy and contains loads of fat.And where does subway stand.?And of course my favorite Taco Time? Report
I have to agree with 1GNPARKER. Panera bread has delicious food, but it is not low calorie. Their bagels without butter or cream cheese are more than 300 calories apiece! They do have salads, but you have to leave off the dressing...
I think McDonald's must have paid off the reviewers from Men's Health to get on the "healthy list"! "Pleeeeeeease!" is right!!!! There are no healthy restaurants. They load their food with sugar, salt and fat so you crave more and order more. Eat at home as much as humanly possible.
This list is laughable! Panera at the top of the "good" list makes no sense at all. Obviously the people who did this list didn't count in the bagels. They are HUGE! And, speaking from personal experience, you can gain a whole lot of weight in a short time from eating one of those every day. McDonald's? Pleeeeeeease!

Think I will just rely on my own judgement of what is good or bad for me. The "experts" don't seem to have a clue. Report
Interesting. I frequent a few of the restaurants on the "healthy" list, and with a couple of them, it's possible that they have low-calorie/small portion/whatever options but it's SO hard to avoid the "bad" stuff when you're there. At McDonald's it is POSSIBLE to have a small, semi-healthy-ish sort of meal, but who's going to really want to do that when there are fries and ice cream to eat??? Also, with Noodles, I ADORE that place, but every time I go there I want the mac 'n' cheese. NOT cool. And I can go to Panera and eat chicken noodle soup with a piece of bread and do pretty well, but what about those pastries they have behind the counter, hmmmmm? The healthiest option for me, honestly, is to stay in. Report
This is the first time in 14 years that I have ever been able to lose even a pound. I'm so pleased with this site and all of you.... Thanks to all of you and your comments. I went to Burger King with my son. Got a Jr. Whopper with mustard, no fries, got those apple fries threw out the yummy caramel. Sat down and took off the bun and threw that out and ate the burger with a fork and knife. Well, it wasn't the same as the usual. But, I am slowly getting used to eating to live instead of living to eat. It's hard. But, I am so sick of being overweight. Again thanks to all of you. Report
As far as I'm concerned "food on the run" is a 113 calorie frusli bar, an apple or a yogurt until I can get home and make a proper healthy meal. I don't eat the kind of junk those outlets sell. Report
I also disagree with Mcdonalds being on the healthy list. I think Wendys has way more healthier options, and should have taken Mcdonalds' place on the healthy list. Report
I don't get McD's being on the list either. Everything they deem "healthy" has hidden dangers. We don't even have wheat buns at the McD's near us. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.