Nutrition Articles

The 26 Healthiest Fast Food Options

What to Order at 13 Fast Food Joints

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Updated on 8/24/16 by Melissa Rudy

Your fridge is stocked with fresh produce, lean meats and low fat dairy products, there’s a whole grain baguette in the bread box, and your pantry has been purged of tempting junk foods. Eating healthy at home is a breeze.

But when you’re out and about in the midst of a hectic day of errands and you have precisely 30 minutes to scavenge and wolf down lunch before your next appointment, squeezing in food of any sort becomes a challenge—a challenge to which fast food restaurants have risen. Tasty, convenient, and cheap, there are plenty of reasons they’re popular. But if you’re watching your weight, or watching your health, a fast food menu is like a minefield! One wrong step and a 2,100-calorie sandwich winds up in your stomach (and later on your thighs). But if you’re careful, you can come out intact, with a meal in your hands, not on your hips.

Dining at a fast food restaurant doesn’t have to be a diet disaster. We’ve scoured the top 10 most popular fast food chains for their healthiest picks, so you don’t throw all of your hard work out the (car) window. Use this list as a guide, or visit the websites provided to tally up totals for your preferred favorites. And remember that these selections are healthier options for the occasional fast-food meal, but they may have other nutritional flaws (like high sodium), so you might not want to make it a regular part of your nutrition plan.

Chipotle
With its fresh ingredients and wide choice of wholesome fixings, Chipotle has the potential to be one of the healthiest fast-food restaurants. Below are some of the smarter choices; visit www.chipotle.com for more nutritional info.
  • Chicken Burrito Bowl: High in fiber and protein, this version has pinto beans and fresh tomato salsa. 320 calories, 8g fat, 3g sat. fat, 125mg cholesterol, 1160mg sodium, 22g carbs, 11.5g fiber, 38g protein
  • Sofritas Salad: We added Romaine lettuce, sofritas, fajita veggies and fresh tomato salsa. 200 calories, 10.5g fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 1275mg sodium, 16g carbs, 6.5g fiber, 10g protein
Starbucks
Go beyond the java and try some of this coffee chain's healthy lunch and breakfast options. Learn more at www.starbucks.com.
  • Zesty Chicken and Black Bean Salad Bowl: Fresh spring greens are tossed with tomatoes, feta cheese, quinoa, roasted corn, jimaca and black beans.
    360 calories, 15g fat, 2.5g sat. fat, 30mg cholesterol, 840mg sodium, 38g carbs, 8g fiber, 14g protein
  • Spinach, Feta and Egg Breakfast Wrap: Start your day right with this high-protein, low-calorie vegetarian wrap.
    290 calories, 10g fat, 3.5g sat. fat, 20mg cholesterol, 830mg sodium, 33g carbs, 6g fiber, 19g protein
Dunkin' Donuts
Go beyond the donut with these healthier choices. Visit www.dunkindonuts.com for more nutritional info.
  • Ham and Cheese on Multigrain Flatbread: 330 calories, 12g fat, 5g sat. fat, 45mg cholesterol, 970mg sodium, 35g carbs, 3g fiber, 19g protein
McDonald's
No one can say that McDonald’s isn’t convenient—you can find one on just about every corner in some cities. But can it be healthy, too? Depends on what you choose. Visit www.mcdonalds.com for more healthy ideas.
  • Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich: Instead of mayo, this chicken breast filet is flavored with a juicy marinade and vinaigrette dressing.
    380 calories, 6g fat, 2g sat. fat, 95mg cholesterol, 960mg sodium, 44g carbs, 3g fiber, 37g protein
  • Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad: Seasoned grilled chicken and black beans, corn, roasted tomatoes and pepper in every bite will make this feel like a cheat meal.
    350 calories, 12g fat, 4.5g sat. fat, 110mg cholesterol, 930mg sodium, 27g carbs, 6g fiber, 37g protein
  • Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait: If you’re looking for a guilt-free sweet treat, this is a winner. Made with low-fat yogurt and topped with low-fat granola, strawberries and blueberries, it’s far less sinful but just as tasty as ice cream.
    150 calories, 2g fat, 1g sat. fat, 5mg cholesterol, 80mg sodium, 30g carbs, 1g fiber, 4g protein
Panera
This popular bakery and sandwich shop has some lighter fare made with fresh ingredients. All nutritional information is posted at www.panera.com.
  • Strawberry Poppyseed and Chicken Salad: 340 calories, 13g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 80mg cholesterol, 280mg sodium, 31g carbs, 6g fiber, 25g protein
  • Bistro French Onion Soup: 310 calories, 16g fat, 8g saturated fat, 20mg cholesterol, 1960mg sodium, 33g carbs, 4g fiber, 11g protein
Wendy's
Try these best picks for your next lunch on the run. Get more nutrition facts at www.wendys.com.
  • Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, Half-Size: This quinoa- and hummus-enriched salad packs a powerful protein-filled punch.
    240 calories, 9g fat, 2.5g sat. fat, 50mg cholesterol, 520mg sodium, 22g carbs, 5g fiber, 20g protein
  • Grilled Chicken Wrap: Tender grilled chicken is wrapped in lettuce and cheddar cheese with honey mustard sauce.
    270 calories, 11g fat, 3.5g sat. fat, 55mg cholesterol, 620mg sodium, 24g carbs, 2g fiber, 20g protein
Burger King
A salad and veggie burger top the healthy list at Burger King. Their website, www.bk.com, offers more nutrition information.
  • Garden Grilled Chicken Salad: Fresh greens are topped with tomatoes, cheddar cheese and light vinaigrette dressing. 
    320 calories, 14g fat, 6g sat. fat, 115mg cholesterol, 650mg sodium, 16g carbs, 2g fiber, 36g protein
  • MorningStar Veggie Burger: A wholesome veggie patty is topped with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles. 390 calories, 15g fat, 2.5g sat. fat, 5mg cholesterol, 1060mg sodium, 42g carbs, 5g fiber, 22g protein
Taco Bell
When you order “fresco style,” the regular cheese and sour cream are replaced by a flavorful combo of tomatoes, onions and cilantro, all fresh (and much healthier). More nutrition facts are available at www.tacobell.com.
  • Fresco Soft Taco - Shredded Chicken:
    140 calories, 3.5g fat, 1g sat. fat, 15mg cholesterol, 470mg sodium, 16g carbs, 2g fiber, 10g protein
  • Fresco Crunchy Taco - Beef: This menu item is much lower in sodium but still loaded with flavor.
    150 calories, 8g fat, 2.5g sat. fat, 20mg cholesterol, 310mg sodium, 13g carbs, 3g fiber, 6g protein.
Subway
Sandwiches from the Subway "Fresh Fit" menu each have fewer than 6 grams of fat. Visit www.subway.com for more information.
  • 6" Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast:
    233 calories, 5g fat, 45mg cholesterol, 610mg sodium, 5g fiber
  • 6" Veggie Delite: A great option for vegetarian diners or for those watching their cholesterol. Order it on Italian bread and it’s vegan, too.
    162 calories, 2.5g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 280mg sodium, 5g fiber
Arby's
For the healthiest fare, steer clear of the roast beef sandwiches altogether or visit their website, www.arbys.com, to see more choices.
  • Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad:
    230 calories, 13g fat, 7g sat. fat, 55mg cholesterol, 870mg sodium, 8g carbs, 2g fiber, 22g protein
Chick-fil-A
Just because it isn't beef doesn't mean it's always better—especially when the chicken is breaded and fried. Try the items below, or see all the facts at www.chickfila.com.
  • Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap: 340 calories, 13g fat, 4.5g sat. fat, 60mg cholesterol, 900mg sodium, 30g carbs, 15g fiber, 36g protein
  • Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich:
    320 calories, 5g fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 800mg sodium, 40g carbs, 3g fiber, 30g protein
  • Grilled Market Salad: Top with reduced fat berry balsamic vinaigrette.
    320 calories, 14g fat, 3g sat. fat, 65mg cholesterol, 600mg sodium, 26g carbs, 6g fiber, 26g protein
Jack in the Box
Whole grains, from this fast food joint? Believe it! Visit www.jackinthebox.com for more menu items.
  • Grilled Chicken Salad:
    430 calories, 15g fat, 6g sat. fat, 91mg cholesterol, 1093mg sodium, 26g carbs, 7g fiber, 35g protein
  • Chicken Fajita Pita: The pita is made with whole grains, which are rarely seen at fast food restaurants. Hold the salsa.
    346 calories, 12g fat, 6g sat. fat, 57mg cholesterol, 1,117mg sodium, 36g carbs, 4g fiber, 24g protein
Carl's Jr.
Steer clear of big, meaty burgers and try these chicken options instead. The Carl's Jr. Website, www.carlsjr.com, has all of the nutritional information.
  • Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich:
    390 calories, 7g fat, 1.5g sat. fat, 60mg cholesterol, 990mg sodium, 50g carbs, 3g fiber, 30g protein
  • Charbroiled Chicken Salad: Choose the low-fat balsamic dressing.
    320 calories, 11g fat, 3.5g sat. fat, 75mg cholesterol, 770mg sodium, 27g carbs, 3g fiber, 31g protein
This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople's Licensed and Registered Dietitian, Becky Hand.

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Member Comments

  • Surprising some of these choices are so low in calories. I never eat fast food but I may have to try Subway, Wendy's and Dunking Donuts.
  • How about a plain baked potato at Wendy's with a small bit of butter and a salad, or the small chili and a salad?

    KFC offers green beans, or mashed potatoes/gravy (not the best but not a salad).

    Order a kids/small burger with no mayo and lots of veggies, if you want a burger.

    Maybe the pintos (no cheese) and rice (they will mix them) at Taco Bell? Ask for a tortilla to spread them on, with lots of salsa. Yum.

    There are more of Subways sandwiches that are a good choice than just the chicken.

    Life is not all salads and grilled chicken. There are other choices (that aren't calorie crazy) out there. Frankly, this sounds like an article from a health 'newbie' who can't see beyond grilled chicken. :(
  • How about the Burger King Junior Cheeseburger? If you get with "no mayo". it's only 280 calories. I like it b/c I get a slice of tomato & onion. Most burger places have a Jr size that is still a big burger (as is the case with Five Guys Burger & Fries.)
  • Could you add the Canadian favourite -- Tim Horton's?
  • I think we need some more common restaurant chains on this that are a little cheaper. McD's, Wendy's, Taco Bell...Of course salads are usually a good choice, but I get tired of salad everyday.
  • TIGER_BY_TAIL
    Chipotle can be a GREAT fast meal out. I get the burrito bowl without rice and beans (the tortilla is over 100 calories and the rice is 200, and I just don't care for beans!). I get the fajita veggies, steak, corn salsa, tomato salsa and hot salsa (and sometimes romaine lettuce). 335 calories. Biggest problem, though: the sodium level is high as apparently anything with tomatoes at chipotle gets LOTS of salt. Sometimes I do get the brown rice, but ask for a small amount rather than the huge amount they typically toss into the bowl.
  • I eat out once a week with my daughter and I don't feel at all guilty about it. I pretty much eat in one or two of places... Subway and Chick-fil-a. At Subway, I get the Veggie Delight with Oregano, no mayo and no salt/pepper. It tastes great, healthy and fills me up. Chick-Fil-A has a great grilled chicken sandwich which I get with a side salad with fat-free Honey-Mustard Dressing. A bit high in sodium, but only 320 calories for the sandwich. It is a filling meal. I just watch my sodium the rest of the day. My blood pressure is fine, so the salt is not going to hurt me every once in a while.
  • "BK Veggie Burger: Say "no mayo" to enjoy this healthy, cholesterol-free vegetarian delight."

    "Vegetarian delight?" Isn't that an oxymoron when it comes to veggie burgers? I've tried a number of veggie burgers and have always been underwhelmed. If you know what the original tastes like, the vegetarian substitute is usually a disappointment.
  • I really like this article and found it very informative. What we need to remember is that fast food is never the best choice, but if we are away from home and want to stay on track these are the best options. I have high blood pressure and watch my sodium intake and when I have one of these high sodium choices I am just very careful of what I eat for the rest of the day. If the restaurant you are looking for isn't listed just use your phone or computer and go to their website to look at the nutritional information. I really wish people would just appreciate all of the information that is provided for free on SP and stop complaining about everything!
  • BUBBLEGUM_FAIRY
    This is a great article reminding us that we can always go the other route and order something with a lot less calories or fat. I find it helps to plan ahead of time and go to a restaurant's website to decide what to get, although sometimes if you are with friends it can become a last minute thing. I'm so glad spark has so many tips when it comes to fast food and dining out.
  • I agree HALLELUL
  • DRFOOTWEAR
    "These are the most popular fast food restaurants? I've never seen a Jack in the Box and never heard of a Carls Jr. Did they choose most popular based on a poll? I would have liked to see some more relevant options, but hopefully these helped other people with their choices"

    She listed KFC,Taco Bell,Subway,Burge
    r King,and McDonalds. What more do you want? Hardee's is the same thing as Carl's Jr. if you have one of those nearby.
  • DRFOOTWEAR
    To people whining about sodium and saying that these aren't healthy choices; the title says "healthiest fast food". The items aren't healthy compared to grilled chicken,vegetable
    s,etc..,but they are the healthiest choices from those particular restaurants.
  • These are the most popular fast food restaurants? I've never seen a Jack in the Box and never heard of a Carls Jr. Did they choose most popular based on a poll? I would have liked to see some more relevant options, but hopefully these helped other people with their choices!

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

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