When you think “fast food,” a phrase that probably doesn’t come to mind is “healthy food.” However, in recent years, many fast food restaurants have started to expand their menus to offer more than just burgers and fries.
“Over the past few years, fast-food chains have realized the consumer is becoming increasingly health-conscious, and in order to keep up, they have added a ton of menu options for someone trying to stay healthy,” notes Jonathan Valdez, RDN, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And if you’re on a weight loss journey, that means that you will be able to find options that won’t hinder your goals.
“Fast food gets a bad reputation, sometimes unrightfully so, for being super unhealthy because of the high-calorie density options (think lots of calories, in a small amount of food),” says Mike Gorski, RD, registered dietitian, fitness coach, and owner of MG FitLife. “However, losing weight comes down to eating fewer calories than you burn, and with a little pre-planning and creativity, you CAN be successful while still eating fast food.”
We asked dietitians for their picks for the healthiest fast food meals that will help you stay on track with your weight loss. Here are 19 of their picks. Read on, and for more on healthy eating, don’t miss Simple Ways to Start Losing Weight Immediately, According to Science.
Subway’s Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich
“With only 270 calories, this sandwich is packed with whole grains and veggies providing 5 grams of satiating fiber, as well as 21 grams of protein,” says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet. “This combo should keep you full for many hours.”
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McDonald’s Egg McMuffin
“McDonald’s has gotten a bad rap over the years but not everything on the menu deserves the shade. The Egg McMuffin is a classic breakfast sandwich that is only 300 calories and contains 18 grams of protein that will keep you full until lunchtime,” says Valdez. “The total fat of 13 grams and 6 grams (32% of your daily value) is on the steeper side but fairs better calorie-wise than the other options on the menu. It also has zero added ingredients, so you don’t have to worry that you’re getting more than egg, cheese, and Canadian bacon on an English muffin.”
Chick Fil A Grilled Nuggets + Fruit Cup
“A 12 piece serving of grilled nuggets contains about 200 calories and 38 grams of protein. This high protein option paired with a side of fruit would make a very tasty and filling meal, which is important for people on a weight loss journey,” says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, LMNT, registered dietitian and owner of Stirlist. For more healthy chicken options, check out these The Healthiest Fast-Food Chicken Nuggets, According to Dietitians.
Starbucks Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greens
“Packed with 27 grams of protein, this filling bowl contains 420 kcal and only 3 grams of saturated fat, making this item macro-nutrient friendly,” says Silvia Carli, MS, RD, CSCS, a registered dietitian with 1AND1 LIFE. “The meal also contains 9 grams of fiber. Fiber promotes satiety, and it passes through the intestine without being metabolized for energy, meaning that it does not contribute to caloric intake.”
“Sometimes if you avoid what you crave, you crave it even that much more. So, if you feel like a burger, have a burger! But try and keep it simple,” says Gans. “McDonald’s classic cheeseburger is only 300 calories, so can easily fit into anyone’s weight loss plan. And if you really want those fries—order the kids size for only another 110 calories.”
Panera You Pick Two Combo: Turkey Chili and Half Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken
“A soup and salad combo is a great way to get some extra veggies in during the day. I love this particular combination because the beans from the chili add an extra 4 grams of fiber to the 9 grams of fiber you’re getting from the salad (52% of the daily value) and you’re getting a good dose of protein (a total of 35 grams) so both options are going to set you up to stay full and stave off cravings later in the day,” says Valdez. “What’s even better is that Panera has done the work of portioning your food for you so you don’t have to worry about overdoing it on the portion size, which can often sabotage people without them realizing it when trying to lose weight.”
Starbucks Spinach, Feta & Cage-Free Egg White Wrap
“Don’t forget to balance out your high-calorie coffee drinks with this low-calorie option at Starbucks,” says Gorski. “Some of their coffees can be over 1,000 calories, so find a balance between your favorite drink—and this low-calorie high protein wrap.”
Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich
“At only 360 calories, yet with a whopping 34 grams of protein, this sandwich should prove to be a satisfying option on the go,” says Gans.
Taco Bell Chicken Soft Tacos
“I appreciate that Taco Bell was one of the first fast-food restaurants to post ingredient and nutrition information online. The nutrition calculator is really helpful when finding options that fit your weight loss goals,” says Pankonin. “A personal favorite is the chicken soft taco as each taco contains 160 calories and 12 grams of protein. And several menu items can be customized as Fresco-style, which can replace cream sauces with tomatoes.”
Starbucks Classic Oatmeal
“Oatmeal is always a great option when trying to lose weight. The high fiber content (4 grams) helps to fill you up and keep you full for longer. The oatmeal at Starbucks comes with packets of nuts and dried fruit (ditch the brown sugar),” says Valdez. “I will usually throw the nuts for added omega-3’s and about half of the dried fruit on top to give some sweetness. 160 calories may seem low along with the 4 grams of protein. However, when you add the Siggi’s yogurt, you add an additional 110 calories and 15 grams of protein. A much fuller breakfast to fight off cravings before lunchtime.”
Related: 12 Side Effects of Eating Oatmeal, Say Dietitians
Subway 6″ Turkey, Double Meat, No Cheese, Light Mayo, ALL veggies
“Subway 6” Turkey, Double Meat, No Cheese, Light Mayo, ALL veggies. This is my personal “go-to” for traveling because I know exactly what’s in it, high protein, moderate carbs, and lower fat—and FULL of vegetables,” says Gorski.
Panera’s Avocado, Egg Whiten and Spinach Breakfast Sandwich
“This breakfast sandwich is packed with healthy fats, fiber, and protein—key nutrients to keep you satiated till lunchtime,” says Gans.
Chipotle Salad Bowl (Steak, black beans, fajita veggies, pico de gallo and corn salsa)
“One way to save calories when ordering is to forgo the tortilla/rice and go for a salad bowl. Loading up Chipotle’s salad bowl with fajita veggies (20 calories), beans (130 calories), pico de gallo (25 calories), and a lean protein, like steak which is only 150 calories, will make for a satisfying meal full of vitamins and minerals,” says Valdez. “All of these options keep the meal relatively low-cal (this meal is only 420 calories and 9 g of fat), without making you feel deprived, or leaving you feeling hungry after you finished eating. Pro-tip: get guacamole on the side. Yes, avocado is a healthy fat, but you CAN have too much of a good thing. This way you can portion out exactly how much you want. And if you’re watching sodium intake, you may want to go easy on the salsas. While it’s still a better alternative to most dressings, pico de gallo contains about 565 milligrams of sodium (about 24% the daily value).”
Wendy’s Jr Cheeseburger
“Burgers like this one can be a decent choice for those on a weight loss journey. This cheeseburger has 290 calories and 15 grams of protein,” says Pankonin. “Pair this with a side of apple slices and it can make for a very satisfying meal compared to eating a prepared salad off the menu. This is fewer calories compared to the parmesan Caesar salad which has almost 500 calories with the dressing.”
Chick-Fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich
“If you’re going to go with a chicken sandwich, this is your best bet. High protein and low in calories make it a great choice,” says Gorski.
Subway Fresh Fit Choices Oven Roasted Chicken
“When in doubt, go grilled! Items that have been fried generally have a higher overall calorie and fat content than those that have been grilled. Not to mention the fats in fried foods are largely saturated and/or trans fats which have been known to contribute to high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and heart disease. Choosing menu items that have been grilled vs. fried will not only help in your weight loss pursuits but also help to keep you heart-healthy,” says Valdez. “This sandwich is made with grilled chicken and a double serving of veggies on a 6″ whole grain sub. Its contents aren’t simply great low-fat options with only 4.5 grams fat and 1.5 grams saturated fat (about 0.9% the daily value for saturated fat), they’re packed with nutrients. And because it’s only 6 inches, you don’t have to worry that you might over-do it. Counting carbs? Ask for this sandwich on one of their flatbreads.”
“Yes, the McDouble. You may have been thinking of a chicken sandwich, but the McDouble actually has the same amount of calories (400) as the McChicken, but 8 more grams of protein, and less fat! Pair it with some fresh fruit and water and it’s actually not that bad of a meal!” says Gorski.
Related: We Tried Every Burger at McDonald’s, and This Was the Best
Taco Bell’s Power Menu Bowl—Veggie
“If you are looking for a plant-forward option that will be satisfying Taco Bell’s Power Bowl might be a very good choice,” says Gans. “Their bowl is packed with fiber, providing 10 grams, for only 430 calories. To make it 100% plant-based, pass on the cheese to save another 60 calories.”
Whole Asian Sesame with Chicken Salad
“This meal provides 31 grams of protein and a friendly 430 calories. It comes with 6 grams of fiber,” says Carli. “Make it 10 by adding a side of fresh fruit for added vitamins and minerals and to satisfy a sweet tooth.” Speaking of sides, what about reminiscing on these 15 Discontinued Fast-Food Sides We Want Back.