With so many tempting high-calorie food options at our disposal, it can be really tough to eat healthy all the time in our modern world. The problem is compounded if you’re short on time or money, or you have a car full of hungry kids. For these reasons, many people end up turning to fast food for fuel, even when they are trying to watch their weight. Fortunately, most fast food establishments are aware of the demand for healthy options and offer some meals that aren’t too heavy in fat or calories. Use the following guide, organized by fast food restaurant, to find healthy and filling meal options for when you’re on the go.
Meal 1: Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich and Fruit & Walnuts (560 calories)
The 350-calorie Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich offers 18 g protein, 9 g fat (including 2 g saturated), 42 g carbs, and 820 mg sodium. The bun is made with 8 g of whole grain, adding 3 g of dietary fiber. Leave off the mayo and reduce the calorie and fat content by 50 and 6 g, respectively. Add Fruit & Walnuts as a side for more fiber, protein, and deliciousness for another 210 (mostly healthy) calories.
Meal 2: Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken (with low-fat dressing) and Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait (470 calories)
McDonalds’ healthiest salad, the Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken, has 290 calories, 27 g protein, 8 g fat (including 2.5 g saturated), and 650 mg sodium. Note that this is without dressing. Add Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing for just 30 more calories (and 3 g fat). For desert, try the wholesome Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait, adding 150 calories and 2 g fat (1 g saturated).
Meal 3: Veggie Burger and Garden Salad (450 calories)
Vegetarians take note: Burger King is the only fast good chain that offers a veggie burger, and it is pretty darn tasty, served up with lettuce, tomatoes, red unions, ketchup and mayo. Even omnivores can appreciate the BK Veggie Burger’s lean nutrition label, which includes 410 calories, 21 g protein, 48 g carbs, 16 g fat (2.5 g saturated), and 960 mg sodium. You can add a Garden Salad for only 40 more calories. Leave off the mayo from the veggie burger and add half a packet of Light Italian Dressing to the salad to get the same total calorie count.
Meal 4: Whopper Jr. and Apple Slices (370 calories)
Health-conscious Whopper lovers can still enjoy their favorite burger, but in a smaller size with the Whopper Jr. The Whopper Jr. has 340 calories (compared to 700 calories for the regular Whopper), 14 g protein, 28 g carbs, 19 g fat (5 g saturated), and 510 mg sodium. Tack on some Apple Slices for a healthy dessert, adding just 30 calories and a full serving of fruit.
Meal 5: Grilled Chicken Drumsticks, Green Beans, and Mashed Potatoes with Gravy (325 calories)
Check out this hearty, yet surprisingly healthy meal: Two Grilled Chicken Drumsticks have 180 calories, 0 g carbs, 8 g fat (4 g saturated), 580 mg sodium, and 26 g protein. Add a side of Mashed Potatoes (with gravy) for another 120 calories (plus 4 g fat, 19 g carbs, and 530 mg sodium), and round out your meal with a side of green beans (25 calories). Reduce the fat and sodium content of the meal significantly by removing the chicken skin and laying off (or going very light on) the gravy.
Meal 6: Grilled Chicken Breast, Buttermilk Biscuit, and Corn on the Cob (470 calories)
Some people have a hard time going to KFC without having at least one of their tasty biscuits, so we’ve included a biscuit meal option as well. A Grilled Chicken Breast has 220 calories, no carbs, 7 g fat (2 g saturated), 730 mg sodium, and 40 g protein. A KFC Buttermilk Biscuit has 180 calories (and 8 g fat, 23 g carbs, and 530 mg sodium), while a Corn on the Cob side has just 70 calories.
Jack in the Box
Meal 7: Chicken Teriyaki Bowl (692 calories)
While featuring one of the higher calorie counts and carb counts (133 g) on this list, this meal is low in fat (6 g, including 1 saturated) and high in fiber and protein (5 g and 27 g respectively). Taking these stats into account, Jack in the Box’s Chicken Teriyaki Bowl is a relatively wholesome, filling fast food meal option for those looking to cut their fat intake specifically. To curb some of the carb and calorie content, leave some or most of the rice in the bowl for your dog to eat.
Meal 8: Grilled Chicken Strips and Side Salad with Low Fat Dressing (375 calories)
A 4-pc. order of Grilled Chicken Strips has just 250 calories, 7 g fat (2 g saturated), 1,010 mg sodium, and 43 g protein. A side salad adds just about 50 calories, plus another 75 calories and 1.5 g fat for Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing (versus the 290-calorie house dressing).
3 tips to make any fast food meal healthier
Ditch the diet drinks
While these no-calorie beverages may seem healthy, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda cause your body to release insulin, leading to weight gain and other health problems. All of the above-listed fast food chains offer the following healthy calorie-free drinks: water (bottled or free from the fountain), unsweetened iced tea, and black coffee.
Be choosy with condiments
Popular fast food condiments like mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, and creamy spreads can add a significant amount of calories, fat, and sodium to a fast food meal. The same goes for salad dressing. When adding condiments yourself, use only small amounts or consider skipping them altogether. You can also ask to leave off ingredients like mayo, sauce, and dressing when you order.
Go online before going out
All of the major fast food chains have post nutritional information for their menu items online, and some even offer handy nutrition calculator tools so that you can easily calculate nutritional content for entire meals. Figuring out the low-cal options before you even get in the car can help you put together a healthy meal (as opposed to choosing something that just looks healthy) and will make it less likely that you lose your resolve and end up ordering a shake and fries once you get to the drive-through window.