If your family is like most, you find yourselves, at least on occasion, stopping for a meal at a fast food restaurant. Especially during seasons of busy travel and vacation, it can be hard not to stop for fast food when you’re on the road and need a quick bite.
Sometimes you just want to treat yourself to that crispy chicken sandwich and fries (and that’s okay!), but other times you may find yourself stopping more out of necessity and wishing you had some healthier fast food options to choose from.
If you’ve ever found yourself in that situation, or if you’ve ever wondered what a dietitian might recommend that your family order at a fast food restaurant, I’ve got you covered. Not all fast food is created equal, and I’m going to let you in on the secrets of how to choose healthier fast food.
First, we’ll talk general tips for how to choose the healthiest fast foods, and second, we’ll dig into my top recommendations from four major national fast food chains. Here we go!
Tips for Choosing Healthier Fast Food
- Look for items that have adequate protein as well as some fiber. Both protein and fiber help fill you up and keep you full longer. You’ll feel more satisfied after your meal and be less likely to overeat later.
- Choose grilled meats over fried meats. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a Chick-fil-A crispy chicken sandwich, but if you’re looking for the healthier option, grilled is where it’s at.
- Swap your sides. Just because fries are what usually comes with the meal doesn’t mean you can’t swap them out for something else. All of the major fast food chains offer side salads, and many offer fruit or fruit cups as well.
- Watch out for added sugars! We all know soda is full of added sugar, but also waatch out for items like smoothies, oatmeal, and fruit and yogurt parfaits. They’re often marketed as being the healthy option but are actually loaded with added sugars.
- Share a treat. Craving fries or a frosty? Get a small rather than a large, or share them with your husband or kids. That way, you still get to enjoy the treat without feeing like you overdid it.
- Opt for water. There are very few healthy beverage options at a fast food restaurant. In general, steer clear of sodas as well as sweetened teas, juices and coffee drinks, and opt for water instead. You can even save some money by skipping the “meal” option and ordering a cup of ice water rather than bottled. For the kids, water or the 1% white milk offered on the kids menu are both good choices.
Healthiest Fast Food Choices
Here are my recommendations for healthier fast foods from four of the major fast food chains.
Please note: I am not defining “healthy” here based on a specific number of calories, grams of fat, or some other arbitrary nutrient of choice. Rather, I decided what was healthiest by choosing the menu items in each category that fit the criteria above (like grilled versus fried, good source of protein, relatively low in added sugars, etc.).
Remember, healthy is often a relative term. When it comes to fast food, it’s all about choosing the healthiest items from the options available to you in the moment.
- McDonald’s Original Hamburger or Original Cheeseburger
- Wendy’s Jr. Hamburger or Jr. Cheeseburger
- Burger King Whopper Jr. Sandwich
- Burger King MorningStar Veggie Burger
- Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich
- Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
- McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
- Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich
- Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Wrap
- Burger King Grilled Chicken Sandwich
- Chick-fil-A Grilled Market Salad
- Chick-fil-A Spicy Southwest Salad
- McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad
- Wendy’s Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad
- Wendy’s Strawberry Mango Chicken Salad
- Chick-fil-A Grilled Chicken Nuggets
- McDonald’s Low-fat Go-gurt
- Wendy’s Chili
Fruits & Veggies
- Side Garden Salad (Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King)
- Fruit Cup (Chick-fil-A)
- Apple Slices (McDonad’s, Wendy’s and Burger King)
- Cuties Clementines (McDonald’s)
- Baked Potato (Wendy’s)
- Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill
- Chick-fil-A Sausage, Egg, & Cheese Muffin
- McDonald’s Egg McMuffin
- McDonald’s Egg White Delight McMuffin
- 1% White Milk
- 100% Fruit Juice
The next time you find your family is headed through the drive-through, remember that there are healthy choices available to you, and that heathfulness is about a whole lot more than just calories. Look for the healthier fast food choices that will nourish and sustain you until the next meal – and then remember to enjoy your meal, too!
P.S. If you’re looking for more healthy travel advice, be sure to check out these 5 simple tips for healthier summer travel!