12 Nutritionist-Approved Fast Food Meals

By Barbara Brody |

No other option but the drive-thru? These picks won’t break the calorie bank—and even come with health benefits.

Fast Food Meals That Are Actually Healthy

Few health experts would suggest that you hit the drive-thru on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean everything on the menu is terrible for you.

“Fast food is generally high in fat, calories, and sodium, but there are some good choices too,” says Sonya Angelone, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Whether you’re on a road trip with limited options—or you’re dining out with the grandkids and would like to order something other than coffee—we can help. Here’s what to order at popular fast-food restaurants that won’t completely wreck your diet, health, or waistline.

What to Order at McDonald’s

1. Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

A good breakfast option with a fiber bonus, this oatmeal has 320 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber, Angelone says.

2. Small Hamburger

This classic is a much better option than any of the souped-up burgers on the menu. “At 250 calories with 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fat,” Angelone says, “it’s one of the better fast-food burger choices.” If you’re still hungry, pair it with a small fruit smoothie for about 200 calories.

3. Egg McMuffin

While it does have quite a lot of sodium, an Egg McMuffin has less than 300 calories and 16 grams of protein. Angelone says the whole egg version provides more nutrients than the egg white version, including choline—an under-consumed nutrient.

What to Order at Wendy’s

4. Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Beware of “lightly breaded”—that’s code for fried. This grilled pick clocks in at 350 calories. For comparison, the chain’s lightly breaded Classic Chicken Sandwich has 490, Angelone says.

5. Plain Baked Potato and Small Chili

It’s hard to go wrong with this healthy combo, says Toby Smithson, R.D.N., a diabetes lifestyle expert and author of Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies.

The plain potato—skip the cheese and sour cream—won’t cost you many calories (270), and it’s a great source of potassium. The small chili is only 240 calories, yet it contains 16 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber.

What to Order at Starbucks

6. Sous Vide Egg Bites and Classic Oatmeal

Smithson says this breakfast is a winner because you get a source of complex carbs with 4 grams of fiber and a boost of protein totaling 17 grams for this meal. Beware of adding extras to the oatmeal, though. Stick with cinnamon and a low-calorie sweetener and skip the other offerings.

7. Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich

Smithson recommends having a good source of protein with meals to keep you satisfied until your next one. This sandwich delivers on protein without the higher calories and fat that come with many on-the-go options. Grab this sandwich for lunch, and you’ll get 3 grams of fiber and 18 grams of protein and only 370 calories.

What to Order at Chipotle

8. Burrito Bowl

Choose a bowl instead of a burrito at Chipotle; ditching the tortilla saves you 300 calories, says Ginger Hultin, R.D.N., founder of the virtual practice Champagne Nutrition, and author of Anti-inflammatory Diet Meal Prep. “Add flavor with low-calorie options like salsa, hot sauce, and fajita veggies, and pile on the beans for filing protein and fiber.”

And while chicken is a good protein pick, you might want to consider going meatless. “Chipotle offers savory sofritas, which is tofu-based and quite delicious,” Hultin says.

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What to Order at Taco Bell

9. Fresco Bean Burrito

You cake almost any menu item “fresco style” at Taco Bell. This replaces items with higher calories and fat (like mayo-based sauces, cheeses and sour cream) with diced tomatoes. A fresco bean burrito is only 330 calories but has 11 grams of fiber and 11 grams of protein. That’s a lot of bang for your calorie buck.

10. Chicken Soft Taco

Steer clear of anything fried, crispy, or crunchy. This soft taco—which comes with chicken, lettuce, and cheese—has just 160 calories and 5 grams of fat, Angelone says. Make it healthier by making it fresco style, which will replace the cheese with diced tomatoes. To make it a full meal, round it out with a side of black beans and rice topped, if you’d like, with pico de gallo.

What to Order at Chick-Fil-A

11. Grilled Chicken Sandwich

If you prefer a sandwich at lunch, instead of a bowl or salad, choose wisely. This grilled option is 380 calories and contains nearly 30 grams of satiating protein. Skip the honey-roasted barbecue sauce that normally comes with it, though, and add a large fruit cup to your order instead.

What to Order Everywhere Else

12. Anything “Kid Size”

If you’re craving a higher-cal item—like fries, soda, or ice cream—it’s okay to splurge from time to time. But there’s no need to supersize it. Limit the damage by ordering the smallest size available, Hultin says. Look slightly older than 12? Don’t worry, the server won’t card you.

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