14 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 310 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 5 grams of fiber, Angelone says.

2. Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait

For a lighter breakfast, snack, or even dessert, this sweet parfait is a great option at only 150 calories. Plus, it provides some nutrition with fruit, calcium, and protein, Angelone says.

3. Small Hamburger

This classic is a much better option than any of the souped-up burgers on the menu. “At 250 calories with 13 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat,” Angelone says, “it’s one of the better fast-food burger choices.” If you’re still hungry, pair it with a side salad—just go easy on the dressing.

4. Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Going grilled makes all the difference. This sandwich has 380 calories, 37 grams of protein, and only 7 grams of fat. “This is great,” Angelone says, “especially when compared with some of the fried chicken sandwiches that can have as much as 720 calories and 33 grams of fat.”

5. Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad

This “crunchy and flavorful” yet waist-friendly option contains lots of nutrients thanks to tomatoes, black beans, and roasted corn, says Lyssie Lakatos, R.D.N., coauthor of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure.

“It’s only 350 calories, whereas many fast-food meals have more than 1,000, and it has 37 grams of protein to keep you satisfied,” she says. “Just skip the dressing, which adds another 120 calories. You won’t miss it.”

What to Order at Wendy’s

6. Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Beware of “lightly breaded”—that’s code for fried. This grilled pick clocks in at 360 calories. For comparison, the chain’s lightly breaded Homestyle Chicken Sandwich has 510, Angelone says.

7. Grilled Chicken Wrap

Again, go grilled over crispy. This wrap has a modest 270 calories. If you’d like a bigger meal, Angelone suggests adding a side salad with low-calorie dressing.

8. 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 170 calories, yet it contains 15 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and just 5 grams of fat.

What to Order at Chipotle

9. Burrito Bowl with Sofritas

Opt for a bowl instead of a burrito at Chipotle; ditching the tortilla saves you 300 calories, says Ginger Hultin, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and founder of Champagne Nutrition. “Add flavor with low-calorie options like salsa, hot sauce, and fajita veggies, and pile on the beans for filing protein and fiber.”

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

10. Chicken Soft Taco

Steer clear of anything fried, crispy, or crunchy. This soft taco—which comes with chicken, lettuce, and cheese—has just 170 calories and 8 grams of fat, Angelone says. Make it more healthy by adding extra veggies and holding the cheesy, creamy sauces.

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.

11. Power Menu Bowl (Hold the Rice)

“The sodium is a bit high, but without the rice, the calories come down to 320,” Lakatos says. “And the bowl packs in nutrients from beans, tomatoes, avocados, and chicken.” Plus, it has 28 grams of protein to keep you satisfied.

What to Order at Chick-Fil-A

12. Grilled Chicken Sandwich

If you prefer a sandwich at lunch, instead of a bowl or salad, choose wisely. This grilled option has only 310 calories, yet nearly 30 grams of satiating protein. Lakatos suggests skipping the honey-roasted barbecue sauce that normally comes with it and adding a large fruit cup to your order.

What to Order at Burger King

13. Veggie Burger

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy a meatless burger, and doing so can save you a lot of calories and saturated fat. Burger King and White Castle currently have veggie burgers on the menu. Many fast-casual joints—like Johnny Rockets, Red Robin, and TGI Fridays—have good ones, too, Hultin says.

“Flavor them with hot sauce, ketchup, onions, pickles, and mustard,” she says. “Hold the mayo, aioli, and other sauces.”

What to Order Everywhere Else

14. 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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