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.

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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 just 310 calories and 17 grams of protein. Angelone notes that the whole egg in this popular breakfast sandwich provides key nutrients, including choline—an under-consumed nutrient.

What to Order at Wendy’s

4. Grilled Chicken Ranch Wrap

Beware of “lightly breaded”—that’s code for fried. This grilled pick has 420 calories and 27 grams of protein. For comparison, the chain’s lightly breaded Classic Chicken Sandwich has 490 and 28 grams of protein, 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 & 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.

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What to Order at Starbucks

6. Egg White & Roasted Red Pepper Sous Vide Egg Bites and Rolled & Steel-Cut 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 extra sweeteners to the oatmeal, though. Let the blueberries and dried fruit toppings sweeten your bowl.

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 15 grams of protein and only 360 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., 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 filling 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 320 calories but has 10 grams of fiber and 13 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 130 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 390 calories and contains 28 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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