The healthiest fast food options so you can eat well on the go
If you’re a working mom, dad, or caregiver (or just a busy human being), you probably spend a lot of time in your car. In fact, a recent study suggests that Americans spend nine to almost eleven hours in their cars per week. This means that at some point or another, you’re probably driving around AF hungry and maybe not sure where to go for the healthiest fast food. It begins with: “I’m a little hungry. But let’s see if I can do these errands and eat at home. An hour later, you’re in Target rage-buying Oreos “for later.” Before you know it, you’re rolling up to Mickey D’s and ordering the entire left side of the menu. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.
If you’re anything like us, you probably couldn’t think of a healthy meal option to eat out, so delaying the inevitable seemed like your best bet. Knowing where you can go and what you can get to stay relatively healthy is key to making good choices. A surefire way to eat healthy, without ordering a salad: order the kids’ menu. While you’re probably eating Spicy Nuggets or just a burger, they come with healthier side options (like Wendy’s Cup of Summer Berries!) and offer smaller portions. Bonus: kids’ meals are super cheap – that’s why so many restaurants offer free kids’ meals. So where are the best places to find healthy fast food? Check out one of our dozen suggestions for eating nutritious, balanced meals on the go.
Yes, Panera is a fast food restaurant. Many new Paneras build drive-throughs, making them optimal stops on race days or short lunch breaks. Panera has the largest selection of salads and soups in the fast food game, and also offers smoothies.
Perhaps you want a more “traditional” fast food experience? It’s Chick-Fil-A’s delight to serve grilled nuggets and grilled chicken sandwiches. They were also one of the first fast food chains to offer fruit cups or small salads instead of fries. Admittedly, salads are a little more difficult to eat while driving. But, picking from a fruit bowl is no more entertaining than picking out the saltiest fries.
You can do Chipotle really badly, that’s for sure. Stocking up on rice and fries (and their new queso blanco) just might crash your fitness app. But, with a little foresight, Chipotle can be a great choice for fresh, healthy food. Try a salad or just skip the tortilla. They also offer water and juice, but their teas (sweetened and unsweetened) are also always freshly made.
4. Taco Bell
Taco Bell may not be healthy all the time, but it can be one of the healthiest fast food options if you order right. Their taco salads are surprisingly low in calories, especially if you skip the tortilla bowl monstrosity. Even their basic tacos can be quite high in protein and low in calories. As long as you’re not going to upset the ball when you order, most menu items are small enough and contain enough protein to offer a pretty decent chance of being healthy.
5. Tropical Smoothie Coffee
It’s still a small chain, so it might not be everywhere. BUT, if you have it in your area, this is the perfect lunch option. Of course they have fresh smoothies. However, unlike many smoothies, they also offer custom wraps and quesadillas.
Starbucks is another really decent option when you’re in a hurry, although you might not consider it “fast food”. While their sandwiches might not be the best choice, their protein boxes are very filling and rarely contain empty calories. The fruit and cheese protein box actually contains brie, among other cheeses, some nice seedy crackers, and a sprig of grapes. They also have a box with hard boiled eggs, which is the ultimate post-workout lunch.
Much like Taco Bell, seeing Wendy’s on a list of the healthiest fast food joints might surprise some people. However, Wendy’s has a solid salad selection that tends to change seasonally, so you’ll never be bored. And, as mentioned earlier, their kids’ meals (along with healthy alternatives) are perfectly filling, inexpensive, and don’t take up much of your calorie count. For example, the four-piece nugget is only 170 calories with nine grams of protein, and the apple slices are only 35 calories. This means you can totally splurge on a Frosty. (Note: If you’re a fan of spicy protein like me, a piece of six spicy nuggets has 280 calories. There’s no rule that says you have to have a side.)
There is no right or wrong answer to the question “Is Subway healthy?” Many nutritionists have real problems with the bread-to-filling ratios of their subs. Going for a wrap, however, is a much healthier option. You can also customize a salad there. As a bonus, the large egg slice they use in their breakfast sandwiches can be used on its own, if you’re trying to go without bread altogether. (And they are delicious.)
That being said, their Veggie Delight sandwich is SO delicious and only 230 calories. It is made with 9 grain wheat and loaded with lettuce, tomato, green peppers, onion, olive oil, vinegar. You can also customize it further with your choice of cheese or different dressings which might skew the calorie count, but there’s no denying that it’s a whole medley of veggies that staves off those cravings. If you opt for the wrap instead of the sandwich, you can cut those carbs even further without sacrificing flavor.
9. Dairy Queen
If you’re craving ice cream (and who doesn’t always crave ice cream), you might like to know that a small cone of Dairy Queen ice cream contains just seven grams of fat. Take it as you want.
10. Burger In-N-Out
No, not everything on their menu is healthy. Shoot, most are not. BUT, the California company knows how to appease the carb cutters. You can order a “protein style” burger and it will be wrapped in lettuce instead of a bun, cutting out a ton of carbs and calories. It was nothing!
11. Moe’s Southwest Grill
They don’t have drive thru which sucks for us. But, this Chipotle-like Southwestern restaurant is almost everywhere and so, so delicious. “But, is it healthy?” You ask. It can be! Skip the wrap and go for a bowl, don’t go crazy over queso and fries (sigh.) and you’re well on your way to a healthy and tasty meal.
Almost everything on the menu at this growing Mediterranean chain is healthy. You might want to skip the pasta salad, of course. But, with bold flavors (their Greek-seasoned rice is even better than you-know-who’s cilantro-lime rice) and grilled-to-order entrees, anything you order will tantalize your taste buds and give you the goosebumps. feel like I made the right choice. Do you feel out of your comfort zone? The “kids party” is around $5 and includes grilled and seasoned chicken pieces, white rice, and an extra side dish (their fruit cups are bomb).
Another fast food spot new to the scene, Bibibop is best described as “Asian Chipotle”. You can start your bowl with rice (white or purple) or green vegetables. Then browse the line and choose delicious toppings ranging from beans and cheese to red cabbage and scrambled eggs. And, of course, they have a pretty solid protein selection that includes tofu and two types of chicken (spicy or regular). After they build your bowl, they have several sauces they can drizzle over your creation. Or you can head to the sauce bar next to the soda fountain and try each one instead of committing to just one. And did we mention they have free miso soup? Their bowls and sauces can be designed to significantly reduce your daily calorie intake. However, all of their ingredients feel relatively guilt-free and it’s pretty easy to skip the heaviest additions.
14. The Cheesecake Factory
Before we jump in and say The Cheesecake Factory isn’t fast food, can we jump in and say that it takes about the same time to get a meal here as it does at Panera. And in addition to pickup, there are tons of delivery options that make it a fast food option. Alright, now that that’s settled, here’s a list of some healthy and delicious options on The Cheesecake Factory’s famous super long menu.
The restaurant’s SkinnyLicious (ugh on the name) menu offers around 50 choices of lower-calorie dishes or smaller portions of their most popular dishes, like Mexican Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Slider Burgers and Ahi Tartare. . Now, fewer calories doesn’t mean less saturated fat or sodium, so take it all with a grain of salt.
15. Five Guys
Burgers and fries may not be a priority when thinking about healthy eating, but Five Guys has options for people watching their salt, calorie, and fat intake without sacrificing taste. You might be looking for a general list of items you can order, and luckily the good folks at Health.com have given you a taste of it. Here are their recommended options:
- Small Burger: 480 calories, 26 grams fat, 380 milligrams sodium
- Small Cheeseburger (no bun): 290 calories, 30.5 grams fat, 360 milligrams sodium
- Hot Dog (no bread): 285 calories, 26 grams fat, 800 milligrams sodium
- Vegetarian Sandwich : 440 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 1,040 milligrams of sodium
Five Guys offers lettuce burgers if you decide to go less bread, you should consider the nutritional facts of the toppings you choose, and sadly, you’ll have to give up those delicious Cajun fries the chain is known for.
This choice can work for any pizzeria, really, as most offer healthier choices like salads in addition to pizza. You can also ask for a smaller slice of pizza which you accompany with a salad, satisfying the craving without losing your health.
This article was originally published on