These are the healthiest fast food orders from Panera, Wendy’s and more, according to the RDs
With options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
fast food isn’t known to be the healthiest cuisine, but in a pinch, drive-thru may be your only option for sustenance. Don’t panic. National chains have been on board with nutritional improvements in recent years, offering more herbal dishes, as well as low-sodium and low-sugar options. So how do you know what to order?
“I would always look for the non-fried options, increase the protein, and look for additional vegetables if possible,” advises Karin Adoni, certified nutritionist and health coach. To drink, always opt for water, still or sparklingor a sugar-free drink, such as unsweetened iced tea, although the soda is free.
We reached out to nutritionists and dietitians to share their top suggestions on what to order the next time you want a healthier fast food lunch or dinner. Here’s what to order at some big chains:
“Panera has limitless options when it comes to healthy meals, simply because they have a pretty extensive menu,” says Kora Bruno, nutritionist and private chef. “My favorite products feature ingredients that include all food groups and offer higher nutritional value. Personally, I like to build my meals with a protein, carbohydrates and fats, keeping in mind the nutritional content. Some of Bruno’s favorite You Pick Two combos include the Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken and one Turkey Deli Sandwich, Vegetarian fall squash soup plus one Roast Turkey & Avocado BLTand Turkey Chili with a Greek salad. Panera’s Warm Bowls menu is another protein-rich option, with Bruno suggesting the Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli Bowlor the Mediterranean Chicken Bowl.
“It’s a fan favorite and for good reason,” says Bruno. For a balanced meal, she would opt for the Power Bowl menuthat offers protein (chicken and Beans), crabs (rice), and big (sour cream Where guacamole) with lettuce and tomatoes included. A vegetarian option is available for non-meat eaters. If you need to eat with your hands, Bruno recommends Fiesta Veggie Burrito and one Chipotle Ranch Grilled Chicken Burrito or one steak Where chicken quesadilla. “These are great options that cover the food groups and are a quick option if you’re short on time,” she says.
“I love a good McDonald’s breakfast,” says Bruno. And with breakfast offered all day, you can enjoy a Sausage McMuffin with Egg and a coffee at any time of the day. Bruno skips the fried hash browns and suggests replacing the apple slices on the side with a crisp, fiber– and a vitamin-packed bite (which isn’t fried.) Choose your choice of breakfast sandwich or opt for breakfast on a tortilla, for the protein, carbs, and a little fat to sustain your metabolism.
“Chipotle is one of my go-tos for a promised healthy lunch or dinner,” says Bruno. “There are limitless options when you keep in mind the golden rule for a balanced meal: a handful of protein, a handful of carbs, and about the size of a ping-pong ball of fat.” A salad bowl offers more greens and can keep you full. Bruno’s typical order is a salad bowl with chicken, plus brown rice, half a spoonful of black beans, vegetables, sweet sauce, and guac on the side. Tacos can also be a great option, and Bruno recommends steak tacos with veggies, cheese, and salsa, topped with lettuce or a side of corn salsa. “When you keep the portion guide in mind, you can apply it to a range of menu items,” says Bruno. “The great thing about Chipotle is that you can control what goes on your plate and request the portion you want.”
“Panda Express is another personal favorite because they use fresh vegetables and I really believe cooking in a wok adds flavor,” says Bruno. “Portions at Panda Express can start anywhere from a standard serving size to triple the serving size, so it’s best to ask for what you want based on your needs.” To prepare a healthy order, Bruno opts for balls, which include a side dish (you can do half and half to combine the dishes) and an entrée. It’s a cost-effective way to include protein, a vegetableand Brown rice (or white rice, if you prefer). If you are hungrier, opt for a plate. Ordering a la carte items can be another tactic for controlling portion sizes. Although menus may differ by location, steamed vegetables or anything not fried or dipped in sauce (such as Black Pepper Chicken Where Grilled Teriyaki Chicken) is usually a good option.
Everything is pre-portioned at Starbucks, making it difficult to order a custom meal, but there are still healthy options for on-the-go meals. Stephanie Nelson, RD, and Senior Nutrition Scientist at MyFitnessPal suggest to go for the Spinach, feta and egg white wrap, which contains 20 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Note that it’s high in sodium (37% of your daily intake), so it should be an occasional meal, rather than a daily indulgence, even though it’s high in some key nutrients. Protein Boxes can be another healthier option for a lighter, yet nutritious fast food lunch. If you are herbal, Starbucks Chickpea and Avocado Bites Protein Box offers a lot of fiberplus a satisfying crunch.
Forget the Baconator and opt for Nelson’s favorite low-sodium option at a fast food restaurant, the garden salad. Exciting? Not really, but full of vitamins, more fiber, and pairs easily with another Wendy’s essential: Chili. Together, this duo creates a balanced cafe-style meal that’s easy on the wallet and filling. To add a baked potato if you need more carbs and food to feel full.
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