Need to grab a quick bite? Join the group. In the United States, 50% of customers eat fast food at least twice a week—a figure that is rising as grocery prices rise.
Fast food meals, on the other hand, can be a nutrition nightmare, with 1,193 calories, 2,110 milligrams of sodium, 68 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of saturated fat on average. That’s nearly the adult daily limit of sodium and more than the daily maximum of saturated fat—all in one meal. A diet high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium has been related to heart disease. Furthermore, eating too many ultra-processed foods, such as burgers and fries, may result in cognitive deterioration.
“One meal is not going to make or break your overall health; all foods, including indulgent foods, can fit into an overall healthy diet,” explains Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. “When it comes to making healthy choices, pay attention to portion size, protein, fiber, fat, sodium, and added sugars.”
Choose one of these eight healthy options the next time you’re on the road, strapped for time, or too tired to cook.
1. Dunkin: Wake-Up Wrap
Although it is classified as a “breakfast sandwich,” Sheth says the Wake-Up Wrap is suitable for any time of day because it is low in carbohydrates and calories and has 7 grams of protein. Ordering the vegetable option (no bacon or turkey sausage) helps to reduce fat and sodium intake.
The wrap may help stave off afternoon hunger, but Sheth advises that with only 180 calories, it won’t be very full.
“You might still be hungry, so pair this sandwich with some fruit or a side salad,” she says.
2. Panera Bread: Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken
The healthful salad is loaded with romaine, mandarin oranges, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple and topped with grilled chicken.
The entrée salad is full enough for lunch or dinner and has just 350 calories, 23 grams of protein, eight grams of fiber, and 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
“The protein and fiber [in the chicken and poppyseeds] provide satiety that will help you feel full,” Blake explains. “It’s a lot of food without a lot of calories.”
3. Subway: 6-inch Veggie Delite Sandwich
Pile on the vegetables if you want. Spinach, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green peppers, pickles, olives, and other fresh veggies provide taste and fill the six-inch vegetarian sandwich with little calories.
Request multigrain bread, which has fewer calories, fat, and carbs than Italian herb or honey oat bread.
Even with all of the toppings, including cheese, the sandwich contains only 210 calories, three grams of fat, and ten grams of fiber. A nutritionist and author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods, Vicki Shanta Retelny RDN, describes it as “an excellent source of fiber.”
4. Starbucks: Tomato and Mozzarella on Focaccia
The vegetarian sandwich with mozzarella cheese, roasted tomatoes, basil pesto, and spinach is high in protein and low in sugar and calories, with only two grams of sugar and 360 calories.
Although the mix of vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein will fill you up, Joan Salge Blake EdD, RDN, program director and clinical professor of nutrition at Boston University, suggests adding an apple to increase the fiber level of the meal.
5. Taco Bell: Soft Taco Supreme
The option to customize the components is the best feature of the soft taco supreme: Blake recommends replacing the ground beef with grilled chicken to lower saturated fat, as well as adding black beans for fiber and guacamole for healthy fat.
“You can also ask them to double the amount of tomatoes and lettuce to make sure you’re getting enough vegetables,” she says. Onions and jalapeno peppers can also be added.
Even with the additions, a single taco contains only 285 calories and 3.5 grams of saturated fat. Blake concedes that 290 mg of sodium is excessive, but it is “good for fast food.”
6. Burger King: Impossible Whopper
Order an Impossible Whopper the next time you go through the drive-thru. The Impossible Whopper (630 calories) and the standard Whopper (670 calories) have similar calorie counts, but the plant-based protein patty has less total fat and saturated fat.
The Impossible Whopper is far from a health dish, with 1,350 milligrams of sodium and 13.5 grams of sugar, but it’s a good option when a burger hunger strikes.
7. Chipotle: Lifestyle Bowl
The fast casual company offers vegan and vegetarian bowls, as well as paleo and keto-friendly options; its high protein bowl, composed with black beans, double chicken, cheese, rice, salsa, and shredded cheese, contains an impressive 82 grams of protein.
“The combination of plant-based protein, brown rice, black beans, or pinto beans provides an unbelievable amount of fiber,” Blake continues.
To increase your veggie consumption, you can also order extras like roasted chili-corn salsa, fresh tomato salsa, and guacamole.
8. Chick-fil-A: Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Blake’s favorite sandwich on the chicken chain’s menu is the grilled chicken sandwich.
The sandwich has 390 calories, 28 grams of protein, and two grams of saturated fat and is created with a multigrain brioche bun, grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, and honey roasted BBQ sauce. Blake recommends swapping the bun with a lettuce wrap to reduce the 44 grams of carbs in the sandwich.
In comparison to the other chicken sandwiches on the Chick-fil-A menu, which have up to 1,700 milligrams of sodium—a whopping 73% of the recommended daily sodium intake—the grilled chicken sandwich has 770 milligrams of sodium.