You probably think of salad as the ultimate health food, but a recent article in The Washington Post suggests it’s not all its cracked up to be — and not just because many restaurant salads contain just as many calories as the burger you’d rather be eating.
“The biggest thing wrong with salad is lettuce,” writes Tamar Haspel in the Post. Haspel goes on to argue that lettuce, which is the base of most healthy-sounding salads, is nutritionally irrelevant because it contains way more water than vitamins, minerals, and calories. In other words, lettuce salads are just a vehicle to shovel croutons, cheese, and loads of dressing into your mouth — without contributing much to your dietary needs.
That means even homemade salads may not be as healthy as you think — so it should go without saying that you’re no better off eating out.
“Items labeled ‘salad’ at chain restaurants are often as bad, if not worse, than pastas or sandwiches or burgers when it comes to calories,” Haspel continues — and he’s completely right, according to Georgie Fear, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian and the author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. Luckily, popular chain restaurants — from Burger King and McDonalds to Cracker Barrel and The Cheesecake Factory — all serve perfectly healthy salad-alternatives that are dense in nutrients.
So when you want to eat healthy – healthier than a salad — try one of Fear’s non-salad recommendations:
1. Starbucks: Spinach, Egg White and Feta Wrap
Not only is this wrap is served hot — meaning it automatically beats a cold Bistro Box on a chilly day or when you’re up against aggressive A.C.— but it contains whole grains, has a great mix of protein, fats, and carbs, packs 6 grams of filling fiber, and sneaks in some veggies too. For a heartier meal, just order two.
2. Wendy’s: Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich + a Small Chili
The stats on the sandwich are very reasonable without modifying any of the toppings: It has a respectable 8 grams of fat and 35 grams of protein. To fill out your meal, add a small chili, which delivers iron, extra protein, and fiber to really fill you up.
3. Applebee’s: Napa Chicken and Portobellos
Applebee’s has a whole menu full of dishes under 600 calories — but some of the protein portions seem too small to satisfy. This chicken dish is the exception with a whopping 50 grams of protein and a nutritious mix of vegetables that trumps a measly pile of lettuce. If you’re in the mood for steak, the pepper-crusted sirloin with whole grains is another good choice (it just contains less protein).
4. Chipotle: Burrito Bowl With Chicken, Beans, Fajita Vegetables, Lettuce, Tomato Salsa, and Half a Portion of Guacamole
Like many registered dietitians who are all, “Burrito bowl or bust!”, Fear prefers Chipotle bowls to burritos. Between the chicken, beans, and veggies in the combo above, there’s plenty of protein, fiber, and nutrients. As for healthy fat, guacamole is about the best you can get: It contains more monounsaturated fat and less saturated fat than cheese or sour cream. Still, the typical 4-ounce serving contains 22 grams of fat with more calories than cheese and sour cream combined! So Fear sticks to a half portion.
5. Panera Bread: Smoked Turkey Sandwich With Cheddar Cheese on Whole Wheat Bread + Apple
Panera Bread/Lauren Ahn
While Panera’s flatbreads provide tasty low-calorie options, Fear suggests going for a more substantial sandwich with more protein so you don’t get hungry again soon after your meal. She recommends the smoked turkey, specially ordered with whole wheat bread (for extra nutrients), a slice of cheese for satiating fat, and an apple on the side.
6. McDonalds: 2 Egg White Delight McMuffins
The Egg White Delight McMuffin is the best option on this menu any time of day — even if you need two to fill up. You get Canadian bacon and melted cheese — which already makes the option a billion times more appealing than a lousy salad. What this sandwich lacks in fruits and vegetables, it makes up for in protein. To compensate, just go heavy on the produce at your next meal.
7. Burger King: Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich
Burger King/Lauren Ahn
This is your best option for a high-protein, relatively low-fat meal at Burger King — particularly if you hold the mayo. Like the meal options at McDonald’s, this sandwich contains few veggies, so it’s not the world’s most balanced meal. But it still beats a burger and fries for healthy eaters with salad fatigue.
8. California Pizza Kitchen: Half a Roasted-Artichoke-and-Spinach Thin Crust Pizza With Chicken
California Pizza Kitchen/Lauren Ahn
When eating at CPK, it’s a crime not to order the pizza — even though they’re all relatively high in calories. The good news: A half pizza (which is plenty of food) makes a perfectly reasonable meal. Fear’s pizza pick contains lots of veggies with added chicken to amp up the protein. Even though whole grain crust is available, it adds 10 grams of fat without tons more fiber, so just stick with the original.
9. Chili’s Grill & Bar: Margarita Grilled Chicken With Steamed Broccoli (Sub for Rice)
Fear is a huge fan of this dish — she loves the taste. She swaps the rice for steamed broccoli to get some green stuff (and extra nutrients) into the mix.
10. The Cheesecake Factory: SkinnyLicious Grilled Salmon
The Cheesecake Factory/ Lauren Ahn
Seafood is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, so any grilled fish option with a couple of green veggie sides will always be your best bet on this menu. Why? Fish that’s fried or prepared in sauce could contain hidden fats. (The Cheesecake Factory doesn’t share its meals’ total fat content.) As for the green veggies: Other sides like mashed potatoes can contain more than 500 calories!
11. Olive Garden: Citrus Chicken Sorrento
Olive Garden/Lauren Ahn
With seasoned vegetables and fiber-packed artichokes as sides, this pick is a no-brainer.
12. Ruby Tuesday: Top Sirloin Steak + Grilled Zucchini + Rice Pilaf
Ruby Tuesday/Lauren Ahn
Sirloin steak is Ruby Tuesday’s leanest cut of meat, and the dish has even less fat when you ask for it to be prepared without the seasoned butter that’s typically used. Grilled zucchini, steamed broccoli, green beans, or roasted spaghetti squash all make nutritious sides. Two veggies (or one veggie and a starchy side such as rice pilaf) make a well-rounded meal.
13. T.G.I. Friday’s: Sizzling Chicken and Spinach
T.G.I. Friday’s/Lauren Ahn
Tasty chicken atop spinach with yellow squash and onions, with a tomato and mozzarella salad on the side? Yes, please. This dish is high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbohydrates (just like a salad!), so it’s really a perfect pick. (And if you’re tired of chicken? The sizzling sirloin and spinach is nearly identical in nutrition, offering just as much protein with just a few more grams of fat.)
14. Cracker Barrel: The Buttermilk Oven-Fried Chicken Breast + Baked Sweet Potato + Steamed Veggies
Cracker Barrel/Lauren Ahn
You can only eat grilled chicken so many ways, so this crunchy-coated baked option is extra-interesting. It comes with two sides: A baked sweet potato and steamed vegetables really round out the meal.
15. Denny’s: Fit Fare Loaded Egg-White Veggie Omelette With Fruit and an English Muffin
This dish hits every food group: It’s got lean protein from the egg whites, vegetables, fruit, carbs, and fat (from the Swiss cheese) for flavor. It’s a balanced meal that contains zero salad — and won’t end in the maple syrup-induced food coma you’d get from eating classic Denny’s fare like pancakes.
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Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more.
- 25 Low-Calorie Restaurant Meals Under 500 Calories
- Red Lobster
- Outback Steakhouse
- Panda Express
- P.F. Chang’s
- Olive Garden
- Boston Market
- TGI Fridays
- Jack in the Box
- Au Bon Pain
- Long John Silver’s
- Carl’s Jr.
- Ruby Tuesday
- Moe’s Southwest Grill
- Jimmy Johns
- 6 healthy options beyond salad at your favorite fast-food restaurants
- Healthy Fast Food Lunches for Under 500 Calories
- There is a growing initiative to revamp fat-filled menus with new healthy fast food options.
- Many healthy fast food restaurants are even including brochures with nutrition information prominently placed in their stores.
- Here are some possible healthy fast food lunch choices from ten popular fast food restaurants, arranged alphabetically for convenience.
- 1. Burger King VEGGIE Burger
- 2. Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s) Charbroiled Santa Fe Chicken
- 3. El Pollo Loco Flame Grilled Chicken Breast
- 4. Jack in the Box Grilled Chicken Salad
- 5. KFC Crispy Chicken BLT Salad
- 6. McDonalds Hamburger and Ice Cream
- 7. Panda Express String Bean Chicken
- 8. Subway Turkey Sub Sandwich
- 9. Taco Bell Fresco Chicken Soft Taco
- 10. Wendy’s Chili
- Healthy Fast Food: The Best Meals at 15 Popular Restaurants
- 1. Burger King: the Whopper Jr.
- 2. Chipotle: the Burrito Bowl
- 3. Wendy’s: the Jr. Cheeseburger
- 4. Domino’s Pizza: the 12-inch veggie pizza
- 5. Panera Bread: the Steak and Arugula Sandwich
- 6. Chick-fil-A: the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
- 7. Dunkin’ Donuts: the Veggie Egg White
- 8. Subway: the 6-inch Veggie Delite
- 9. Pizza Hut: the “Fit ‘n Delicious” 12-Inch Pizza
- 10. McDonald’s: the Happy Meal
- 11. Taco Bell: the Fresco Burrito Supreme
- 12. Sonic Drive-In: the Jr. Burger
- 13. Starbucks: the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-Free Egg White Breakfast Sandwich
- 14. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s: the Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
- 15. KFC: the Grilled, Bone-In Chicken Breast plus Sweet Corn
- Top 11 fast-food options for keto or low carb
- The method
- Low-carb option #11: Chick-fil-A (★★★-)
- Low-carb option #10: Wendy’s (★★★)
- Low-carb option #9: Taco Bell (★★★)
- Low-carb option #8: Starbucks. Food (★★★); Drinks (★★★★+)
- Low-carb option #7: Sonic Drive-In (★★★)
- Low-carb option #6: KFC (★★★★)
- Low-carb option #5: Subway (★★★★)
- Low-carb option #4: Chipotle (★★★★)
- Low-carb option #3: Pei Wei Asian (★★★★+)
- Low-carb option #2: In-N-Out Burgers (★★★★+)
- Low-carb option #1: Five Guys (★★★★★)
- What about McDonald’s and Burger King?
- Summarizing 10 days of eating fast food
- My top tips for finding low-carb fast food options
25 Low-Calorie Restaurant Meals Under 500 Calories
While it might be easier to treat yourself to a night out, we start to have second thoughts when we pick up that menu of endless possibilities and zero guidance on what’s good (or not totally horrible) for our bodies. Items with words like “organic,” “fresh” or “homemade” are commonplace in the restaurant business, but that doesn’t mean you can glaze over the nutritional information. Even when you think you’re making a better decision by eating at a sit-down restaurant, their menu options aren’t always that much healthier than their fast-food counterparts.
Luckily, the following restaurants allow you to customize most meals to your liking, which means the calorie-cutting power is in your hands. To help keep you stay fit and trim, we rifled through the nutrition information at all of your fast casual joints, so all you have to do is sit back, relax, and eat. To make sure we recommended the absolute best dishes and meal combos for your waistline, we kept all orders to a maximum of 500 calories and 1,500 milligrams of sodium.
Chicken, Pinto Bean, Tomato Salsa, and Fajita Veggie Salad, no dressing
360 calories, 9 g fat (3 g saturated), 1,220 mg sodium, 31 g carbs (11 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 41 g protein
Chipotle is the frontrunner when it comes to fast casual dining. Besides removing the GMO ingredients from their menu, they also promised to improve the already high quality of their food by cutting down on the preservatives in their salt-laden tortillas. Because we know you’ll be taking a trip to Chipotle before that happens, try this chicken salad instead. Registered dietitian and personal trainer Jim White says, “when I eat salad, I use it as an opportunity to get some of my carbohydrates from beans.” Besides a protein-packed scoop of pinto beans, he also likes loading up on veggies, which is why we’ve thrown on some nutritionally-dense fajita veggies on top of that fiber-packed romaine lettuce. Huge Chipotle fan? Be sure to check out our exclusive report, Chipotle dishes — ranked!.
Courtesy of Panera
Half Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT and Half Seasonal Greens Salad with Reduced-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette and a French Baguette
430 calories, 23 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat), 745 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (5 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 23 g protein
One of the best options at Panera is their “You Pick Two” special. It gives you the ability to select a rounded meal while managing your portion control. Pair the healthiest ranked sandwich at Panera, the Turkey & Avocado BLT, with a Seasonal Greens Salad and flavorful Reduced-Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette for a little extra pizazz. The layer of heart-healthy avocado on your sandwich will help you to absorb three to five times more carotenoids, the disease-fighting compounds found in the veggies in the salad, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
Wild-Caught, Broiled Flounder Dinner with Broccoli (no salad, dressing, or condiments)
460 calories, 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 770 mg sodium, 9 g carbs (3 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 73 g protein
Opting for the broiled version versus the “golden-fried” will save you an astounding 750 calories. This low-calorie meal is rounded out by sides of fresh veggies. If you like to pair your fish with a condiment, we recommend opting for cocktail sauce over tartar sauce. The cocktail sauce side will bring your meal to a total of only 510 calories, whereas the tartar sauce brings you up to 630 calories total. To discover more satisfying eats that will help you trim down, check out these best carbs for weight loss.
Courtesy of Outback Steakhouse
Victoria’s 6-ounce Filet Mignon with sides of Grilled Asparagus and House Side Salad with Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
490 calories, 24 g fat (8 g saturated fat, 1 g trans fat), 1,270 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (5 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 47 g protein
We know it’s hard to believe, but Outback, home of the 2,000-calorie Bloomin’ Onion appetizer, does have some healthy meal options. One of the best cuts of meat you can get from the popular steakhouse is the 6-ounce Victoria Filet because it is low in fat. Even better, the side of asparagus is rich in potassium, a nutrient that helps the body flush out water and sodium.
And when you’re cooking at home, get your protein fix with these best proteins for weight loss.
Courtesy of Applebee’s
Applebee’s Thai Shrimp Salad
380 calories, 19 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 1,510 mg sodium, 30 g carbs (8 g fiber, 14 g sugar), 25 g protein
The only main you can find on Applebee’s menu under 500 calories is this Thai Shrimp Salad. That’s right, we said only one dish. Of course, you can also order a bunless hamburger patty to get under the 500-calorie mark, but at least this option affords you the opportunity to eat some vegetables and a good source of low-fat protein: shrimp.
Courtesy of Panda Express
Broccoli, Beef, and Chicken Potstickers
310 calories, 13 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 770 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 15 g protein
A Chinese meal that won’t break the calorie or sugar bank? It is possible, and this meal is proof! Along with the 15 grams of hunger-busting protein comes a solid hit of immunity-boosting vitamin A and folic acid (a vitamin that helps the body break down, use, and create new proteins) from the broccoli.
Loaded Chicken Wrap
310 calories, 13 g fat (6 saturated), 890 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 14 g protein
When you go to Popeyes, we know you’re looking for some fried chicken, and this wrap gives it to you—while keeping an eye out for your waistline. This wrap rolls up fried chicken and the chain’s signature Red Beans & Rice in one delicious handheld meal. It’s hard to believe that it contains a mere 310 calories while packing in 14 grams of protein and 3 grams of satiating fiber.
Courtesy of P.F. Chang’s
Buddha’s Feast (Steamed)
260 calories, 4 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 310 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (9 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 25 g protein
Some dishes at P.F. Chang’s can climb as high as 3,840 mg sodium (Pad Thai Shrimp, we’re looking at you). That’s almost two days worth of sodium in one sitting! Save your heart by ordering the lowest sodium content item on the menu: Buddha’s Feast Steamed. This steamed dish is loaded with baked tofu, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots, and tossed in soy sauce.
Courtesy of Olive Garden
Herb-Grilled Salmon with Garlic-Herb Butter and Parmesan-Garlic Broccoli
460 calories, 29 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 960 mg sodium, 9 g carbs (5 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 45 g protein
A dish from Olive Garden under 1,000 milligrams of sodium and with no trans fat? Sign us up! Home of the never-ending breadsticks, Olive Garden’s oversize portions of carbs can put the dietary discipline of any mindful diner to the test. Instead of losing more than a day’s worth of carbs and sodium to their pasta dishes, order this Herb-Grilled Salmon instead. Just make sure to ask for the fatty butter on the side because the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid-packed salmon already has enough of it!
Courtesy of Chick-fil-A
Grilled Market Salad with Toppings and Light Balsamic Vinaigrette
410 calories, 19 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 1,050 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (6 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 27 g protein
“If I were to eat at Chick-fil-A, I’d go for the very colorful Chick-Fil-A Grilled Market Salad with the Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette on the side,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Michelle Loy. “This salad features dark leafy greens, which are excellent sources of heart-protective folate and immune system-supportive vitamin A. The berries in the salad also contain disease-fighting antioxidants that help ward off chronic conditions, like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.” Plus, each salad is topped off with a healthy serving of grilled chicken to give you a boost of protein to help keep you satisfied.
Eat fast food on the reg? Be sure to check out these things fast food chains don’t want you to know before you put fry to mouth.
Quarter White, Skinless Rotisserie Chicken with Green Beans and Steamed Vegetables
350 calories, 13 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 650 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (6 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 43 g protein
If you didn’t think comfort food could be low in fat, take a look at this entree from Boston Market. This chicken, green bean, and veggie plate should be your go-to on your busy weeknights out. It carries just nine percent of the day’s recommended fat, which isn’t too shabby for a fast-food cheat meal! If you’re worried this combo won’t pack big enough flavor, ask your server for a side of their tangy, fat-free Poultry Gravy. Even if you polish off the entire lot, it will only add 10 calories and 85 milligrams of sodium to your order. Throw in the cornbread that comes with the meal as well, and you’re only looking at a total of 570 calories.
RELATED: The easy way to make healthier comfort foods.
Courtesy of TGI Fridays
Caesar Salad with Breadstick with Caesar Dressing
440 calories, 31 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 720 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 9 g protein
The closest you’re going to get to an under 500-calorie meal at TGI Fridays is this salad with no options for sides because most entrees at the chain are over 1,000 calories.
Courtesy of Arby’s
Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad with Lite Italian Dressing
260 calories, 14 g fat (7 g saturated fat) 1,660 mg sodium, 11 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar) 23 g protein
Get your fill of 23 grams of muscle-building protein without the trans fats and starchy, chemical-additive-packed bread that comes along with most of the other menu items at Arby’s. Besides being the healthiest and most nutritionally rounded dishes at Arby’s, it’s also one of the most delicious. And with the added bonus of bacon, it can’t get much better than that! But it’s important to note the sodium here—you’re going to want to limit the amount of dressing you use, so as long as you don’t use all that’s given to you with your meal, you’ll come in under the limit we set.
Courtesy of Hardee’s
Low Carb It: ⅓ LB. Low Carb Thickburger
470 calories, 36 g fat (13 g saturated fat), 1,170 mg sodium, 9 g carbs (1 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 22 g protein
When it comes to fast-food burgers, it doesn’t get much healthier—or lighter in carbs—than this. To whip up this mouthwatering creation, Hardee’s takes a Black Angus beef patty and wraps it inside iceberg lettuce leaves, along with cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard, and mayo, so you can enjoy your burger. Trying to lean out? Be sure to check out these weight loss tricks you haven’t tried.
Jack in the Box
Courtesy of Jack in the Box
Chicken Fajita Pita with No Salsa
320 calories, 11 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 870 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 24 g protein
Low in calories and packed with protein and fiber, this is one meal that we’d happily scarf down. Even better than the crispy grilled onions and shredded cheddar cheese is the pita bread made with 16 grams of whole grain. We love whole grains because they contain all three parts of the grain, including the ones that are nutrient-rich and full of fiber to keep your hunger at bay.
Courtesy of Sonic
Classic Grilled Chicken Sandwich
470 calories, 22 g fat (4 g saturated), 1,340 mg sodium, 39 g carbs (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 30 g protein
Steer clear of those Footlong dogs and over to this classically simple grilled chicken sandwich at Sonic. A ciabatta bun packed with 10 grams of whole grain and tender grilled chicken sync up with a host of veggies and light mayo to create this flavorful diet-friendly order.
Courtesy of Starbucks
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich
230 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 560 mg sodium, 28 g carbs (2 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 16 g protein
With a leaner protein in the form of turkey bacon over the traditional pork, this relatively low-carb English muffin and egg sandwich is the perfect start to your day. It packs a powerful nutritional punch of 13 grams of protein for a mere 230 calories. This promising info makes it another all-day breakfast item we’re cool with getting behind.
Au Bon Pain
Courtesy of Au Bon Pain
Tuna Salad Sandwich, Whole Sandwich
460 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated), 860 mg sodium, 53 g carbs (6 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 38 g protein
Served on multigrain bread, you’ll take a bite and find ABP’s signature herb blend, and avocado dressing, tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, and field greens in this tuna salad.
Long John Silver’s
3 Pieces of Shrimp with Rice and Green Beans (no hushpuppies or sauce)
271 calories, 2 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 1,319 mg sodium, 51 g carbs (1 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 11 g protein
This grilled seafood entree is among the healthiest grab-and-go meals in the country, and one of the smartest choices at Long John’s. Even though the chain has eliminated trans fats from the deep fryer, the breading and oils still pile on a hefty dose of fat, and that’s why we recommend this dish. The shrimp is baked, not breaded and fried, so you don’t have to worry about those extra calories and fat.
Carls Jr Indonesia/Yelp
Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
390 calories, 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 990 mg sodium, 50 g carbs (3 g fiber, 13 g sugar), 30 g protein
If you’re looking for a decent nutritional profile that’s not loaded with greasy fats, pick up a Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich. This delicious meal will save you more than 200 calories and 12 grams of fat compared to some of their larger burgers. And for more waist-saving hacks, check out these foods that melt love handles.
Courtesy of Ruby Tuesday
Fit & Trim Top Sirloin with Grilled Asparagus and Spaghetti Squash
423 calories, 23 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 1,162 mg sodium, 12 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 45 g protein
In the fast food world, it’s hard to find a meal under 500 calories that doesn’t contain the leanest of proteins, chicken. That’s why we’re ecstatic about Ruby Tuesday’s “Fit&Trim” Top Sirloin. Leaner and with fewer calories than other cuts of beef, this steak is packed with metabolism-boosting iron.
Slice of XL New York Veggie Pizza
440 calories, 15 g fat (7 g saturated), 1,070 mg sodium, 56 g carbs (5 g fiber, 7 g sugar), 21 g protein
On any given day, one in eight Americans will reach for a slice, and we’re drooling over this one. Rather than getting two smaller slices that would probably fill up the full 500 calories, Sbarro’s extra large slice gives you a little extra than normal but leaves room for a nice, fresh side salad for an added boost of satiating fiber.
Moe’s Southwest Grill
Courtesy of Moe’s Southwest Grill
Homewrecker Jr. with Chicken, Rice, Beans, Pico de Gallo, Lettuce, Guacamole, on a Flour Tortilla
490 calories, 16 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 862 mg sodium, 74 g carbs (13 g fiber, 5 g sugar), 27 g protein
Finally, a burrito under 500 calories, and with all the fixings! Moe’s Southwest Grill manages to fit all your favorite burrito fillings into this Homewrecker Jr. by using a 3-inch smaller tortilla round than Chipotle.
Turkey Tom Unwich
240 calories, 18 g fat (3 g saturated), 680 mg sodium, 4 g carbs (1 g fiber, 2 g sugar), 14 g protein
This turkey breast sandwich from Jimmy Johns is a sight for sore eyes. It’s the only sub and giant club sandwich under 500 calories; keep in mind that’s with only turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.
Courtesy of KFC
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast with Sweet Kernel Corn and Green Beans
320 calories, 8 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 970 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 44 g protein
A Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast is a solid option to turn to when you find yourself at KFC. Pair a side of green beans and corn with the lean poultry for a light, low-calorie meal that’ll keep you full and satiated for hours without derailing your weight loss efforts.
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6 healthy options beyond salad at your favorite fast-food restaurants
This year, resolve to eat better when fast food is on the menu .
It’s been more than two weeks since everyone started their healthy New Year’s resolutions, so we’re guessing cravings are kicking in right about now. And old fast-food stomping grounds are probably starting to look a little more attractive.
Well, you can still step foot in (or drive-through) Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s and other fast-food and fast-casual joints while keeping your New Year’s resolutions at the same time. Surprise!
Fast-food and fast-casual chains do have low-calorie and low-fat options that won’t derail you from your healthy goals and go beyond salads.
Here are some of the healthier fast-food and fast-casual options to choose.
Artisan grilled chicken sandwich
380 calories, 6 grams of fat and 36 grams of protein
If McDonald’s is your vice, don’t worry, there are a few things you can get off the menu that won’t take up your entire daily calorie intake – one of them being the artisan grilled chicken sandwich. It’s only 30 more calories than the southwest grilled chicken salad and significantly fewer calories than a double Quarter Pounder with cheese (770 calories).
Steak fresco soft taco
150 calories, 4 grams fat and 10 grams protein
How about a taco? Or four? Sometimes salads really aren’t the healthiest options at fast-food restaurants. You could have four steak fresco tacos and they would be fewer calories than the fiesta taco salad, which has 760 calories and 39 grams of fat.
Spinach, feta & cage-free egg-white breakfast wrap
290 calories, 10 grams of fat and 19 grams of protein
You don’t have to just get black coffee or green tea at Starbucks to stay healthy. You can even pass up the oatmeal and fruit bowl and still be good. The spinach, feta and cage-free egg-white breakfast wrap is a mouthful to say but at least it’ll keep you full and satisfied.
Steak burrito bowl with fajita vegetables, black beans and fresh tomato salsa
325 calories, 7.5 grams of fat and 30 grams of protein
There are plenty of healthy options at Chipotle, and the fact that you can pick and choose what ingredients go into your meal gives you greater control over your calorie intake. Just make sure to check the restaurant’s nutritional menu first.
140 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 25 grams of protein
You can get exactly what Chick-fil-A is known for and still be good. Grilled chicken nuggets are probably your best bet if you don’t want to stray into the salad and wraps section. At only 140 calories, you can get two orders and still come in under 300 calories. If you’re just craving a sandwich though, the grilled chicken sandwich is the best option coming in at 310 calories. You’ll have to skip out on the fries, but at least you get your chicken-sandwich fix.
Lentil quinoa broth bowl with chicken
380 calories, 8 grams of fat and 32 grams of protein
Don’t get derailed by Panera’s wide selection of pastries and breads. A lentil quinoa broth bowl with chicken is healthier than a lot of Panera’s salads. If you are craving one of the salads though, choose a half-size portion or one of the options that’s around 350 calories and low in fat.
Healthy Fast Food Lunches for Under 500 Calories
Poor fast food choices can lead to hundreds or thousands of calories in a single meal but fortunately, customers have several healthy fast food meal options, and not all menu choices are fattening.
Many healthy fast food restaurants are even including brochures with nutrition information prominently placed in their stores.
Most people can eat a healthy fast food lunch on the go, if they know where to look.
Fast food should not be a diet staple for anyone, but it is nice to have some quick lunch options for those occasional meals on the run.
Here are some possible healthy fast food lunch choices from ten popular fast food restaurants, arranged alphabetically for convenience.
Each of these healthy fast food lunches has under 500 calories, and the calorie counts come straight from the restaurant websites.
1. Burger King VEGGIE Burger
The Burger King VEGGIE Burger is a good low-calorie, low-fat lunch option. Without the mayonnaise and cheese, the calorie count comes to about 415 calories. This includes a small side salad with fat-free ranch dressing.
2. Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s) Charbroiled Santa Fe Chicken
For a spicy southwestern taste, the 320-calorie Charbroiled Santa Fe Chicken sandwich from Carl’s Jr. is just the ticket. Add a side salad with low-fat balsamic dressing, and the meal stays under 500 calories.
3. El Pollo Loco Flame Grilled Chicken Breast
The Flame Grilled Chicken breast from El Pollo Loco is a good low-calorie meal option, at 220 calories (or 180 calories for skinless chicken). Pair it with a small bowl of chicken tortilla soup for a great-tasting Mexican food meal under 500 calories.
4. Jack in the Box Grilled Chicken Salad
Jack in the Box serves a tasty Grilled Chicken Salad with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette. Add a side of Chiquita apple bites with caramel, and the meal comes to little more than 350 calories.
5. KFC Crispy Chicken BLT Salad
KFC’s Crispy Chicken BLT Salad meal is a winner at 465 calories. This includes fat-free ranch dressing and a small corn on the cob side order. Many people don’t think KFC for low calorie options, but their salads and delectable sides make healthy fast food lunches a reality.
6. McDonalds Hamburger and Ice Cream
Even a McDonalds hamburger can be a healthy fast food option when French fries are exchanged for apple slices and a vanilla reduced-fat ice cream cone. Calorie-counting customers are safe, since this meal has around 415 calories. This particular option is surprising but nonetheless a beneficial lunch choice. Also try McDonald’s fruit and yogurt parfaits on the dollar menu for
7. Panda Express String Bean Chicken
A string bean chicken meal without the rice is a low-calorie lunch option from Panda Express. Along with a small cup of hot-and-sour soup, this meal has the lowest calorie counts on the list: 310 calories. Make sure that your Chinese fast food option is MSG free and uses quality meat without filler breading and sugary sauces. Chinese food can be tricky but still has potential to be low calorie.
8. Subway Turkey Sub Sandwich
Subway customers can “eat fresh” with a variety of sandwich choices. The six-inch turkey sub without cheese will keep the meal around 410 calories. This includes mustard and veggie toppings, as well as a small bag of baked potato chips. The fact that chips could be included in any meal under 500 calories is astounding, testifying to Subway’s dedication to healthy options. Subway also consistently offers filling options for the calories as well.
9. Taco Bell Fresco Chicken Soft Taco
The Fresco Chicken soft taco from Taco Bell is another possible lunch option. Eaten with a side of Mexican rice and a side of Pintos-n-Cheese, the meal comes to about 440 calories. Taco Bell has made more light options available in recent years with their Fresco options.
10. Wendy’s Chili
A large bowl of chili from Wendy’s will keep lunch to 500 calories. This includes a junior size vanilla frosty, the ice cream treat that made Wendy’s famous. For the person looking to provide more substance to their meal than the frosty, Wendy’s extensive side options rather than fries provide an excellent light lunch.
A salad or baked potato makes unique fast food fare. Fast food is quick, convenient, and inexpensive. Informed customers can enjoy the price and convenience and still watch their calories by making wise menu choices. Many restaurant chains are now offering healthy fast food lunches as menu options in addition to their traditional fast food. By checking nutrition guides and preparing ahead of time, people can grab a much healthier lunch on the run.
Mac Hildebrand is a nutrition enthusiast for a weight training website who enjoys experimenting with healthy fast food lunches because of his busy schedule. He also stays healthy and helps people get American auto insurance companies with cheap rates that offer cheap auto insurance quotes for teens.
Read more articles related to the topic of healthy fast food…
Healthy Fast Food: The Best Meals at 15 Popular Restaurants
It’s hard to find healthy choices on the go. Sometimes, a fast-food stop is inevitable. To help you out, we highlighted the healthiest choices at the most popular fast-food restaurants. These meals are lower in fat and calories and provide more nutrients, like protein. One unlikely McDonald’s combo is only 430 calories (on page 10).
1. Burger King: the Whopper Jr.
A Burger King restaurant | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
- Calories: 310 calories
- Protein: 13 grams
Avoid Burger King ‘s Double Whopper with Cheese, which has 930-calories. However, the Whopper Jr. — topped with mayo, ketchup, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and pickles — has 310 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 13 grams of protein. It has only 390 milligrams of sodium, a relatively small amount for a fast-food burger. Skip the mayo, and you’ll reduce the calories and fat even more.
Pair it with a Garden Side Salad, which has 60 calories before you add a dressing like the Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Next: A beloved burrito joint
2. Chipotle: the Burrito Bowl
The Chipotle menu | Chris Hondros/Getty Images
- Calories: 405 calories
- Protein: 43 grams
Chipotle diners love massive burritos, but the burrito bowl is just as delicious. Skipping the tortilla saves you 300 calories. Instead, build a 405-calorie Burrito Bowl with chicken, black beans, fajita veggies, roasted chili-corn salsa, and lettuce. This combo delivers 43 grams of protein, 17.5 grams of dietary fiber, and roughly half of your vitamin A and C for the day.
Next: Here’s the beef — for fewer calories.
3. Wendy’s: the Jr. Cheeseburger
Exterior of a Wendy’s restaurant | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
- Calories: 280 calories
- Protein: 16 grams
At over 1,000 calories, the Dave’s Triple burger isn’t a smart choice at Wendy’s. Instead, try the Jr. Cheeseburger, which has 16 grams of protein and 820 milligrams of sodium. Pair it with a Caesar Side Salad for a 530-calorie meal with 140% of your vitamin A and 3 grams of fiber.
You can also make a meal out of Wendy’s sides menu. Order a small Rich & Meaty Chili, which has 170 calories and 15 grams of protein. A Sour Cream and Chive Baked Potato has 310 calories, 7 grams of fiber, little sodium, and 1,610 milligrams of potassium, which helps keep your blood pressure in check.
Next: Can pizza really be healthy?
4. Domino’s Pizza: the 12-inch veggie pizza
A Domino’s delivery person gets ready to deliver pizzas. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
- Calories: 280 calories
- Protein: 11 grams
For pizza-lovers on a diet, Domino’s helpfully highlights a selection of lighter options on its website. Two slices of a thin-crust, 12-inch veggie pizza with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, and light cheese have 280 calories, 5 grams of saturated fat, and 610 milligrams of sodium.
Next: You don’t have to order a salad here.
5. Panera Bread: the Steak and Arugula Sandwich
A Panera Bread storefront in Chicago | Scott Olson/Getty Images
- Calories: 500 calories
- Protein: 24 grams
Many of Panera’s sandwiches — like the Chicken Panini and Italian Hoagie — contain more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium and 700 calories per serving. For a lighter lunch choice, order the Steak and Arugula on Sourdough, which has 500 calories, 24 grams of protein, and 19 grams of fat. For an option with lower fat, try the 460-calorie Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich (it has 12 grams of fat).
Next: “Eat more chicken” and still be healthy.
6. Chick-fil-A: the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
A Chick-fil-A logo is seen on a take out bag. | Mandel Ngan/AFP/GettyImages
- Calories: 350 calories
- Protein: 37 grams
To eat healthier at Chick-fil-A, you need to steer clear of the signature fried chicken sandwiches. Instead, try the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap, which is low-calorie, high-protein, and has 60% of your daily value of vitamin A and 35% of your daily value of vitamin C and calcium.
Next: You can resist the donuts and still eat healthy here.
7. Dunkin’ Donuts: the Veggie Egg White
A Dunkin’ Donuts sign | iStock.com
- Calories: 320 calories
- Protein: 17 grams
Dunkin’ Donuts beloved baked goods have 400 calories or more. So the chain has a DDSmart menu for customers looking for healthier choices. The Veggie Egg White Flatbread has 13 grams of fat (20% of your daily value), 17 grams of protein, 4 grams of dietary fiber, and 25% of your daily calcium. If you must have a doughnut, go small. A single glazed Munchkin has 70 calories and 4 grams of fat.
Next: How to “eat fresh”
8. Subway: the 6-inch Veggie Delite
A customer eats inside of a Subway restaurant. | Scott Olson/Getty Images
- Calories: 230 calories
- Protein: 9 grams
Road-trippers turn to Subway for a healthier meal. But not everything on the sandwich chain’s menu is healthy. The healthier 6-inch Veggie Delite sub (with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and mustard on wheat bread) has 5 grams of fiber and is fairly low in fat and sodium. Add spinach, and you’ll get 20% of your daily vitamin A, too.
If you want a more substantial meal, the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki on wheat has 370 calories, 4 grams of fat, 25 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber.
Next: If you head to the “Hut,” eat this healthier menu item.
9. Pizza Hut: the “Fit ‘n Delicious” 12-Inch Pizza
Pizza Hut | Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images
- Calories: 150 calories (per slice)
- Protein: 6 grams
The rules for healthy ordering at Pizza Hut: Choose a thin-crust, smaller pie, and skip the meat. One of the chain’s “Fit ‘n Delicious” 12-inch pizzas, like the Green Pepper, Red Onion, and Diced Red Tomato, has 150 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein per slice. It’s also one of the lowest-sodium choices on the Pizza Hut menu, with 400 milligrams per slice.
Next: The most popular fast-food restaurant in American has a combo meal for only 430 calories.
10. McDonald’s: the Happy Meal
A McDonald’s employee hands a customer his order. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
- Calories: 430 calories
- Protein: 20 grams
Get in touch with your inner child, and order a Happy Meal with a six-piece Chicken McNuggets, fries, low-fat milk, and mandarin orange slices. The whole meal is 430 calories and has 20 grams of protein, as well as lots of vitamin C and calcium.
For an adult meal, McDonald’s basic cheeseburger has 300 calories, 15 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat. Pair it with a low-calorie side salad to get extra veggies. Or, order the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad, which has 350 calories, 37 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fat (before dressing), as well as plenty of vitamins A and C.
11. Taco Bell: the Fresco Burrito Supreme
Taco Bell restaurant | iStock.com
- Calories: 340 calories
- Protein: 18 grams
Many of the chain’s tacos and burritos have less than 400 calories apiece. But if you eat a half-dozen Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos, you’ve consumed more than 1,000 calories. The Fresco Burrito Supreme with chicken has 340 calories and just 8 grams of fat, along with 6 grams of fiber and 20% of your daily iron.
12. Sonic Drive-In: the Jr. Burger
A cheeseburger from a Sonic Drive-In | Sonic Drive-In via Facebook
- Calories: 330 calories
- Protein: 15 grams
With a menu heavy on hot dogs, shakes, and burgers, Sonic Drive-In isn’t pretending to be healthy. The chain’s Grilled Chicken Wrap packs 1,720 milligrams of sodium into a 430-calorie wrap.
The Jr. Burger, on the other hand, has 330 calories and a relatively modest (by fast food standards) 480 milligrams of sodium. The sandwich also delivers 15% of your suggested intake for iron. But be warned: It also has 17 grams of fat.
13. Starbucks: the Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-Free Egg White Breakfast Sandwich
Customers place their orders at a Starbucks. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images
- Calories: 220 calories
- Protein: 16 grams
To eat healthy at Starbucks, resist the pastries and sugary drinks in favor of a regular coffee or latte. Pairing your coffee with a Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-Free Egg White Breakfast Sandwich. It has only 220 calories and 6 grams of fat, plus 16 grams of protein. With 560 milligrams of sodium, it’s less salty than other choices.
If you’re lunching at Starbucks, order the Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl. A mix of butternut squash, beets, kale, cabbage, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, and rice served with tahini dressing, it has 430 calories, 8 grams of fiber, 10 grams of protein, and over 100% of your daily vitamins A and C.
14. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s: the Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
The exterior of a Hardee’s restaurant | iStock.com/Wolterk
- Calories: 390 calories
- Protein: 26 grams
Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are known for over-the-top offerings, such as the 1,230-calorie, half-pound Guacamole Bacon Thickburger. But the surprisingly slim Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich has just 390 calories and is low in saturated fat. (It does have 990 milligrams of sodium, a little less than half of the FDA’s suggested daily limit of 2,300 milligrams for adults.)
15. KFC: the Grilled, Bone-In Chicken Breast plus Sweet Corn
A sign for a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant | Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
- Calories: 180 calories
- Protein: 31 grams
To eat healthier at KFC, steer clear of the buckets and bowls, and instead build your meal from scratch. A grilled, bone-in chicken breast has 180 calories and 31 grams of protein, compared to 390 calories for an extra crispy chicken breast.
Add a 100-calorie side of sweet corn to your meal, which has 2 grams of dietary fiber, or 8% of your recommended daily intake, and no salt. Corn also has lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that are good for healthy vision, according to Eating Well.
Additional reporting by Catherine Northington.
Top 11 fast-food options for keto or low carb
By Claes Petersson, medical review by Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, MD – Updated September 12, 2019
Have you ever wondered whether you can really eat at fast food joints and stay low carb? It seems that a lot of people ask themselves this, so we decided to find out how simple it is to grab something quick and convenient to eat in popular fast food chains in the U.S.
I have several years of experience in the fast-food innovation business which, combined with my real passion for food, would help me discover whether there are truly tasty and healthy low-carb options out there in the fast-food industry. Here’s the result of my investigation – the top 11 fast-food places for low-carb or keto.1
This is how it was done.
I walked in to a restaurant and asked a team member what I could eat if I was trying to avoid eating carbs. In some places they understood my question, and in other places they didn’t. If they didn’t, I reframed the question and asked what I could eat if I didn’t want to eat gluten. Then they all helped out. I have seen a growing trend in knowledge among people in general when it comes to understanding the impact of eating and drinking carbs.
I didn’t set any budget for the orders: my mission was to find low-carb fast-food options that would satisfy hunger when needed.I have also rated the meals on a 5-point scale where I look at the following factors:
- Food ingredient quality
- Value for money
- Overall impression of the dish
Here is my guide to 11 places that you normally wouldn’t think of visiting if you’re on a low-carb journey. Some are better than others, but it is possible to stick to your low-carb diet in all the places listed. Read on to find out which were best!
Low-carb option #11: Chick-fil-A (★★★-)
Dry nuggets and small portions: better reputation than food.
Chick-fil-A prides itself of serving only chicken and are much-loved in the U.S. They are also closed on Sundays for religious reasons and people seem to like that.
8 pieces of grilled chicken nuggets with coleslaw $3.99 (★★) The nuggets were dry and didn’t make me happy at all. The coleslaw was sweet but tasted good. This one didn’t feed a hungry 6’4″ viking and it didn’t really taste like you should expect for that amount of money. 1 Cobb salad with grilled chicken $7.19 (★★★) The salad fills the tray and you can’t really shake on the Avocado-ranch dressing until you have eaten half the salad. The store is also famous for its fresh-squeezed lemonade made on the premises. I had a small lemonade for $1.59, an unsweetened tea for $1.35 and an iced coffee for $2.39. If you are ok using artificial sweeteners, the lemonade is very tasty. Personally, though, I could taste the artificial sweetener.
Low-carb option #10: Wendy’s (★★★)
Good salads; very dry burgers.
If I compare the fresh burger you get wrapped up in lettuce at In-N-Out for $3.95 with an unwrapped, bun-less, square-shaped, dry one at Wendy’s for $4.79, it’s a no-brainer. But their salads are actually pretty good and the chicken I got at Wendy’s tasted better than the nuggets I got at Chick-fil-A. The salads are generous, taste good and will fill you up for a while. The only bad news is that is not an easy task to get the dressing on all the salad since it can’t be tossed in because of the very small trays.
1 Son of a baconator $4.79 (★★)
1 South West avocado chicken salad $6.79 (★★★+)
1 Spicy chicken salad $6.79 (★★★+)
Low-carb option #9: Taco Bell (★★★)
Average food; affordable price.
Taco Bell is known for its creative marketing and low prices. But is that going to help if I’m hungry? They do have a naked taco on the menu that is a fried egg instead of the regular carb-filled taco shell. I had to give it a try.
2 naked tacos for $3.49 (★★★)
I had one with bacon and one with sausage. I removed the potatoes from the filling. They taste pretty good and if you make it a double order ($6.98), it will do a good job of filling you up.
Low-carb option #8: Starbucks. Food (★★★); Drinks (★★★★+)
Pricey, but now offering low carb options.
Starbucks is an amazing story of success and I love it. Most of their drinks are a total carb-load but it is easy to navigate around this. Plus, as many of you probably know, low carb food at Starbucks has not been a priority… until now!
1 grande ice coffee with heavy cream $2.75 (★★★★).
1 bacon egg bite $4.45 (★★★)
1 pepper egg bite $3.75 (★★★)
My son has been working evenings at Starbucks since last summer, and this is his food choice while working. I have to say the flavor and consistency of the bite is awesome. The price, as with a lot of things at Starbucks, is on the high side. But in summary, you now have great tasting low-carb options here too if you need a fix.
Low-carb option #7: Sonic Drive-In (★★★)
Smaller portions but an ok option if you need a quick fix.
Sonic has a huge menu and are proud of serving more than 1 million drinks. Unfortunately most of those drinks are loaded with sugar, so that’s not what I’m buying. But they actually have some options for lower carb eating as well.
1 double cheese burger with no bun $5.69 (★★★+) The burger itself tastes clean and good and the condiments do too. This is a quick, smaller lunch that will keep you going for a couple of hours.
2 NY dogs without the bun $4.38 (★★★) Sonic’s hot dogs are 100% beef and taste great. The N.Y. style with saur kraut and browned onions also tastes good and keep you full for a couple of hours.
With all the above, I enjoyed a small unsweetened tea for $1.19.
Low-carb option #6: KFC (★★★★)
Good chicken if you ask to get it without the breading.
KFC is the other chicken place to go to in the U.S. It’s not as modern as Chick-fil-A but it’s been around forever. It is kind of overwhelming when you try to find a piece of the (naked) chicken on their very busy menu, but actually worth doing.
2 breasts and 2 wings with a side of coleslaw $7.49 (★★★★) Flavorful and juicy chicken pieces. The coleslaw was, to my taste, a bit on the sweet side: probably more sugar than you want.
Low-carb option #5: Subway (★★★★)
When I thought of the Subway brand, all I could think of were sandwiches, so I decided to see what I could get instead! The very friendly guy behind the counter educated me about salads as an alternative to sandwiches, and I decided to try one.
Buffalo chicken salad $7.79 (★★★★) Even though the team member asked several times if I wanted bread with the salad and I had to stop him from adding croutons, it ended up tasting great. The reason it did was that Subway toss all their salads in a big bowl while assembling, so the whole salad is flavored. That makes a huge difference. A great choice, and it filled me up!
Low-carb option #4: Chipotle (★★★★)
Great place for a generous treat.
One of my kids’ favorite fast-food places, Chipotle was in trouble a couple of years ago: they lost a lot of customers and sales due to quality control issues. But they have learned from that and are now getting their act together and building their reputation again.
To get a salad there is a good deal. You will get a lot of food and a good serving of tasty guacamole. I had a chicken salad but there are more proteins to choose from.
1 Chicken Bowl $6.85 (★★★★) If they had tossed the salad in a dressing they would have gotten a perfect score.
Low-carb option #3: Pei Wei Asian (★★★★+)
Fresh and tasty, best salad in the review.
This is a great place for protein and veggies. Just ask them to skip the rice and they will give you a lot of interesting alternatives for $8.99. It will take 6-10 minutes to get your food as it’s cooked to order, but it’s well worth waiting for.
1 Polynesian poke bowl with raw tuna and crab salad $8.99 (★★★★★) Great full bowl of salad with a nice amount of tasty crab, tuna, ginger and more. Great deal and the best-tasting salad in this review.
1 ginger broccoli chicken lettuce wrap $8.99 (★★★★) This also contained a lot of chicken and the broccoli was prepared perfectly. The only downside would be that the boullion used for prepping the dish was on the sweet side and potentially could mess with you if you’re in ketosis.
Low-carb option #2: In-N-Out Burgers (★★★★+)
Great, inexpensive, amazing-tasting burgers.
In-N-Out has fantastic burgers at great prices. In-N-Out has on their secret menu an “Animal style” burger and a “Protein style” burger, which are wrapped in lettuce. I had one of each and they are both amazing.
1 double-double protein style $3.95 (★★★★+)
1 double-double animal-protein style $3.95 (★★★★+)
Low-carb option #1: Five Guys (★★★★★)
My favorite burger joint.
My family goes to Five Guys a lot. They are pricier than other burger places, but the flavor is just worth it. This is, hands down, the best shack chain in the U.S. There is always a discussion about who has the best burgers, Five Guys or In-N-Out. West coasters seem to prefer In-N-out as the chain has been there forever. If you’re only looking for value for $, In-N-Out wins, but I have to say, I would rather pay another couple of dollars and go to Five Guys.
1 cheese burger wrapped in lettuce $7.99 (★★★★) You really can’t go wrong with this: pretty much any extras you’d need on a burger are included in the price. From placing the order to taking the first juicy bite, it takes 6-8 minutes, but its worth waiting for: fresh meat seared to perfection in front of your eyes. Just amazing!
What about McDonald’s and Burger King?
McDonald’s and Burger King are two of the biggest and most successful fast food chains in the U.S. Taste-wise, however, they just didn’t make it into my top 11. But if you’re out and about and they are the only places available, here are my recommendations for what to order:
McDonald’s also has options if you want to eat low carb but in my honest opinion, they don’t really taste that good.
I picked a quarter pounder with cheese, without a bun. For $4.29. That won’t make you happy or less hungry. According to the company, the burger is fresh. In the commercial on TV, it is cooked to order. I was served mine lukewarm in two minutes. The cheese didn’t even melt! This means it was obviously kept in a holding cabinet.
I also had a grilled chicken/bacon salad with Ranch dressing for $5.49. As the dressing contained 11 grams of carbs, I skipped that. The chicken part of the salad tastes OK but it was kind of boring to eat the whole salad without the dressing.
I would give my experience 1.5 stars taking into account flavor and overall experience.
Better value for the money than McDonald’s but still not the best experience for a “low carb-er”.
I had a triple whopper without the bun for $5.99. For me, BK’s burger has an artificial grilled flavor that I don’t like and that stays in your mouth for the rest of the day. But this is an option for those of you who don’t mind the taste. 3 patties for $5.99 is a pretty good price.
I also had a grilled chicken club salad for $5.89. A better option than McDonald’s as the dressing only contained 2 g of carbs. The salad then tasted better as a whole experience.
Even though the artificial grill flavor keeps coming back to my mouth and mind the rest of the day, I will rate this experience 2.5 stars.
Summarizing 10 days of eating fast food
Yes! Eating low carb at fast-food chains can be done! The main options are either burgers without a bun or salads.
When it comes to burgers, it’s a no-brainer. Burgers ar easy to make low carb if you pick the right place. Both In-N-Out and Five Guys does the job. My personal favorite fast food place of all is Five Guys!
I also tried removing the bun from the burgers at a couple of places like Mc Donald’s and Burger King. This was OK, but far from the great results you will get if you choose Five Guys or In-N-Out.
When it comes to salads you can get decent ones at Wendy’s, Chipotle and even Subway. I like the Subway version as they toss the leaves in dressing before serving. Chipotle is the best bang for your buck as you get a good portion of guacamole on top: its fat content and nutritional density keep you feeling fuller for longer.
My top tips for finding low-carb fast food options
A couple of things to keep in mind when eating fast food:
- Check the sauce: Lots of dressings and even coleslaws can and will most certainly be loaded with sugar. I recommend tasting the sauce on your tongue first, to avoid covering your salad in a sugary dressing.
- Eat fresh: Some places have their food on hold and ready-cooked. That will get you a faster experience, but the food won’t taste as good as if they cook to order. Pei Wei, Chipotle, Five Guys and In-N-Out all cook to order.
- Skip the croutons: Salads often come with croutons: don’t forget to ask the team member to skip those before adding carbs to your meal.
- Order the low-carb options: If a choice is popular, it is more likely to stay on the menu. For example, don’t forget to order the “Egg Bites” at Starbucks. They are pretty tasty.
Find your own ways to skip the carbs and come up with tasty options! Whether you choose to go with my recommendations or you have another idea you can’t wait to try, all the 11 places I visited did have options for low carbers.
On the go, feeling hungry and fast food is the only option? These situations do not need to cause anxiety. There are plenty of lower-carb fast-food options, and some of them are truly delicious and great quality.
When I grew up, my parents had a grocery store were I helped out after school. We had an amazing butcher who made sausages and liver pate, etc. We had a lady who took care of all the fresh fish and pickled herring etc. My mom was in charge of the veggies and fruits. We were grinding coffee in the store etc. I still remember when the first ever kiwi fruit came to Sweden.
I went to culinary school and graduated as a top student. This started my career as a chef. I spent many years involved in farm-to-table cooking, and had my own restaurant for 10 years. I then wrote a cookbook and began consulting the food industry.
That was also the start of a new career for me in the world of corporate. I was involved in product innovation for large food companies including the world’s biggest pizza company. I discovered low-carb cooking in 2012 after trying low carb for myself and experiencing the health benefits first hand. I have now created my own brand of low carb cooking and food innovation, Low Carb Chef.
So, here I am, to take you deeper in to my life of healthy cooking by posting tips, recipes and sharing the fundamentals of cooking. If you want to know more, please visit my website or check my Instagram Low_Carb_Chef.
A keto diet for beginners
The Low Carb Chef’s website (www.lowcarbchef.org)