News

The Healthiest Order at Every Major Fast-Food Chain

healthy fast food orders
Design: Thrillist

True story: fast food isn’t healthy. It’s just not. But it is convenient, inexpensive, and tasty, so if you fall into the almost 50% of Americans who eat at fast-food restaurants at least once a week, at least you know you’re in good company.

And given that fast-food consumption is practically woven into the fabric of our society, you don’t need to give up your drive-thru habit completely -- or pretend you’ll just order a salad (who are you kidding, really?) -- you just need to make healthier choices. And by “healthier,” we mean avoiding those 2,000 calorie fat-bombs like triple-decker cheeseburgers and jumbo-sized fries.

The trick to ordering wisely is to watch your portion sizes, avoid trans fats and excessive saturated fat, and try to come away with some sort of nutritional value in the form of high-quality protein, fiber, or vitamins and minerals. Oh, and to select a meal large enough it’ll actually keep you full and satisfied. To that end, we’ve compiled this list of “healthier” entrees and sides from 29 of the most popular fast-food joints in the country. And believe it or not, there’s not a side of apple slices or a “junior” item in the bunch. You’re welcome

grilled chicken
Grilled chicken | Design: Thrillist

Burger King

  • Grilled chicken sandwich without mayo: 370 calories, 7 grams fat, 2 grams saturated, 6 grams fiber, 36 grams protein
  • Value-sized onion rings: 150 calories, 8 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein

BK’s grilled chicken sandwich may not make your mouth water the way a Whopper does, but by ordering the white-meat sandwich you’re saving 130 calories and 15 grams of fat, while scoring an extra 8 grams of protein -- that’s a pretty good deal. Tack on a value-sized order of onion rings to round out the meal, and you’re practically guaranteed to be full until dinner.

potato cakes and farmhouse salad
Potato cakes and chopped farmhouse salad | Design: Thrillist

Arby's

  • Chopped Farmhouse salad with roast turkey and light Italian dressing: 250 calories, 14 grams fat, 7 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 22 grams protein
  • Two potato cakes: 250 calories, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams protein

Stay away from Arby’s go-to sandwiches and opt instead for the chain’s Chopped Farmhouse Salad with roast turkey and light dressing. You’ll get a good dose of protein and some added fiber, all for about 250 calories. Adding two potato cakes to your order is guaranteed to make your meal more filling, and the combo will only cost you about 500 calories.

BBQ chicken sandwich
BBQ chicken sandwich | Design: Thrillist

Carl's Jr./Hardee's

  • All-natural charbroiled BBQ chicken sandwich: 370 calories, 5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated, 3 grams fiber, 33 grams protein
  • Garden side salad with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing: 160 calories, 8 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 6 grams protein

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have a few different chicken sandwiches, but the all-natural charbroiled BBQ version is the only one that comes in under 400 calories and 20-plus grams of fat. And by adding a garden salad on the side, you take advantage of a bump in fiber and protein without overdoing the calories.

Flat White
Flat White | Design: Thrillist

Starbucks

  • Quinoa & Chicken Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greens: 420 calories, 17 grams fat, 3 grams saturated, 9 grams fiber, 27 grams protein
  • Grande Flat White with almond milk: 100 calories, 6 grams fat, 0 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

Be honest -- the real reason you’re showing up to Starbucks for lunch is because you need your caffeine fix. Unfortunately, most of the popular lattes, mochas, and frappuccinos are loaded with sugars and fats that can easily add up to a calorie-bomb of a drink order. Instead of drinking your lunch, grab the very tasty Quinoa & Chicken Protein Bowl to fill you up (lots of fiber and protein to do the job), then opt for a Grande Flat White drink order on the side. Just make sure you ask for almond milk to help tone down the fat and calorie count. In total, you’re looking at a meal that’s right around 520 calories, 23 grams of fat, 30 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fiber. Those are numbers you can feel good about.

Grilled chicken wrap
Grilled chicken wrap | Design: Thrillist

Sonic

  • Grilled chicken wrap: 440 calories, 15 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 32 grams protein
  • Small fries: 250 calories, 12 grams fat, 2 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

There are one or two items on Sonic’s menu that have fewer calories than the grilled chicken wrap, but they also feature less fiber, less protein, and an unfortunate dollop of trans fatty acids (you know, the fats you really want to stay away from), so you’re better off eating a few more calories if you’re getting better nutrition overall. And while the small order of natural-cut fries isn’t going to win a major health prize, at least they offer 3 grams of fiber and less fat than the onion rings or tots.

Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken | Design: Thrillist

Panda Express

  • Grilled Teriyaki Chicken: 300 calories, 13 grams fat, 4 grams saturated, 0 grams fiber, 36 grams protein
  • Super Greens: 90 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated, 5 grams fiber, 6 grams protein

Hands down, the combination of grilled teriyaki chicken and super greens (a mix of broccoli, kale, and cabbage) from Panda Express is your best possible menu option. The chicken provides an amazing 36 grams of protein, while the veggies deliver 5 grams of fiber. All-in-all, you have a meal for under 400 calories that’s practically guaranteed to keep you full. If you feel like splurging, add a vegetable spring roll to the side -- it’ll add an additional 190 calories and 8 grams of fat to your totals, but you’ll still end up consuming fewer than 600 calories in a sitting.

soft tacos
Two fresco soft tacos with steak | Design: Thrillist

Taco Bell

  • Two fresco soft tacos with steak: 300 calories, 8 grams of fat, 3 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 20 grams protein
  • Black beans & rice: 190 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated, 6 grams fiber, 6 grams protein

If you think chicken is always the healthiest option, this time you’re wrong. The steak version of the fresco soft tacos on Taco Bell's menu have fewer calories, less fat, saturated fat, and more total protein than the chicken variety. And when you pair them with a serving of black beans and rice, you get another 6 grams of protein and a hefty dose of fiber, too. Combined, you end up with a filling meal, all for under 500 calories.

Apple Harvest Chicken Sandwich
Apple Harvest Chicken Sandwich | Design: Thrillist

Quizno's

  • 4” Apple Harvest Chicken Sandwich: 400 calories, 16 grams fat, 3 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 16 grams protein
  • Small Chili: 160 calories, 5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, 6 grams fiber, 11 grams protein

Many of Quiznos’ 4-inch sandwiches are reasonably good for you in terms of calories, fat, and protein, but the reason the Apple Harvest chicken sandwich is your best bet is because it has significantly less sodium than almost anything on Quiznos’ menu. At 690 grams, it still puts a pretty hefty dent in your recommended daily allotment (you should try to consume less than 2,300 grams per day), but it beats the 1,000+ grams that most of their 4-inch subs provide. And when you pair the sandwich with a small chili (which, sadly adds an extra 550 grams of sodium to your total), you end up with a meal under 600 calories that provides 27 grams of protein and 9 grams fiber.

Grilled chicken breast and green beans
Grilled chicken breast and green beans | Design: Thrillist

KFC

  • Kentucky grilled chicken breast: 210 calories, 7 grams fat, 2 grams saturated, 38 grams protein
  • Green beans: 25 calories, 0 gram fat, 2 grams fiber, 1 gram protein

A single Kentucky grilled chicken breast offers more protein and less fat than any combination of two other pieces of grilled chicken from KFC. Pair your chicken with a serving of green beans, and your total meal is still less than 250 calories. If you’re still hungry, throw in a side salad with light dressing or a grilled drumstick if you’re craving a little more meat. Either option adds less than 90 calories and 4 grams of fat.

Harvest chicken salad
Harvest chicken salad | Design: Thrillist

Wendy's

  • Harvest chicken salad, half size: 320 calories, 15 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 22 grams protein
  • Small chili: 160 calories, 5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, 4 grams fiber, 14 grams protein

Wendy’s has a pretty nice assortment of salads, and the half-size of their Harvest chicken salad makes the perfect mid-day meal when paired with a small cup of chili. If you’ve never tried it, it’s time -- it’s surprisingly good. Together you’re looking at just 480 calories with 36 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber.

chicken tenders and fries
Chicken tenders and fries | Design: Thrillist

A&W

  • Three-piece hand-breaded chicken tenders: 260 calories, 9 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated, 1 gram fiber, 40 grams protein
  • Small fries: 201 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams protein

It’s slim-pickings for healthy fare on the A&W menu, but at least the hand-breaded chicken tenders clock in at less than 300 calories and 10 grams of fat. Just don’t confuse them with the three-piece chicken strips, which feature almost double the calories, triple the fat, and 12 less grams of protein. Add an order of small fries to your meal to round it out, and you’re still consuming less than 500 calories.

salad
Grilled chicken BLT salad: | Design: Thrillist

Dairy Queen

  • Grilled chicken BLT salad: 270 calories, 11 grams fat, 5 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 35 grams protein
  • Kids’ Size Fries: 180 calories, 8 grams fat, 1 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams protein

The Grilled Chicken BLT Salad is probably your best bet when you swing by Dairy Queen. And given Dairy Queen’s limited options for sides, a kids’ size fries serves as a “splurge” that will help satiate your fast food cravings.  Together, the two items add up to only 450 calories, although that doesn’t include salad dressing. Unfortunately, Dairy Queen doesn’t provide that information online, so plan on choosing one of their “light” dressings to keep any additional damage in check.

grilled chicken nuggets
Grilled Chicken Nuggets | Design: Thrillist

Chick-fil-A

  • Eight-count grilled chicken nuggets with barbecue dipping sauce: 185 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated, 25 grams protein
  • Superfood side salad: 140 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram saturated, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

Chick-fil-A is one of the best fast-food joints to visit if you’re looking for reasonably healthy fare (unless it's Sunday). The eight-count grilled chicken nuggets is a large enough serving (with enough protein) to help keep you full, and the superfood side salad featuring kale, broccolini, dried cherries, and nuts, is legitimately chock-full of vitamins and minerals. According to Fast Food Nutrition, a single serving offers 45% and 80% of your daily vitamin A and vitamin C needs, respectively.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Grilled Chicken Sandwich | Design: Thrillist

Steak 'n Shake

  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich: 360 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 28 grams protein
  • Cup of vegetable soup: 70 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams protein

Sadly, almost all of Steak ‘n Shake’s burgers come with a dollop of trans fats, so you really should stay away from them. That said, the grilled chicken sandwich is trans fat-free with the bonus of 3 grams of fiber and 28 grams protein. The restaurant also offer a reasonably healthy side, which sets them apart from most popular fast food joints. A cup of vegetable soup adds a negligible number of calories and fat to your meal, but because broth-based soups tend to help with satiation, it’ll help keep you full until it’s time to eat again

Blackened chicken tenders
Blackened chicken tenders | Design: Thrillist

Popeyes

  • Three-piece blackened chicken tenders: 170 calories, 2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated, 0 grams fiber, 26 grams protein
  • Regular green beans: 55 calories, 2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

If your doctor asked you to steer clear of the saturated fat, you’re in luck! This Popeyes combo of blackened (i.e. grilled) chicken tenders and green beans is completely free of the stuff. And if the total calorie content of about 225 calories just isn’t enough to keep you full, go ahead and splurge on the five-piece blackened chicken tenders -- the two extra pieces of chicken increases the total calorie content of your meal to just 333 calories.

chicken nuggets
Chicken nuggets | Design: Thrillist

Jack in the Box

  • Grilled chicken salad with croutons and low-fat balsamic vinaigrette: 345 calories, 13.5 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated, 5 grams fiber, 31 grams protein
  • One egg roll: 150 calories, 7 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

A decent-sized grilled chicken salad at Jack in the Box is pretty much your healthiest bet, especially considering its 5 grams of fiber and 31 grams of protein. And while a single egg roll isn’t the healthiest option on the planet, it’s not the worst, either, and who doesn’t feel satisfied after chowing down on an egg roll?

Culver's
Culver's | Design: Thrillist

Culver's

  • Garden Fresco with grilled chicken salad and raspberry vinaigrette dressing: 405 calories, 14 grams fat, 5.5 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 44 grams protein
  • Chicken noodle soup: 110 calories, 2 grams fat, .5 grams saturated, 1 gram fiber, 7 grams protein

Look no further than a nice soup-and-salad combo the next time you head to Culver’s. Between the chicken salad and chicken noodle soup, you’ll amass a whopping 51 grams of protein, but only intake about 515 total calories. Not too bad!

fries
Fries | Design: Thrillist

Five Guys

  • Veggie sandwich: 440 calories, 15 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams protein
  • Little fry: 528 calories, 23 grams fat, 4 grams saturated, 8 grams fiber, 8 grams protein

Five Guys makes it especially hard to track down detailed information about their nutritional content, and that’s probably for a reason -- it’s really hard to find anything reasonably healthy on their menu. Even a plain veggie sandwich, without cheese or mayo, is 440 calories, thanks to the whopping 280 calories and 9 grams of fat in the bun alone. Then you add the “little” fry. Together, you’re looking at a meal of almost 1,000 calories and 38 grams of fat.

Hamburger
Hamburger | Design: Thrillist

McDonald's

  • Regular hamburger: 250 calories, 8 grams fat, 3 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 13 grams protein
  • Side salad with Newman's Own low-fat balsamic vinaigrette: 50 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram protein

There’s not much to McDonald’s classic hamburger -- just a burger patty, bun, and a few condiments, but without all the “extras” (like sugary sauces and saturated fat-laden cheeses), you get by with a pretty low-calorie meal when combining it with a simple side salad. At just 300 calories, it’s almost guaranteed to fit into a calorie-controlled eating plan.

Veggie Salad
Veggie Salad | Design: Thrillist

Subway

  • Veggie Delite salad: 60 calories, 1 gram fat, 0 grams saturated, 4 grams fiber, 3 grams protein
  • Eight-ounce homestyle chicken noodle soup: 110 calories, 3 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams protein

When you’re looking to keep your meal extra-lean, look no further than Subway’s Veggie Delite salad and chicken noodle soup combo. Typically I’d suggest adding a protein to your salad, but Subway’s salads are pretty generous, so you can pile on the veggies to fill yourself up. Plus, you’ll get a little extra protein from your soup. Just remember, the calorie and fat estimates for the salad don’t account for heavy dressings, so opt for vinegar and oil or a light vinaigrette when asking for your sauce.

salad
Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken | Design: Thrillist

Panera

  • Half Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken: 250 calories, 11 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 19 grams protein
  • Half Turkey Sandwich: 280 calories, 9 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated, 4 grams fiber, 18 grams protein

Panera has a lot to choose from when it comes to healthy, nutrient-dense options, so you might as well spread the love around a bit. Order from their “Pick 2” menu and get a half-serving of the Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken and a half turkey sandwich. Together you’ll enjoy two tasty menu items that deliver 37 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber for just over 500 calories.

fries
Shake Shack fries | Design: Thrillist

Shake Shack

  • Chicken-Dog: 320 calories, 13 grams fat, 4 grams saturated, 4 grams fiber, 20 grams protein
  • Regular fries: 470 calories, 19 grams fat, 3 grams saturated, 5 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

Once again, a “regular” order of French fries pushes an otherwise OK meal into an excess of calories and fat because apparently “one size fits all” when it comes to serving size. My best advice? Hit up Shake Shack with a friend and split an order of fries. That’d keep your total calorie intake to under 600 calories, with a fat intake around 23 grams. Not great, but it could be worse.

CLUB LULU Unwich
CLUB LULU Unwich | Design: Thrillist

Jimmy John's

CLUB LULU Unwich: 320 calories, 25 grams fat, 6 grams saturated, 1 grams fiber, 21 grams protein
Thinny Chips: 130 calories, 5 grams fat, 1 grams saturated, 1 grams fiber, 2 grams protein

The Club Lulu Unwich from Jimmy John’s is the sandwich shop’s #16 wrapped in lettuce instead of bread. What you get is turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo all wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Just remember as you customize your sandwich, avoid additional fat-filled dressings (you’re already getting mayo!) and stick to adding on veggies for extra flavor. Paired with the restaurant’s signature Thinny Chips, you’ll have a full meal for about 450 calories and 23 grams of protein. If you still want a little more, go ahead and add a jumbo kosher dill pickle, it’ll set you back just 20 calories, and it adds 4 grams of fiber to your lunch.

Chicken salad
Chicken salad | Design: Thrillist

Chipotle

  • Chicken salad with black beans, fajita vegetables, and extra salsa: 410 calories, 8.5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated, 11 grams fiber, 42 grams protein
  • Guacamole: 230 calories, 22 grams fat, 3.5 grams saturated, 6 grams fiber, 2 grams protein

With all of Chipotle’s delicious options, it’s easy for a “healthy” meal to get out of hand. Your best bet is to stick with the basics -- a chicken salad featuring black beans, fajita vegetables, and extra salsa (try two or three different kinds). Then, go ahead and splurge on a side of guacamole. Yes, it’s got 22 grams of fat, but they’re almost all the healthy kind, and if you mix the guac with the salsa on top of your salad, you won’t need to add dressing of any kind. All-in-all, you’re looking at 640 calories, 17 grams fiber (more than half your daily recommended value), and 44 grams protein. It’s a meal that’s practically guaranteed to keep you full.

Veggie Egg White Sandwich
Veggie Egg White Sandwich | Design: Thrillist

Dunkin’ Donuts

Veggie Egg White Sandwich: 290 calories, 9 grams fat, 3 grams saturated, 1 grams fiber, 14 grams protein
Hash Browns: 140 calories, 8 grams fat, 1 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams protein

To be fair, you were probably hoping to be able to order a donut from Dunkin’ Donuts, but it should come as no surprise that, as a general rule, donuts are pretty devoid of nutritional value. Instead, grab the Veggie Egg White Sandwich, which offers 14 grams of protein and a touch of fiber, and pair it with a side of hash browns. This isn’t the “winningest” meal on the list, but it’s not too shabby for a quick breakfast. Just remember not to undo all your wise choices by ordering a sugar-filled coffee. Stick with black coffee with a splash of milk to keep your morning meal in check.

Apple and cranberry chicken salad
Apple and cranberry chicken salad | Design: Thrillist

Whataburger

  • Apple and cranberry chicken salad with low-fat herb vinaigrette: 390 calories, 13 grams fat, 7 grams saturated, 8 grams fiber, 34 grams protein
  • Small French fry: 280 calories, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein

There’s a lower-calorie version of this same apple and cranberry salad, but it doesn’t come with chicken, so it’s lacking about 24 grams of protein, which plays a significant role in keeping you full. That’s why the chicken version of the salad is your best choice. Granted, the small French fry sets you back a bit in the meal’s calorie count, but at least you’re accumulating 11 grams of fiber in the process -- that’s almost half the recommended daily value.

white castle sliders
Sliders | Design: Thrillist

White Castle

  • Two Original Sliders: 280 calories, 12 grams fat, 5 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 14 grams protein
  • Small Clam Strips: 210 calories, 17 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated, 0 grams fiber, 8 grams protein

White Castle is another one of those fast food joints that doesn’t worry about catering to the health-conscious crowd. There’s just not much to choose from, so stick with two original sliders and a small order of clam strips. At least you’ll keep the damage under 500 calories.

protein-style burger
Protein-style burger | Design: Thrillist

In-N-Out

  • Protein-style hamburger with onions: 240 calories, 17 grams fat, 4 grams saturated, 3 grams fiber, 13 grams protein
  • French fries: 395 calories, 18 grams fat, 5 grams saturated, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams protein

Frankly, if you want to eat healthy, In-N-Out isn’t your best choice. While the protein-style hamburger featuring a lettuce wrap in place of a bun isn’t a terrible option (although its fat content is a lot higher than McDonald’s basic burger), the chain only offers French fries as a side, and they only come in one size -- high-calorie and fatty. They turn a pretty reasonable entree into a meal that racks up more than 600 calories and 35 grams of fat.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.
 

Laura Williams is a fitness writer and college professor who almost never eats fast food... but when she does, it’s almost always gloriously bad for her. Catch up with her on Twitter @LWilliams_EXSS