Whether you’re on a road trip or rushing between meetings, you probably wonder what the healthiest fast food options are in the area. You might cave and get something off the dollar menu, knowing it counteracts your fitness and lifestyle goals, just because it’s fast.

Most fast food chain restaurants share the calories in their foods in-store and online so that you can make better decisions. But should your order be based solely on calorie count? If you’re on the go, you’ll want a meal that fills you and fuels you for the rest of your day.

Healthiest Fast Food Options: FAQ

“Fast food” and “healthy” don’t typically go together, so you probably have a few questions about this topic. We can help.

How Can Fast Food Be Healthy?

Many diets advise staying away from fast food, fried food, and processed foods. And of course, fast food restaurants are full of all of these. It's not just a matter of calories, either. The foods experts warn against cause cravings that can derail the healthy habits you're trying to maintain. But you can find healthier options at a fast food restaurant if you look. You already know that french fries, for example, aren't among the healthiest fast food options. But salads, fruit, and vegetables can make a tasty side. And many fast food restaurants have them.

Which Restaurants Have The Healthiest Fast Food Options Overall?

Panera Bread has a great variety of healthy options, but they're not the only ones. The secret is a substitution. At almost every fast food restaurant, you can customize menu items and side dishes to meet your dietary goals. The important thing is to know what to substitute and where.

Which Ingredients Should I Avoid?

Fast food is packed with fat, sodium, and sugar. So know your limits, look up the information online before you go, and have a plan in place.

Can I Order A Diet Soda To Keep Calories Low?

coke in can

While the calorie count may seem appealing, some studies show that diet sodas actually increase hunger. And they have no nutrition whatsoever. Some fast food employees also recommend staying away from the soda fountain altogether, because they don't clean it often.

Water is on the menu at every restaurant. Best to stick with what your body really wants.

Is Healthy Fast Food More Expensive Than The Other Options?

Not always! While some restaurants may be more expensive because of their healthy reputation, your order will have fewer ingredients (since you’re avoiding the unhealthy ingredients). This might lower the cost of your meal overall.

How We Reviewed

More and more restaurants put their full nutritional information online or in the stores. We looked over the menu to find ways to save calories or make healthier choices. As we compare each restaurant, we’ll give you tips for ordering off the menu, tell you the healthiest fast food options, menu items to avoid, and the price range for the restaurant.

Overall Price Range Of This Product

Remember, you're looking at the healthiest fast food options. While these might be more expensive than the dollar deals, they could cost you -- and your health -- less in the long run.

IMAGE

NAME OF FAST FOOD RESTAURANTS

RATINGS

Burrito in the bowl

Chipotle

Chicken Sandwich

Chik-Fil-A

Mcdo Burger and Nuggets

McDonald's

Burger King Food

Burger King

Wendy's Meal

Wendy's

Taco Bell

Taco Bell

Subway

Subway

Panera Bread

Panera Bread

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Top 10 Fast Food Restaurants

We chose these top 10 restaurants you might encounter on a road trip or when you need to eat something quickly. While many healthy restaurants exist, these are the most common around the country.

Chipotle

Burrito in the bowl

Chipotle is often considered the healthiest fast food option because of the natural ingredients. But is all that rice and cheese actually healthy? And what about those gigantic portions?

Tips For Ordering

First, start with a salad instead of a burrito or bowl. The base of the salad is lettuce, rather than rice or a tortilla. Also, if you do go for the larger meal, wrap half up immediately to save for a future meal.

The Healthiest Menu Items

For a calorie-conscious meal, start with a salad, add a protein, but stay away from the cheese, queso, sour cream and guacamole. The Chipotle Nutrition Calculator makes it easy to build the perfect bowl. The Tomatillo-Green Chile Salsa has the lowest calories of the offerings at 15 calories, while guacamole has a startling 230 calories per serving.

Menu Items To Avoid

Unfortunately, you should probably skip the bag of chips they tempt you with at checkout. A single serving of Chips and Guacamole is 770 calories!

Chick-Fil-A

Chicken Sandwich

Chick-Fil-A has delicious fried chicken. But you know that fried chicken isn't one of the healthiest fast food options. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't find something healthy there that you'll enjoy.

Tips For Ordering

You can switch the waffle fries for a fruit cup to save some calories, and watch out for those salad dressings!

The Healthiest Menu Items

The Market Salad with Light Balsamic Dressing makes a great lunch at 410 calories. You can still enjoy some Chick-Fil-A nuggets at 260 Calories or the grilled nuggets at only 140.

Menu Items To Avoid

Watch which dressing packet you choose. The Zesty Apple Cider Vinaigrette sounds delicious but contains 230 calories per packet, and the Creamy Salsa tops that at 290 calories per packet. The Spicy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich is the highest calories sandwich with 540 calories, but be careful of the side of fries with 360 calories.

McDonald's

Mcdo Burger and Nuggets

While many guests dismiss McDonald’s for their processed meats and fries, you can still find some healthy fast food options if it’s the best choice on the road.

Tips For Ordering

Remember those menu items are cheap for a reason. Many nutritionists do not condemn the single hamburger since it’s the perfect portion with 12g of protein. But stay away from the multiple patty burgers with cheese, mayo, and all the dressings. Also, keep salad dressing light and don’t apply the whole packet. If you have the oatmeal, then leave out the accompanying sugar packet.

Healthiest Menu Items

The classic Egg McMuffin only contains 300 calories, and the protein will give you more energy for the morning. The McNuggets are not the worst, either, but be careful with the sauces. The yogurt parfait is another favorite of the nutritionists.

Menu Items To Avoid

The McDonald’s burgers just do not compare to other fast food restaurants. For breakfast, watch out for biscuits, McGriddles, and hot cakes as unnecessary calories and carbs.

Burger King

Burger King Food

With a similar menu to McDonald’s, many of the healthy menu items sound the same. Of course, you’ll have to forego the milkshakes if you’re eating healthy.

Tips For Ordering

Remember, calories aren’t everything. Several items at Burger King have a low-calorie count, but the high-fat content and low protein. Look at the whole item when deciding what to order.

Healthiest Menu Items

The Tendergrill chicken sandwich is packed with 32g of protein in only 320 calories. If you want a burger, you can’t go wrong with Whopper Jr. at 310 calories.

Menu Items To Avoid

You know by now to stay away from the Triple Whopper. But don't go thinking that chicken is necessarily healthier. The Club Salad with Crispy Chicken is 540 calories without the dressing.


Wendy's

Wendy's Meal

Unlike McDonald’s, Wendy’s includes some lettuce and tomato on even the basic Jr. Cheeseburger. That instantly makes it healthy, right? Not completely.

Tips For Ordering

Wendy’s offers many healthy, yummy salads to keep you full throughout the day. If you want a treat, don’t be afraid of the Jr. Vanilla Frosty at only 190 calories!

Healthiest Menu Items

Nutritionists recommend the Berry Burst Salad for its filling mix of berries and nuts. As usual, you should keep the dressing on the side, as this salad has 470 calories on its own.

Menu Items To Avoid

Wendy’s offers their own giant burger, Dave’s Triple, at 1090 calories. If you’re looking for a healthy meal, the menu has many other options.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell

A few years ago, a surprising article declared Taco Bell one of America’s healthiest fast food restaurants. With a nutritionist on staff, they revamped their menu to provide better options when ordering online or in the mobile app.

Tips For Ordering

Order online or in the mobile app to pick up at the store. Not only does this save you time in line, but it allows you to customize the order completely. One way to stay healthy is to “Make It Fresco” which replaces dairy, mayo-sauces, and guacamole with fresh pico de gallo. They also have a vegetarian menu.

Healthiest Menu Items

Of course “healthiest” can mean something different depending on your goals, whether that’s counting calories or cutting carbs.

The lowest calorie option at Taco Bell is the Chicken Soft Taco “Fresco Style.” At only 140 calories, you can afford to have more than one.

If you’re working out often and looking for more protein in your diet, try the Chicken Power Menu Bowl. While this menu item has 500 calories, it also contains 27g of protein.

Menu Items To Avoid

Unfortunately, those Doritos taco shells do not cut it as the healthiest fast food options. While Taco Bell has moved towards natural ingredients, these are still Doritos.

Subway

Subway

A favorite for the weight-loss community, Subway lists calories on the napkins in their stores to keep you aware. The chain is also moving away from preservatives in their food.

Tips For Ordering

Subway sandwiches can be customized for most diets, but for cold cuts, you’ll want to stick to oven roasted chicken over cured and red meats. The Veggie Delight is a tasty option, and a terrific way to get your veg for the day.

Healthiest Menu Items

At 230 calories, the Veggie Delite Sandwich has always been the healthy favorite. For gluten-free visitors, Subway offers salads instead of subs. Any sandwich can be ordered as a chopped salad, but the Oven Roasted Chicken Salad has only 150 calories. Top it with the Subway Vinaigrette at 40 calories.

Menu Items To Avoid

The Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt already sounds unhealthy. At 1,250 calories for a footlong, it does not make the cut for healthiest fast food options.

Panera Bread

Panera Bread

Always considered the healthy option, Panera’s customizable menu with protein-packed salads and fruit smoothies are also among the most expensive fast food offerings.

Tips For Ordering

When counting calories, you already know to stay away from the bread or chips side options. With the choice of an apple for a side, you know you’re making a better choice.

Healthiest Menu Items

The Strawberry Poppy Salad with Chicken has the lowest calorie count of the meat-topped salads at 340 calories, but still a healthy 29g of protein. For breakfast, try the Ham, Egg, and Cheese on whole grain bread

Menu Items To Avoid

You’ll want to avoid the entire pastry case. Yes, that $0.99 bakery item during dinner is very tempting, but your waistline will regret it.

Another unhealthy item is the Mac & Cheese. Fortunately, Panera Bread has other comfort food items that contain more nutrition even if they have the same calorie count.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is usually not on the list of healthiest fast food options, but with KFC’s grilled chicken options and value meals, they’re worth a look.

Tips For Ordering

You can modify menu items to make them healthier and meet your dietary restrictions.

Healthiest Menu Items

The grilled chicken breast wins for lowest calories at 210 for a single piece compared to 390 for the Original Recipe. The homestyle sides offer healthy options like green beans and corn.

Menu Items To Avoid

If you're wise, you’ll be avoiding the biscuits, cookies, and fried chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken.


The Verdict

Taco Bell surprised me with great customizing for their healthiest fast food options. It sure makes a difference, having options so conveniently available. As for road trips, I drive past many McDonald’s on road trips throughout the year. I think I’ll be ordering the Egg McMuffin.

What’s your favorite fast food restaurant? Have you tried any of these healthy menu items before? Let us know in the comments!