In an on-the-go world, it’s not hard to see why fast-food restaurants thrive. For most of us, grabbing a quick meal is sometimes unavoidable, whether it’s a speedy breakfast while rushing to work or dinner on a road trip. No matter the circumstances of your fast-food ordering, if you’re trying to eat healthy, you’ve probably found it a challenge. The stereotypes about fast food’s mediocre nutrition content are largely true, and many chains serve up fried, heavy meals high in calories, sodium, and saturated fat and low in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. However, dietitians say that there are some healthy fast-food options out there, as long as you know where to look.
Not every fast-food order is doomed to weigh you down with unhealthful ingredients, and more and more restaurants are getting hip to the fact that many consumers actually want to eat right. Here are 11 of the healthiest fast-food orders around, according to dietitians.
Starbucks has more to offer at breakfast than just coffee. If you’re swinging through the drive-thru in the morning, try their Spinach, Feta, and Egg Wrap for a healthy first meal of the day.
“It’s a good source of fiber and protein, which help us to start our day out feeling full and energized,” says KeyVion Miller RDN, LDN, culinary nutritionist and owner of The Miller’s Kitchen. “The second ingredient on the ingredient list is whole wheat flour. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a common characteristic of a diet associated with positive health outcomes includes whole grains.” Miller points out that the wrap also comes pre-loaded with veggies.
Plant protein is increasingly having a heyday at fast-food restaurants, including Taco Bell. Their Veggie Power Bowl highlights the protein power of—you guessed it—veggies and beans. “This bowl includes seasoned black beans, seasoned rice, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole, and a tangy sauce. It’s a vegetarian option that offers a balance of protein, fiber, and veggies,” says Dan LeMoine, RD, co-founder of Re:Vitalize Weight Loss and Wellness and author of Fear No Food.
At lunchtime, check out Panera’s Napa Almond Chicken Salad. “Unlike most other chicken sandwiches out there, Panera’s aren’t fried,” says Aditi Biswas, certified holistic nutrition consultant. “Instead, the chicken is seared in a pan, then cooked. This makes it less oily than other preparations.”
“I’m obsessed with Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Southwest Salad featuring cold grilled chicken,” says Stacey Bender, MA, RD. “It’s a protein and fiber powerhouse, thanks to the abundance of pepitas. These pumpkin seeds are a nutritious snack loaded with heart-healthy fats and all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source.” Meanwhile, this salad’s 8 grams of fiber make it one of the highest-fiber options on the Chick-fil-A menu.
Some Mexican fast-food tends to be heavy and high-calorie—but not Taco Bell’s Bean Burrito Fresco! “This meal has 410 calories, 13 grams of fat, 13 grams of fiber, and 12 grams of protein,” says Lori A. Stevens, RD, LDN, of The CHF Dietitian. “Like many fast-food meals, it is quite high in sodium with 960 milligrams. But opting for the smaller-portioned soft taco with the same fillings will decrease the calories to 240 and the sodium to 540 milligrams.”