Heading out to a chicken chain may seem like a healthier meal option than making a stop at a burger joint, but oftentimes the menu is filled with fried chicken and other calorie-laden choices as opposed to the lean protein you have in mind when you think of poultry. Dark meat pieces of chicken, including wings and thighs, can be unhealthy when served with the skin and then battered and fried. You may think chicken breast is better, but those calories and saturated fat can also skyrocket once you drown it in heavy sauces and fry it.
When trying to pinpoint options on chicken chain menus that are really the “unhealthiest” look for three main things: calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Remember this is one menu option or one meal of your day, so it should make up about 30% of your daily recommended amounts of calories, saturated fat, and sodium. On a 2,000-calorie diet, this means no more than 22 grams of saturated fat and a maximum of 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
Although many options from the establishments on this list are unhealthy, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorites. If you’re craving fried chicken from KFC or Chick-Fil-A, for example, then opt for smaller portions and skip higher fat sides like fries and mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. You can also opt for a kid’s meal or split a small order with a friend. This way you can get your fix without going overboard.
Not all salads are created equal—or healthfully—and this chicken chain order is a perfect example. Made with pressure-cooked, breaded chicken nuggets served on a bed of mixed greens, topped with roasted corn kernels, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, hard-boiled egg, and grape tomatoes, this salad provides you with 42% of your daily recommended calories (based on a 2,000 calorie diet).
It also provides 59% of the recommended daily max or artery-clogging saturated fat….in a salad! You’re better off swapping the nuggets for the grilled cod and holding off on some of the cheese and bacon.
The chicken breast fillet in this sandwich is marinated in Popeye’s seasoning, battered and breaded in buttermilk, and fried. It is topped with pickles, spicy mayo, Havarti cheese, and bacon on buttery toasted brioche buns. The sandwich alone provides 86% of the recommended daily maximum of saturated fat and 81.5% of the recommended daily maximum of sodium. You’re better off ordering a kid’s meal or a small order of chicken nuggets.
This single order of four pieces of fried chicken served with mashed potatoes and a medium soda seems like a good deal for your dollar, but it’s actually a disaster for your healthy eating plan. You do get a whopping 82 grams of protein, but your body can’t efficiently utilize that much protein in one sitting. Plus the calories in this one meal are 62% of your daily recommended calories (based on a 2,000-calorie diet) and 143% of your daily recommended sodium intake—and you still have a few meals left for the day!
This single-serve combo meal includes 6 chicken fingers, fries, 2 servings of sauce, toast, cole slaw, and a large fountain drink (cola included in nutrition information above). For this one meal, you’re taking in 89.5% of your total daily calories, 73% of the recommended daily max of artery-clogging saturated fat, and 137% of the recommended daily max of sodium. If this is a meal you’re ordering regularly, it can most probably lead to weight gain and put you at an increased risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases.
This meal is served with 3-pieces of chicken meal is just way over the top. It provides 80% of your total daily calories, 109% of the recommended daily max of saturated fat, and 137% of the recommended daily max for sodium. Further, if you’re trying to calculate the calories of your meal, there is no calculation tool on the website—so you have to calculate each menu item separately by hand (good luck with that!). If you’re really craving Church’s Texas Chicken, then order a la cart and much less food.
You may think ordering these mini sandwiches are a better-for-you choice, but they actually have more calories compared to the other regular sandwich meals. The calories are 71% of your daily recommended calories, 59% of the recommended daily max of saturated fat, and 1½ times the recommended daily max of sodium. There are better options like the grilled chicken sandwich, but order it without the sauce (or use 1 teaspoon) and skip the fries.
This Korean fried chicken joint serves up many dishes that are just way too high in nutrients that are already overconsumed, namely calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Although not a chicken dish, the Bulgogi made with thinly sliced marinated beef sautéed with mushrooms, scallions, sesame seeds, and onions and served with white rice, is one to skip.