Going to get a jump on the health-obsessed commenters out there and cop to something right out of the gate: If you’re trying to be healthy or lose weight, fast food is your enemy. For real.
Psst, reader. Yes, you! Is the coast clear? Okay, let’s start again. We know that sometimes living healthy is hard, especially if you’re caught in an on-the-go lifestyle. Finding time and the sheer willpower to cook can be difficult after a full day. And the ease of a drive-through is just so very tempting.
But can you hit up fast food without going overboard? Can you avoid the fries or nachos or — worse yet — the NACHO FRIES? In curating this list of healthier (or less-bad-for-you) fast food, we focused on dishes that felt balanced and not excessive. We tried to keep in mind the standard 2000-calorie a day diet and the assumption that you’d be aiming to eat three meals in a day, but this is an imperfect measure. Still, in the end, we came up with 15 healthy meals you can order while roving the depths of the fast food world.
Use it to guide you the next time cooking sounds like a chore.
Chicken Veggie Bowl From Waba Grill
Dietary Fiber: 6g
Waba Grill’s entire mission statement revolves around healthy eating, so you’re pretty safe with anything on the menu so long as you’re not eating in excess. Low in sodium, and high in fat and protein, the Chicken Veggie Bowl’s meat is basted in a teriyaki-like sauce and served over a bed of rice with steamed cabbage, carrots, and broccoli. Also, Waba totally sounds like the name of a pokemon, so you can annoy everyone you’re about to eat lunch with by constantly saying “Waba Waba!” I’ve done it, and I’m pretty much the best person to eat lunch with so…
This is one of the best tasting healthy options out there in the fast food world. It honestly doesn’t even feel like you’re trying to eat healthy when you go. More vegetables in fast food is something we can fully get behind. If you want to get extra healthy consider subbing chicken for some salmon or not letting them add the sugar-laden sauce.
Two Shredded Chicken Fresco Soft Tacos From Taco Bell
Calories: 300, Calories from fat: 100
Total Fat: 11g
Dietary Fiber: 4g
You’ll have to convert your regular tacos to Taco Bell’s Fresco line — which removes the cheese and adds pico de gallo — but this is a pretty solid choice that should leave you satisfied. Strangely, subbing Taco Bell’s dusty cheese for tomatoes, onion, and cilantro makes the taco feel a whole lot fancier than the standard fare from the Bell.
The biggest issue we have with this meal is the high sodium content, which accounts for 36% of your daily recommended intake of sodium (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Not perfect, but good enough in a bind and cheap as hell too!
Double Chicken Avocado Salad From El Pollo Loco
Calories: 370 Calories from fat: 130
Total Fat: 14g
Dietary Fiber 6g
With a double serving of chicken, this delicious salad from El Pollo Loco is a solid meal and easily one of our team’s personal favorites on this list. Chopped chicken breast with sweet corn, pico de gallo, sour cream, cilantro, cotija cheese crumbles, and fresh slices of avocado round out this balanced and flavorful dish, and if the nutritional info is setting off alarms for your own personal diet, consider further customization to hit that sweet spot (maybe skip the sour cream and settle for one serving of chicken).
Again, we’re not in love with the large amount of sodium in the double chicken avocado salad, but as far as full meals go this seems sufficient enough to not cause you to look at the sides menu in despair.
Grilled Chicken Sandwich from Chick-fil-A
Dietary Fiber: 3g
We know sitting through a Chick-fil-A sandwich and skipping out on those delicious waffle fries is going to be a challenge in itself, so take your food to go and sit at a park or something. Out of sight, out of mind. The grilled chicken breast, crisp green leaf lettuce, and fresh tomatoes are perfectly complemented by the multi-grain bun that comes unique to this sandwich.
Honestly, we didn’t even know Chick-fil-A had a multi-grain bun as an option until we started researching for this article. Since then though, it has become a no-brainer swap for the white bun that comes with their original line of sandwiches. Once again we’ve got concerns over the sodium, and we’re starting to notice a trend so we’ll probably skip out on mentioning it from here on out. Sodium aside, this is one of the healthiest choices out there.
Chicken Salad From Chipotle
Dietary Fiber: 9g
What’s great about Chipotle is the food is fully customizable so you can cater this particular dish to any diet you might be adhering to. We didn’t, we simply used Chipotle’s nutrition calculator to make a delicious salad that won’t make you feel like you’re overeating. In truth, this is a BIG salad. We’re talking Costanza-level big here. Consider picking this up only if you know you’re likely to have one more small meal throughout the day.
Our custom salad consists of grilled chicken, fajitas, pico de gallo, cheese, and guacamole atop a bed of romaine lettuce. Swap out those fajitas for sour cream and you got yourself a delicious keto-friendly salad, or go nuts and add beans (but go light on the cheese).
Tofu Veggie Bowl (No Rice) From Flame Broiler
Dietary Fiber: 3g
Keto, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly, the Tofu Veggie bowl from Flame Broiler will leave you satisfied despite its lack of rice and jaw-droppingly low calorie count. This makes it a good candidate as an additional meal if you’re in a situation that calls for you to have to hit fast food twice in one day. Tofu, cabbage, carrots, and broccoli all basted in tasty teriyaki sauce might have you reaching for some extra cups of the sauce (watch the sugar, fam).
Personally, I don’t like that Flame Broiler calls their variation on teriyaki sauce “Magic Sauce,” makes it seem LESS magical to me, but whatever. There is no doubt that if you’re trying to watch what you eat but are constantly having to opt for a quick bite, this place is an absolute miracle.
Protein Style Cheeseburger From In-N-Out
Dietary Fiber: 3g
When you see a Protein Style Cheeseburger from In-N-Out you’ll experience a bit of shock at how different it looks from a cheeseburger with a bun. Gone is the glossy sponge dough bun that inspires the mouth-watering adulation that In-N-Out is known for, leaving you with a cheeseburger that looks incredibly small and unsatisfying.
Looks are deceiving though, this cheeseburger is more than enough to satiate your afternoon appetite and pretty soon a burger wrapped in lettuce will look almost as good as the classic bun iteration. Almost. Consider cutting out the cheese if you want to majorly cut into the sodium on this one, but that’s a bridge too far for us. Pro tip: add some chopped chilis in there to take it to the next level of flavor, you won’t believe how much a bun masks the flavor of the meat.
String Bean Chicken Bowl From Panda Express
Dietary Fiber: 8g
Order this with brown rice and you’ve got yourself a healthy and well-balanced meal. Panda Express has a pretty even balance of healthy and unhealthy options so if you’re easily tempted, remind yourself to stay clear of the orange chicken. They might try and offer you a fortune cookie, resist that urge as well, they may seem harmless enough but fortune cookies are crazy unhealthy when you consider that no one really loves eating them.
Chicken breast, string beans, and onions are tossed in a wok with mild ginger soy sauce and can be made fresh to order by request. This is hands down one of the best options on this list, it’s straight up delicious and so f*cking simple you’ll probably start making it at home.
Turkey Breast & Provolone Sub Sandwich On Wheat From Jersey Mike’s
Dietary Fiber: 5g
We don’t know how long people have been eating turkey breast and provolone sandwiches but it’s one of those combinations that just works so well while being so simple — think beans and Spanish rice. Slices of turkey breast on a wheat roll with provolone cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Simple, delicious, and for the most part, a healthy and balanced meal.
Jersey Mike’s has an extensive list of cold sandwich options that will likely tic many of the dietary boxes you might be operating under, but we decided to go with a classic here. Solid, if a little uninspired.
Grilled Nuggets and Fruit Cup From Chick-fil-A
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Top Chick-fil-A Foods to Keep Runners on the Move: Grilled Nuggets – For those in need of a quick and nutritious entree, these tasty marinated nuggets are packed with 25 grams of protein and just 140 calories (for an 8-count order). Perfect and easy for keeping your running habits up, or just as a healthier alternative! #chickfila #chickfilagrillednuggets #chickfilahealthychoices
Dietary Fiber: 2g
If grilled nuggets don’t seem like a meal on their own, it’s because they aren’t. So we rounded it out with a fruit cup for an ultra clean and flavorful meal that pairs perfectly with Chick-fil-A’s unsweetened tea. This was suggested by a friend and while it seems boring as f*ck it actually left me totally satisfied during a recent lunch break. You may be wondering why we opted for this instead of a salad, well, any of the salads at Chick-fil-A would be a great choice if you’re watching what you eat, but your bank account will hate you for ordering one.
Seriously why are Chick-fil-A salads so damn expensive? Do they like to pretend they also invented the salad so we’re all being charged a creator’s fee? This will save you some money and is healthier than basting some leaves in a heavy dressing, so it earns its spot.
Asian Sesame Salad With Chicken From Panera
Dietary Fiber: 4g
Salads are tricky, the reason this list is devoid of so many is because the fast food giants throw all sorts of junk into ready-made salads to make them palatable. Fried chicken, excessive croutons, loads of ranch, f*cking bacon!
Panera doesn’t try to pull any of that nonsense. Citrus marinated black pepper chicken tossed with romaine lettuce, wonton strips, sesame seeds, and cilantro all joined together with an Asian sesame vinaigrette make for a delicious and satisfying salad. The craziest thing in this salad is the wonton strips which you can always just pull out. But come on. Wonton strips! They’re delicious.
Avocado Veggie Plate From Del Taco
Dietary Fiber: 13g
This vegan and vegetarian-friendly plate from Del Taco is as delicious as its colorful presentation would suggest. Seasoned and slow-cooked black beans, diced onions and tomatoes, and hand-sliced avocado atop a bed of fresh romaine, iceberg lettuce, and fresca lime rice make for a tasty lunchtime meal.
Del Taco is obviously taking a page out of Chipotle’s book with this deconstructed burrito, but they’ve come packing a whole lot more flavor. Chipotle’s bland black beans have nothing on Del Tacos. If you absolutely must have meat, adding chicken doesn’t turn this plate into a complete unhealthy mess, but we thought we’d show some love to this vegetarian rendition, as more avocado is an adequate substitute for meat.
Broccoli Beef With Super Greens From Panda Express
Dietary Fiber: 7g
If you saw the green beans with chicken from earlier and thought, “Pfft not good enough,” maybe this will get you hyped. Rice, who needs it? Not us. Ditch that shit and get a full or half order of super greens and mix it together with the beef and broccoli.
Now you got yourself some beef and broccoli basted in ginger soy sauce with kale, cabbage, and even MORE broccoli, it’s delicious, it’s healthy, and it’s under 250 calories. It’s astounding how full this meal will make you feel, and you won’t feel any of the guilt that comes along with stuffing your face until you can’t breathe because hey, at least you’re getting your greens! If you were still five years old your parents would be very proud of you. Unfortunately, you’re not, and yes, they’re very disappointed.
Two-Piece Grilled Chicken With Green Beans From KFC
Dietary Fiber: 2g
Admittedly, this is a big meal, so feel free to knock it down to a two-piece if that sodium is looking way higher than you like it for a single meal. The two pieces of delicious and succulent grilled chicken pair perfectly with the side a side of green beans. Some days the grilled chicken sounds even more appetizing than the fried counterpart KFC made their name on, whether you’re watching what you eat or not.
Ordering grilled chicken from KFC changes up the game in terms of side selection. Suddenly all these sides that were slept on seem like better pairings than the more popular and decadent sides like the mashed potatoes with gravy and the fried potato wedges. Grilled chicken may not have been appealing enough to create an entire franchise out of, but we’re glad KFC continues to support the grilled version of their chicken. This particular meal we put together is also keto-friendly if that’s what you’re all about.
Philly Cheese Steak Sub In A Tub From Jersey Mike’s
Dietary Fiber: 1g
Now this is what we’re talking about. Maybe our personal feelings are getting in the way of our appreciation for cold sandwiches, but our preference will always be to go hot over cold. Unfortunately, hot sandwiches are usually a lot less healthy than their cold counterparts. Which is why we say, f*ck the bread, cut the carbs, and go sub in a tub.
Tender shavings of steak, peppers, onions, and white American cheese make this mouth-watering bowl of meat make you feel straight up prehistoric when you’re eating it. So dump out the contents on a slab of rock and go wild. Going breadless means significantly fewer carbs and while the sodium is still a major issue, this is a way to have your foot firmly placed in both the calorie-conscious and wildly indulgent realms. Just try and go easy on what you’ll be eating the rest of the day aside from this — there’s a reason we put it last.