At some point in our lives, we all learn that fast food isn’t that great for you. What a terrible shock to realize that a greasy burger with fries and a milkshake the size of a bucket is actually bad for you.
For many of us focused on health, fast food is no longer an option. Instead, if we want to eat healthy, we either have to get a sixteen dollar “artisanal” salad or mess around at home with tofu. Only, what if this wasn’t true?
It turns out, fast food companies have made a good effort to offer us healthy options when we dine out in a hurry. Perhaps they see the value in keeping us around just a little longer.
If you make an effort, it’s easy to get a healthy, tasty cheap meal with minimum sodium or calories.
Follow your instincts! Wait, no, not those instincts. We all know there are two minds at play here.
Your indulgent brain will want the big colorful treat, the glistening meaty thing shot in loving slow-motion in the commercials, called something like “The Monumental Burger,” a stack of grease and cheese and bread, paired with a soda so sugary you’ll see stars.
Don’t follow that voice.
Go with the sighing “guess I’m an adult now” brain, which already has an idea of what we should have.
While Willy offers a really nice pair of sweatpants (we’ve been wearing ours for a year), sometimes you will want to wear pants that have a true size. To preserve that waistline, here are a few healthy options at the big fast food chains:
Despite its reputation as the place for bar hoppers’ last meal before bed, Taco Bell actually has a menu that is mostly below 500 calories. In general, go for things “Fresco Style” which swaps out cheese, cream or unhealthy fatty sauces for pico de gallo. Feel free to add a bit of guac too, which is full of healthy fats.
We like the Power Menu Veggie Bowl, which is just rice, black beans, guac, pico and cheese. Make sure you kill the sour cream and add chicken for more protein. Even the basic Bean Burrito is pretty good for you – just replace the red sauce with pico. The Chicken Soft Taco (Fresco style), Mini Skillet Bowl (minus the nacho cheese) and Grilled Breakfast Burrito are also good options.
McDonalds & The Big Burger Chains
Yes, it’s actually possible to eat healthy here. Of course, you do have to skip those fries. They’re even worse than you think. Seriously. You don’t even wanna know.
However, you can’t go wrong with the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad. Or the breakfast items like the Fruit and Maple Oatmeal and the Egg McMuffin. Even a basic no-frills hamburger isn’t so bad. Lastly, the Artisanal Chicken Sandwich is a solid choice.
This advice applies to chains like Burger King, Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box and Dairy Queen. They all have a version of an Artisanal Chicken Sandwich (that artisan gets around) or a chicken salad. Just remember - if it’s grilled, it’s good.
While not technically fast food, we’re including it here because of its ubiquity. Starbucks brands itself as health-adjacent while half of its menu is arguably on par with a milkshake’s nutritional value. For really healthy options, go with an espresso, iced tea or black coffee. If you need to sweeten your beverage, go with stevia, agave nectar or a little honey and a hit of soy or almond milk. For food, the Sous Vide Egg Bites are tasty egg white wraps and make a great meal combined with oatmeal.
Much of the same advice applies here, though their Wrap-Up Wrap is a tasty high-protein breakfast taco. You already know the truth about the donuts.
Subway Or Five Guys
Both offer a decent veggie sandwich. You’ll probably be a little jealous of everyone else in the place, but at least you won’t need to nap after.
Make the Colonel sad with a grilled chicken wing with a side of green beans. Your cholesterol will thank you.
The “protein style” burger uses lettuce as a bun. It’s definitely weird but it’s very tasty if you’re in California. And obviously don’t go “animal style.”
The Panda Bowl with mixed veggies and broccoli chicken is high in salt, but great otherwise.
While Chipotle tends to use fresher ingredients than most you’ll easily end up with a 1200 calorie burrito if you’re not careful. Go for a bowl or salad. Skip the tortillas. Keep an eye on sodium with your protein - the sofritas may have lower calories, but they have wild amounts of sodium (more than 500mg per serving)! Instead, load up on fajita vegetables, lettuce and guacamole.
There are times when you simply can’t avoid fast food. Maybe you’re in the airport or in a hurry. Or maybe you just want it really badly. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Sometimes we just have to fight the marketing of that big delicious burger.
Uh-oh, now we’re hungry…