Even dietitians and nutritionists don’t eat perfectly healthy all the time. Sometimes, you need a quick meal after a long meeting or are on a road trip. At that point, you may need to eat some fast food–but what should you choose to remain relatively healthy?
Sonya Angelone, a dietitian, nutritionist, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that there are “some good choices” in fast-food restaurants. Some are just better than other options, while others provide some essential nutrients, protein, and fiber. Learn what nutritionists and dietitians order when they eat out.
McDonald’s Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich
The Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich at McDonald’s has grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, and only 430 calories. “This is great,” says Sonya Angelone, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “especially when compared with some of the fried chicken sandwiches.”
Dietitian and nutritionist Melinda Piatek orders the Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich with a side salad and mandarin orange. She gets the low-fat Italian dressing on the side, which keeps the meal under 500 calories. She also recommends choosing water or unsweetened iced tea for your drink.
Subway’s Veggie Delite
The Veggie Delite is Subway’s vegetarian sandwich that piles on vegetables with added cheese (if you’d like). With only 200 calories and 280 mg of sodium per six-inch sub, it’s much more healthy than other options. Brierley Horton, the nutrition director for Cooking Light, says that the Veggie Delite is the best option if you want chips and a drink.
To skip the added sodium, top the sandwich with Subway oil or vinegar, adds registered dietitian Cara Harbstreet. Opt for 9-Grain Wheat or Honey Oat bread. And remember to watch out for portion size!
Burger King’s Impossible Whopper
Although Burger King discontinued its veggie burger a couple of years back, a new Impossible Whopper appeared in 2019. The burger has a whopping 25 grams of protein with only 11 grams of saturated fat and no trans fat. “This burger is definitely one of the healthier ‘burger’ options available,” says registered dietitian Keri Gans.
Does that make the Impossible Whopper a health food? Certified nutritionist and dietitian Gina Keatley says no. With over 1,000 mg of salt, and it is still fairly high in fat, especially as a combo. But if you’re aiming for a healthier burger, it’s an option.
Chick-N-Strips At Chick-Fil-A
Chicken strips, in a healthy diet? Oddly enough, Chick-n-Strips are registered dietitian Gabrielle Mancella’s go-to meal at Chick-Fil-A. “If you are looking to keep the carbohydrates on the lower side during your lunch or dinner, these strips contain only 21 grams of carbohydrates and a hefty 26 grams of protein,” she told Insider.
According to Chick-Fil-A’s official website, their Chick-n-Strips are hand-breaded and cooked in peanut oil. That makes them a bit healthier than the chicken strips at other fast-food restaurants. After all, why else would you go to Chick-Fil-A if not for some fried chicken?
Starbucks’ Protein Boxes
If you want to grab a quick breakfast or lunch at Starbucks, browse their Protein Boxes. Registered dietitian Ilyse Schapiro usually goes for the Hummus Bistro Box, which includes grilled chicken, hummus, grape tomatoes, cucumber, and pita bread. If you add a banana, that’s only 400 calories for a meal.
Another healthy Box, says Schapiro, is the Protein Bistro Box. It supplies a hard-boiled egg, sliced apples, grapes, cheddar cheese, peanut butter, and muesli bread. Few ingredients in those boxes are fried, salt-stuffed, or preserved.
A Chicken Or Barbacoa Bowl From Chipotle
While at Chipotle, HelloFresh’s registered dietitian Rebecca Lewis orders grilled chicken or barbacoa. Both are the leanest meat options on the menu. “I go tortilla-less, [and] order a bowl (so many calories in tortillas!),” she tells SELF. She also orders the tomatillo green chili salsa, which has half the sodium of other salsas there.
“In general, when eating fast food, I avoid anything fried,” Lewis adds. She also recommends ordering sauce on the side and avoiding adding extra carbs. She tops her Chipotle bowl with fajita veggies, lettuce, and guacamole for healthy fats.
The Healthiest Meal At Panda Express
In an interview with Well and Good, registered dietitian Kim Morton discussed the healthiest options at Panda Express. For a two-entree meal, Morton recommends the grilled teriyaki chicken and beef and broccoli. She warns against ordering anything fried with honey or sweet-and-sour sauce, which are high in sugar.
While the chicken and beef offer protein with lower carbs, the sides can have some. Morton recommends the “super greens” mix of cabbage and broccoli. “The super greens is a great option regardless of diet type because it has fiber, which is good for digestion,” Morton explains.
Chili From Wendy’s
“A small Rich and Meaty Chili is one of the more nutritious fast-food meals we’ve come across,” write registered dietitians Willow Jarosh and Stephanie Clark, co-owners of C&J Nutrition. The small order is 160 calories, and you can choose healthy sides such as a baked potato or small salad.
Watch your portions on the sour cream and ranch dressing, and you’ll have one of Wendy’s healthiest meals. “I just plain love Wendy’s chili,” says dietitian Tory Tedrow, “but it helps that it has 15 grams of protein and four grams of fiber to keep me full.”
A Breakfast Sandwich At Dunkin’ Donuts
Can you walk into a Dunkin’ Donuts without buying donuts? Nutritional consultant Mike Roussell says yes. Dunkin’ Donuts offers an array of breakfast sandwiches that won’t give you a sugar crash later in the day.
Roussell recommends the Bacon, Egg, & Cheese sandwich on an English muffin, which is only 300 calories. According to Business Insider, the English muffin sandwiches have 25% fewer calories and fat than the sandwiches on a croissant. Avoid sausage as well, since it has the highest fat and sodium of all preserved meats.
Made-To-Order Pizzas At Domino’s
“At Domino’s, everything on the menu is made-to-order,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Tammy Lakatos Shames. As a result, nutritionists like to custom-design their pizzas. Nutritionist and dietitian Elizabeth Shaw opts for the thin-crust option with “all the veggies you can stomach.”
If you don’t want to create a pizza, registered dietitian Jenn Fillenworth recommends the Pacific Veggie Pizza. Choose a thin crust, and the small pizza will only have 220 calories per slide. Plus, the mushrooms, spinach, red bell peppers, and tomatoes will add plenty of healthy nutrients.
The All-American Dog At Sonic
Of all the hot dog options at Sonic Drive-In, the six-inch All-American Dog is the healthiest choice, says registered dietitian and nutritionist Patricia Bannan. The hot dog is simple with 100% beef, relish, chopped onions, ketchup, and mustard. It may not be a salad, but it has fewer calories and carbs than a chili dog.
Bannan says that the All-American Dog is the most sensible option if you’re craving a hot dog. However, keep in mind that one six-inch dog is 410 calories and over 1,000 grams of sodium. While eating out, portion control is key.
Subway’s Rotisserie-Style Chicken Sandwich
Insider calls the Rotisserie Chicken one of the healthiest sandwiches at Subway, and for good reason. This chicken sandwich has a ton of crispy veggies and 29 grams of protein for only 350 calories. Dietitian and nutritionist Lauren Harris-Pincus gets the sandwich on 9-Grain Wheat Bread with half the cheese and dressing.
“The secret is to ask them to scoop out the extra bread to remove some calories and carbs,” Harris-Pincus told SELF. “This also leaves more room for vegetables.” With that tip, you’ll eat even fewer carbs and feel better about your order.
Hawaiian Chicken Thin ‘N Crispy Pizza At Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut offers a twist on the classic Hawaiian pizza. The Hawaiian Chicken Thin ‘N Crispy Pizza offers chicken and green peppers along with the ham and pineapple. “At only 110 calories [per slice], you can enjoy a few slices while still watching your fat and sodium levels,” says registered dietitian Brynn McDowell.
Because the Hawaiian Chicken pizza has a thin crust, you’ll eat fewer carbs than most other pizzas and pasta at the restaurant. Each slice provides only three grams of fat and six grams of protein, which is a bang for your buck.
Taco Bell’s Shredded Chicken Burrito
You read that right; you can order a burrito at Taco Bell and not feel guilty about it. Nutrition consultant and registered dietitian Amy Goodson recommends the shredded chicken burrito. She says that the burrito has lower fat than other options, and it still provides 14 grams of protein. Plus, the long-grain rice offers some fiber.
But Taco Bell’s in-house dietitian, Missy Schaaphok, has another trick that can lighten up any menu item. If you ask for something “Fresco style,” it’ll replace any creams and cheeses with pico de gallo. “By removing these ingredients, you can reduce fat up to 25%,” Schaaphok said.
Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl At Panera
You don’t have to order bread when you visit Panera Bread. Registered dietitian and personal trainer Aliz Turoff skips the bread by ordering a Lentil Quinoa Broth Bowl. “The quinoa, brown rice, and lentil blend provides 10 grams of fiber, while the kale and spinach provide vitamins and minerals,” she told SHAPE.
For extra protein, you can add chicken to the soup. And if you don’t like lentils or kale? Order the Black Bean Soup, says registered dietitian Katrina Trisko. “This has the lowest amount of sodium of all the soup options,” she said.
Chicken Fajita At Jack In The Box
Jack in the Box offers many non-burger options, including their Chicken Fajita Pitas. The sandwich has 790 mg of sodium (low for a fast food restaurant) and 330 calories in total. If you want less sodium, skip the salsa, says registered dietitian Amy Gorin.
Gorin recommends asking for extra lettuce, tomato, and onion. This will make the fajita more filling and nutritious, and it’ll give you more fiber. The fajita already offers nine grams of protein and four grams of fiber, which is healthier than other options on the menu.
Breakfast Oatmeal At McDonald’s
McDonald’s offers breakfast oatmeal that’s only 310 calories and four grams of fat. But this isn’t the only reason to buy it. “I don’t worry too much about the calorie count, but rather what it is I’m eating,” says registered dietitian Dianna Sinni. The oatmeal offers fresh apples, dried fruit, and some low-fat cream.
In 2013, a study on oatmeal found that the dish makes people feel fuller and helps with appetite control. If nothing else, this 310-calorie dish could keep you satisfied for a while. You can also add a dash of brown sugar if you need it.
A California Bowl From Rubio’s
At Mexican restaurants, many food options tend to be dangerously greasy and fatty (and delicious). Fortunately, Rubio’s offers a moderately healthy California Bowl. According to dietitian and nutritionist Elizabeth Ann Shaw, the bowl offers healthy fats from avocado, lean protein, and vitamins from the veggies and pico de gallo.
Anna Taylor, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic, says that skinless, boneless chicken offers more protein than beef. Plus, the black beans in the California Bowl offer more protein and fiber to keep you full–and for only 560 calories!
Arby’s Cravin’ Chicken Sandwich
At Arby’s, the Cravin’ Chicken Sandwich stacks chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, and Cravin’ sauce in between a sesame seed bun. Registered dietitian Nour Zibdeh told the Washingtonian that this sandwich is the lowest in fat that you can get at Arby’s.
Zibdeh says that it’s “moderate calorie-wise,” with 380 calories (not counting any sides or drinks). Although it has the same amount of sodium as other Arby’s sandwiches, the Cravin’ Chicken supplies some fresh tomato and lettuce to balance out the nutrition. If you want less sodium, you can ask for the sauce on the side.
Grilled Fish And Shrimp Tacos At Wahoo’s
At Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, registered dietitian and nutritionist Maggie Moon gets a grilled fish taco and a grilled shrimp taco. According to Moon, these tacos provide healthy omega-3 fats and lean protein to help brain and heart health. In fact, a 2016 study in JAMA found that eating fish reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s over time.
Moon says that she asks for no citrus slaw or cheese to hold off on sodium, saturated fat, and calories. “When in doubt, ask questions [about the meal], so you can make an informed decision and act on it,” she recommends.