There is a growing trend of fast-food restaurants offering healthier options, meeting an increased customer demand for nutritious food while on the go. To maintain a balanced diet, one must make informed choices, even when short on time and opting for convenience. "Fast food" might bring fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets to mind, but there are healthier alternatives! Many menus offer a more comprehensive range of options, including low-calorie options like salad, grilled items, and even vegetarian fare.

Healthy options at global chains

Some of the most popular global fast-food chains are now offering healthier choices. For example, at Chik-fil-A, you will find a number of salad options, a grilled chicken sandwich, grilled chicken nuggets, and some healthy sides, including a side salad, fruit cup, kale crunch, and chicken noodle soup. Head to Five Guys, where you can get a veggie sandwich or a cheese veggie sandwich, and at Wendy's, you will find freshly made salads, chile, baked potatoes, and apple bites on the menu.

chicken nuggets


Local ingredients and organic choices

Research shows that there are benefits to eating locally grown food, including safer consumption, a shorter food supply chain, increased nutrient density, and supporting local farmers and the surrounding community. One of the first national brands to commit to using local and sustainably raised food is Chipotle. Chipotle is committed to using local and organic produce and responsibly raised meat, showing that even large restaurant chains can make smart choices that are better for the consumer and the environment.

artisan burger


Vegetarian and vegan alternatives

Plant-based options are becoming more common at fast-food chains, giving vegetarians more choices. Burger King rolled out the Impossible Whopper in 2019 and made headlines, but there are other chains with vegetarian or vegan options. Carl's Jr. offers a Beyond Burger with more protein and iron and less saturated fat and total fat than its regular beef burger, and you can even get fried zucchini as a side. White Castle has Impossible sliders, and Taco Bell has a whole section of its menu dedicated to veggies, including bean burritos, cheese quesadillas, and veggie Mexican pizza.

grabbing veggie burger


Kids' meals: Healthier choices

When it comes to food, bad habits can be hard to break, which is why it is essential to help your children make good food choices. Many fast-food kid meals feature burgers, fried chicken nuggets, and fries, but there are some healthier options. Subway offers many healthy subs for kids, and they can choose all their own toppings, which makes it an excellent choice for picky eaters. The Chick-fil-a grilled nuggets kid's meal is another excellent option if you're looking for a quick but healthy meal for your kids when you're on the go. If they have to have a Happy Meal from McDonald's, you can make it a little healthier by choosing water or low-fat milk to drink with apple slices as a side.

subway sandwich


Fast food for special diets

People with unique dietary needs may be surprised to learn that there are fast-food options available for special diets, including keto, paleo, and gluten-free. Many people who follow these diets might order a burger or grilled chicken sandwich without the bun at their favorite fast food restaurant, but there are other options available. Try Chick-fil-A's grilled chicken nuggets, a Chipotle burrito bowl, Wendy's chile, or a Taco Bell Power Bowl.

chipotle bowl


Calorie-conscious eating

If you are counting calories, you might think you have to avoid the fast-food drive-thru, but many popular chains have low-calorie menu options. A classic McDonald's hamburger and small fries comes in at 480 calories or make it a classic cheeseburger for only 50 calories more. A single crunchy taco at Taco Bell is only 170 calories, or you can make it a supreme for 190 calories. Wendy's has some great low-calorie options, too, including a small chile for 240 calories, sour cream and chive baked potato for 310 calories, or six-piece chicken nuggest for 270 calories.



High-protein fast food options

High protein diets have many benefits, especially when it comes to preserving muscle mass, and finding high protein options at fast-food restaurants can make it easier to stick to your routine when you need something convenient that is still somewhat healthy. Carl's Jr. grilled BBQ chicken sandwich has 33 g of protein, or head to Wendy's for an apple pecan salad with 30 g. Perhaps the most impressive option comes from Chiptole. Its high protein bowl has a whopping 82 g of protein.

carls jr burgers


Fast food salads: Beyond lettuce

Many places have simple side salads on the menu, but there are several options with unique ingredients that enhance both the flavor and nutrition. Chick-fil-a'a Market Salad features mixed greens with strawberries, blueberries, red and green apples, and crumbled feta cheese, or head to Wendy's and enjoy an Apple Pecan Salad with romaine and spring mix topped with apple bites and dried cranberries. Another unique opinion is the Grilled Chicken and Cauliflower Tabbouleh salad from Starbucks. This salad features an interesting mix of lettuce, arugula, tabbouleh, grilled white chicken meat, roasted red peppers, red wine vinegarette, and feta cheese.



Healthy on-the-go breakfasts

Mornings can be incredibly hectic, and many people rely on breakfast on the go. Luckily, there are some healthy options available at many fast-food drive-thrus. If you are heading to Starbucks for your morning coffee, check out some of their healthy breakfast options, including the turkey bacon, cheddar, and egg white sandwich or the spinach, feta, and egg white wrap. Chick-fil-A has a few great options, too, including the Egg White Grill sandwich with grilled chicken, egg whites, and American cheese and the Greek yogurt parfait.

breakfast wrap


Reducing sodium in fast food

Fast food may be something people on low-sodium diets may be told to avoid, but some restaurants have options with a lower sodium content. Avoid the burgers and fries and go for foods with less than 500 mg of sodium. Wendy's plain baked potato, Chick-fil-A grilled chicken nuggets, an Arby's roast beef slider, or a Five Guys little hamburger.

baked potato


Sugar-conscious fast food choices

Many fast foods contain added sugars, and the only way to know what to avoid is to research beforehand. For breakfast, Starbucks has a turkey bacon, cheddar, and egg white sandwich that has only 2 g of sugar, and the spinach, feta, and egg white wrap has only 5 g. McDonald's has a few low-sugar breakfast items, too, including the famous egg McMuffin, which has only 3 g. For lunch or dinner, try a Wendy's cobb salad with only 5 g of sugar (including the dressing) or sour cream and chive baked potato with only 4 g. Chick-fil-A's grilled chicken nuggets are yet again a great option, with only 1 g of sugar, but you can also try a Cool Wrap for only 5 g.

cob salad


Customizing your fast food meal

There are some swaps you can make to customize fast food meals and make them a little healthier. For example, you can remove toppings and dipping sauces and add extra vegetables for added flavor or skip the side of fries in the combo meal and just order the sandwich. If you're following a low carbohydrate or high protein diet, you can also order your burger without a bun.

lettuce burger


The role of portion control

Portion control is vital when eating fast food as the average combo meal has about 1,200 calories and is high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar. If you order a combo, go for a small size instead of a large one, or skip the side of fries altogether. Avoid burgers with multiple patties and order the simpler options, or look at the kid's menu, where you'll find the same delicious foods in much smaller portions.

eating small burger


Fast food and hydration

Sugary drinks, like the sodas, lemonade, and sweet teas often served at fast food restaurants, are the single largest source of added sugar in the average American's diet and can have many adverse health effects. Instead of getting a regular soda, opt for a diet soda. Some places also offer unsweetened tea or sugar-free lemonade, and you can always ask for water.

sugar free burger


Balancing convenience and nutrition

Many fast-food restaurants have expanded their menus to include healthier options, and you can find things that meet most dietary needs. Whether you are looking for high-protein, low-carb, sugar, or calorie, or healthy meals for your kids, you can integrate fast food into a healthy diet by making informed choices.

burger with salad


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