These are the 27 healthiest fast food items, according to dietitians and doctors (2024)

Healthy fast food may sound like an oxymoron, but there are actually many chain restaurants where you can grab a quick and nutritious bite to eat. While it's true that eating at home is better for you than eating out (due to smaller amounts of calories, saturated fat and sodium), sometimes all that's available is fast food, or you're craving something that only a drive-thru can provide —and in these situations, you don't need to completely forgo your dietary goals.

With some planning and prioritizing, you can absolutely find healthy fast food when you need it. Just keep a few tips in mind.

Tips for ordering healthy fast food

Pause before you order. Read the menu beforehand to prevent yourself from making impulsive decisions based on the decadent-looking pictures, Dr. Christopher McGowan, an obesity medicine specialist, tells TODAY.com. Whether you skim it in the parking lot or while waiting in line, make a decision and stick with it.

Share or save half for later. “Oftentimes at fast food restaurants, the portions are too large,” McGowan says. “Split a meal with someone else to keep your portion smaller or simply take half of it home. (And) eat that smaller portion in a mindful, slow manner and allow yourself to feel full and satisfied.” You can also order off the kids' menu for a smaller size.

Skip the meal and sauces. Meals at fast food restaurants usually come with a sugary drink like soda and a side of fries, which add unnecessary calories, McGowan says. The prepackaged sauces are also usually loaded with added sugar and sodium, and you may find the meal is flavorful enough without them. If you want sauce, order it on the side, McGowan advises.

Prioritize veggies and protein. Stack some extra lettuce and tomato on your sandwich. If you’re getting a grain bowl or burrito bowl, ask for extra vegetables. And stick to lean protein,items like grilled chicken, turkey and beans, McGowan says. It will keep you full longer for fewer calories.

Here are a few fast food restaurants and healthy items to order there.

Chipotle

Veggie full lifestyle bowl

This hearty meal is packed with plants. It contains white rice, black beans, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, corn salsa and guacamole, which doesn't cost extra. Many of Chipotle's ingredients are high in sodium, however.

Nutrition info: 659 calories, 29 grams of fat, 18 grams of protein, 95 grams of carbs

High protein lifestyle bowl

It's the highest-calorie option of Chipotle's lifestyle bowls, but it's well-suited for anyone on a high-protein diet because it has the highest amount of the important macronutrient, which keeps you full for a long period. You can have it in two sittings, McGowan says.

Nutrition info: 845 calories, 28 grams of fat, 82 grams of protein, 68 grams of carbs

Wholesome lifestyle bowl

This lifestyle bowl ditches the carbs and is heavier on greens, so it's Paleo, Whole30 and keto friendly, in addition to being gluten and grain-free. It comes with chicken, but you can swap for steak.

Nutrition info: 460 calories, 29 grams of fat, 35 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbs.

Wendy's

Small chili

This side option is a great source of protein thanks to the meat and beans, as well as iron and fiber. Ingredients include tomatoes, chili pepper, ground beef, red kidney beans, pinto beans and onions.

Nutrition info: 240 calories, 11 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs, 16 grams of protein, 910 milligrams of sodium

Apple pecan salad

Without the dressing, this salad is low in calories and high in fruits, veggies and lean protein, thanks to its mix of greens, apples, dried cranberries and grilled chicken breast. The cheese also provides 20% of the daily calcium requirement.

Nutrition info: 410 calories, 21 grams of fat, 28 grams of carbs, 29 grams of protein, 1,050 milligrams of sodium

Grilled chicken wrap

This wrap has fewer refined carbs than the burgers and other sandwiches on the menu, yet still offers a good amount of protein.

Nutrition info: 420 calories, 16 grams of fat, 27 grams of protein, 42 grams of carbs, 1,170 milligrams of sodium

Chick-Fil-A

Kale crunch salad

This salad comes with curly kale, green cabbage and salted almonds for some crunch. Its dressing is made from apple cider vinegar and dijon mustard. To up your protein, order grilled chicken on the side.

Nutrition info: 170 calories, 12 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 13 grams of carbs, 250 milligrams of sodium

Grilled chicken sandwich

Grilled chicken is going to provide better nutritional value than breaded and fried chicken every time. It also comes on a multigrain brioche bun. Don't forget to order the honey BBQ sauce on the side.

Nutrition info: 390 calories, 12 grams of fat, 44 grams of carbs, 28 grams of protein, 770 milligrams of sodium

Market salad with grilled chicken

This salad hits a lot of different food groups and macronutrients with its fruit, greens, chicken, cheese and almonds. And you can add extras to up your protein and fiber, like eggs, beans and corn. It's also the lowest-calorie option of Chick-Fil-A's salads.

Nutrition info: 550 calories, 31 grams of fat, 42 grams of carbs, 28 grams of protein, 1,010 milligrams of sodium

Popeye's

Red beans and rice

This side dish option is one of tastiest items on the Popeye's menu, and it's relatively low in calories. You can order it by itself along with a side of green beans and corn to add some extra nutrients and make it more filling.

Nutrition info: 250 calories, 16 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein, 610 milligrams of sodium

Taco Bell

Grilled chicken taco, fresco style

You can order almost any item on the Taco Bell menu "fresco style," which will swap any sauces, cheese or sour cream for fresh tomatoes. So, a grilled chicken taco fresco will be lighter on calories but still have some protein.

Nutrition info: 130 calories, 6 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, 430 milligrams of sodium

Veggie power bowl

This vegetarian option contains rice, black beans, guacamole, tomatoes and lettuce. Thanks to the beans, it provides about 40% of your daily fiber requirement.

Nutrition info: 420 calories, 47 grams of carbs, 12 grams of protein, 870 milligrams of sodium

Quizno's

Apple harvest salad

This is another item where you'll want to order the dressing on the side or leave it off entirely. Without the dressing, a large salad packs in quite a bit of protein and is relatively light on sodium.

Nutrition info: 300 calories, 14 grams of fat, 26 grams of carbs, 21 grams of protein, 430 milligrams of sodium

Panera

Mediterranean bowl with chicken

This bowl has a base of healthy grains with brown rice and quinoa, and lots of nutritious toppings, such as olives, mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, humus, feta and Greek yogurt. And the dressing is made from pretty light ingredients, like tahini, soybean oil, vinegar and lemon juice.

Nutrition info: 570 calories, 29 grams of fat, 54 grams of carbs, 26 grams of protein, 1,310 milligrams of sodium

Turkey chili

Turkey is a leaner protein source than beef, and chili has a lot of beans, so this dish will keep you full for a while for fewer calories. It also serves up almost half your dietary fiber needs thanks to the chickpeas and edamame.

Nutrition info: 300 calories, 10 grams of fat, 31 grams of carbs, 21 grams of protein, 690 milligrams of sodium

Mediterranean veggie sandwich

This sandwich comes on a couple of slices of tomato basil bread, but you can swap it for a whole grain option or sourdough for fewer calories. Despite having no meat, the protein from the humus and feta will make it feel filling.

Nutrition info: 630 calories, 14 grams of fat, 105 grams of carbs, 23 grams of protein, 1,650 milligrams of sodium

Qdoba

Citrus lime chicken salad

This dish hits on a lot of food groups with its lean grilled chicken, base of lettuce and black beans, corn salsa, pico de gallo and tortilla strips. The dressing adds about an extra 100 calories.

Nutrition info: 540 calories, 23 grams of fat, 51 grams of carbs, 36 grams of protein, 1,180 milligrams of sodium

Starbucks

Rolled and steel-cut oatmeal

Oatmeal, especially steel cut, is a consistent breakfast favorite among doctors and dietitians. It's high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and can lower cholesterol and help with weight loss and maintenance. Starbucks oatmeal is made with water.

Nutrition info: 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 28 grams of carbs, 5 grams of protein, 125 milligrams of sodium

Egg and cheddar protein box

This prepackaged box comes with hard-boiled eggs, apples, grapes, multigrain bread, white cheddar cheese and a peanut butter packet.

Nutrition info: 460 calories, 24 grams of fat, 22 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs, 450 milligrams of sodium

KFC

Grilled chicken breast

Ordering a grilled chicken breast by itself may seem strange, but it packs in a lot of protein, and if you pair it with some veggie sides, you can make a full, nutritious meal.

Nutrition info: 210 calories, 7 grams of fat, 0 grams of carbs, 38 grams of protein, 710 milligrams of sodium

Sweet corn

This is the healthiest side option available at KFC (though green beans are a good choice too, if you see them on the menu). You can get the sweet corn in an individual or large size.

Nutrition info: 70 calories, 0.5 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, 0 milligrams of sodium

Subway

Veggie delite on multigrain bread, 6 inches

While the bread in the 6-inch sub may have some processed carbs, this whole grain sandwich is as clean and simple as you can get because it’s all veggies.

Nutrition info: 210 calories, 3 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbs, 10 grams of protein, 370 milligrams of sodium

Grilled chicken No Bready bowl

This is essentially a grilled chicken salad that comes with lettuce, spinach, black olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, green peppers and a healthy portion of grilled chicken.

Nutrition info: 200 calories, 4 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, 35 grams of protein, 480 milligrams of sodium,

In-N-Out

Protein style burger with onion

The beloved West Coast burger joint has one of the best smash burgers in the country. Ordering a hamburger "protein style" ditches the bun and replaces it with lettuce. Skipping the sauce and cheese and adding onions give you some extra vitamins and minerals.

Nutrition info: 240 calories, 17 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbs, 13 grams of protein, 370 milligrams of sodium

Five Guys

Beef burger patty wrapped in lettuce with onion

If you're not able to get your hands on In-N-Out, Five Guys also serves up some tasty smash burgers. Ordering it with lettuce cuts the calories and carbs but still gives you a satisfying bite.

Nutritional info: 316 calories, 17 grams of fat, 3 grams of carbs, 18 grams of protein, 54 milligrams of sodium

McDonald's

Grilled chicken and bacon salad

This salad is surprisingly low in calories for a fast food salad, especially one with bacon. The balsamic dressing only adds 23 calories. Other ingredients include tomato, cucumber and red onion.

Nutrition info: 185 calories, 4.3 grams of fat, 30 grams of protein, 5.2 grams of carbs, 426 milligrams of sodium

Hamburger, no cheese

It's more than OK to indulge in traditional fast food fare once in a while. A regular McDonald's hamburger should satisfy that craving. Skip the cheese to save on calories.

Nutrition info: 251 calories, 8.3 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs, 13 grams of protein, 465 milligrams sodium

Samantha Cassetty, RD

Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, is a nutrition and wellness expert, author and columnist. Her latest book is "Sugar Shock." You can follow Samantha's practical balanced eating advice on Instagram at@nutritionistsam.

Tracey Anne Duncan

Tracey Anne (T) Duncan is an editor and journalist in New Orleans. Their work has appeared in VICE, Broadly, Tonic, Mic, HuffPost and TODAY.com.

Aly Walansky

Aly Walansky is a New York City-based food and lifestyle writer with nearly two decades of writing experience for various digital publications. She's focused on the latest in dining trends and budget meal-planning tips.

Keri Glassman, R.D.

Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, is a renowned nutritionist, healthy cooking expert and wellness thought-leader.She is the founder and CEO of Nutritious Life, a lifestyle and media company devoted to helping individuals discover and live their most nutritious (and happiest!) lives. Follow Keri on Instagram @nutritiouslifeofficial.

These are the 27 healthiest fast food items, according to dietitians and doctors (2024)

FAQs

These are the 27 healthiest fast food items, according to dietitians and doctors? ›

#1: Sonic Drive-In

As if to prove it, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything on Sonic's whole menu that isn't soaked in saturated fat. That's no hyperbole. Over the years, several health investigations reported that Sonic burgers just straight up have more fat than their fast-food competitors.

What is the number 1 unhealthy fast food? ›

#1: Sonic Drive-In

As if to prove it, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything on Sonic's whole menu that isn't soaked in saturated fat. That's no hyperbole. Over the years, several health investigations reported that Sonic burgers just straight up have more fat than their fast-food competitors.

What are 3 recommendations listed for eating healthier at a fast food restaurant? ›

Try to avoid or limit fried and breaded items, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish filets. Instead, opt for turkey, chicken breast, lean ham, or lean roast beef. Many fast food restaurants offer a grilled chicken item, which is often your best bet. Pay attention to the descriptions on the menu.

Is in-n-out the healthiest fast food? ›

In an analysis conducted by Gambling.com, In-N-Out ranked the second in the nation for healthiest cheeseburger, with Whataburger coming in at #1. They claim that through the levels of sugar, fat, salt, and calorie content provided, In-N-Out cheeseburgers are one of the healthiest you can find in the fast food line.

What is the most unhealthy fruit? ›

Raisins, dates, and similar fruits generally contain more carbs, calories, and sugar in one handful than their fresh fruit counterparts. For instance, 150 grams of dried dates contains around 101 grams of sugar and 451 calories.

What to eat instead of fast food? ›

Milk, reduced-fat shredded cheese, eggs, canned tuna, canned beans, peanut butter, lean ground beef patties, chicken, and meatballs. Fresh, frozen, or no-added-salt canned vegetables; fresh and dried fruit; and fruit canned in juice. Quick-cooking grains such as 10-minute brown rice and whole-wheat couscous.

What is the unhealthiest fast food item? ›

Hardee's Fried Chicken 12 Piece and 6 Biscuits tops the list as the unhealthiest fast food item, with an eye-watering 6,490 calories. Founded in 1960, Hardee's is a staple of the American fast food world, known for its Thickburgers, hand-breaded chicken tenders, and indulgent breakfast offerings.

What is the healthiest food to eat when eating out? ›

Thumbs Up: Grilled chicken, chicken fajita pitas, turkey sandwiches, baked chips, or frozen yogurt. Thumbs Down: Jumbo burgers, fried fish sandwiches, fried chicken, tacos, French fries, potato chips, milk shakes, cheese, mayonnaise, bacon.

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