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You need to pick up something to eat — and you need it ASAP. What you don’t need is a side of grease or gloopiness that’ll make you feel like garbage for the rest of the day. Is that too much to ask?
Nope, not at all. Even though fast-food joints are generally nutritional minefields, plenty of spots offer some balanced and satisfying menu items for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Here are 16 grab-and-go options on the healthier end of the fast-food spectrum.
Good news: Your choices go way beyond the typical breakfast sandwich. Many fast-food chains have upped their a.m. game.
Panera Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries, Pecans, and Cinnamon Crunch Topping
Found: A basic bowl of oatmeal that looks a lot like what you might make at home. The oats are loaded with fiber to keep you full, and the pecans offer a shot of protein and healthy fats. You can customize your order with an extra topping of almonds for more protein.
The cinnamon crunch topping makes the overall sugar count a little high, so we’d rec asking for the light amount of topping instead of the standard.
Dunkin’ Veggie Egg White Omelet
Sure, you might still feel like falling asleep during that midmorning Zoom meeting. But it won’t be because of your breakfast if you’ve eaten this sandwich, which tucks protein-packed egg whites, spinach, bell pepper, and cheddar cheese into a seedy multigrain flatbread.
One caveat: Since this sando delivers 24 percent of your daily sodium requirement, take it easy on the salty snacks for the rest of the day.
Chick-Fil-A Greek Yogurt Parfait
TBH, the key to finding a healthy yogurt bowl is getting one without a ton of extras. This one keeps it simple with vanilla Greek yogurt, chopped fresh berries, and a sprinkling of granola.
Would it be lower in sugar if the yogurt were plain? Yes, but that can be tough to find at most fast-food joints. If you want to offset the sweetened yogurt, ask for the granola on the side or skip it altogether.
Jamba Protein Berry Workout Smoothie with Whey Protein
Keepin’ it simple but satisfying — nice. You’ll get a helping of fruit here from the strawberries and banana, plus plenty of protein thanks to soy milk and whey protein. It’s a complete breakfast as is, but add a peanut butter boost if you want a little more oomph.
A good midday meal refuels your tank without weighing you down. And hey! You can actually find that at plenty of fast-food spots — and not just in the form of a BGCS (that’s Basic Grilled Chicken Salad, obvs).
Panera Southwest Chicken Tortilla Soup
Mmm, soup. This broth-based bowl packs loads of Tex-Mex flavor with roasted tomato, poblano peppers, cilantro, and lime. Shredded chicken, black beans, and corn give it some substance to help you stay satisfied. But if you need a little more, you can also add on a fruit cup or a sprouted grain roll.
Au Bon Pain Vegetarian Deluxe Salad
Dare we call this salad… hearty? Yeah, we will. You’ll definitely get your fill of veggies thanks to the field greens, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, cukes, carrots, and red onion. And you’ll finish up feeling full, since it’s also got protein-packed chickpeas and feta plus healthy fats from the kalamata olives and balsamic vinaigrette.
Chick-Fil-A Grilled Cool Wrap
Your standard grilled chicken wrap gets an upgrade with a flaxseed flatbread, shredded jack cheese, crunchy green cabbage, and a reasonable amount of creamy avocado lime ranch dressing. This one’s higher in sodium, so take care to drink lots of water.
Starbucks Egg and Cheese Protein Box
Sometimes you really just want to eat something simple that feels like the kind of thing you might pack for yourself (if you had time). This snack-y box — filled with hard-boiled eggs, sliced apples, grapes, cheese, multigrain muesli bread, and honey peanut butter — fits the bill.
Subway Turkey Breast Sandwich
Most deli sandwiches are loaded with mayo and pitifully low in veggies. Not so with this customizable roasted turkey breast sammie. It’s lower in sodium than most fast-food sandwiches, and you can pack it with as many fresh veggies as you want.
Taco Bell Veggie Power Menu Bowl
Healthy vegetarian option alert! The black beans, rice, guac, and crunchy fresh veggies serve up all the flavors and textures of a taco in a fiber-packed format that’ll keep you satisfied.
Like to sit down to something a little, well, more at the end of the day? These burgers, bowls, and sandwiches are for you. They’ll totes hit the spot when you want something tasty and satisfying but aren’t quite up for a cheesy double bacon monstrosity.
Surprise — this classic is actually a pretty decent choice healthwise when you’re craving a burger. The bun and the 100 percent beef patty are portion-appropriate, the single slice of cheese stays out of heart-attack territory, and the pickle, onion, and mustard toppings are fresh and low cal.
Chipotle Steak Burrito Bowl
Unlike actual burritos, these bowls are big enough to fill you up without making you feel like you have a bag of rocks in your stomach. To max out the goodness while keeping the nutrition in check, opt for add-ins like brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, and salsa.
Note: This bowl delivers a walloping 70 percent or your daily sodium, so maybe don’t make it a daily habit.
Wendy’s Chili and Baked Potato
Spicy beef and bean chili and a steaming-hot spud are a match made in heaven. And they can be a legit healthy choice when you keep the portions in check (opt for a small chili) and be a little choosy with your tater toppings (try the sour cream and chive potato).
Subway Oven-Roasted Chicken Sandwich
Warm oven-roasted chicken breast on a freshly baked bun is yummy and good for you, especially when you load it up with your choice of crunchy fresh veggies.
Burger King Whopper Jr.
Here’s another better-for-you-than-you-thought burger option. The slightly smaller size helps you keep those portions in check.
Taco Bell Fresco Shredded Chicken Soft Taco
Mmmm, tacos. These soft flour tortillas are loaded up with spiced shredded chicken, fresh pico de gallo, and crunchy iceberg lettuce. They’re on the small side, so definitely get two for a filling meal.
You can find a healthy option at virtually any fast-food joint if you know what to look for. “Just because it’s fast food doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy,” says nutrition expert Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat for Dummies. Her favorite pro tips for a better-for-you menu pick:
- Go for baked or grilled over fried. That means grilled chicken instead of breaded strips or a baked potato instead of fries, she says. It’s always gonna save on the calories and fat.
- Be a fiber fanatic. Load up your meal with high fiber options like whole-wheat bread, whole grains, fruits, and veggies whenever you can. “Add a side salad or a bowl of chili to your meal. Or pick the apple slices off the kids’ menu over the french fries,” she says.
- Steer clear of sweetened bevs. Soda and sweetened teas load up your meal with tons of extra calories for zero payoff, so avoid them (or limit them to once in a while, when you’re really in the mood). “Opt for calorie-free drinks like water or unsweetened tea,” Palinski-Wade recommends.
- Don’t stress too much. You don’t have to make every single meal perfect. Dining out should be fun! If something isn’t exactly nutritionist-approved but you’ve got a serious craving, go for it. “Having an occasional treat is fine as long as you balance your meals and snacks throughout the rest of the day and week,” she says.