A breakdown of the best options at your favorite stops
Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1
Sometimes fast food is a fact of life. Traveling, last minute soccer practice, lack of grocery shopping, working overtime, etc. Life happens and our meals are not always perfectly planned out, even in spite of our best efforts.
Most people beat themselves up when they have to eat fast food and treat it as a “cheat meal” or just order whatever sounds good.
There is no harm in doing that every once in awhile, but if you find yourself in the drive-through more often than you would like and you want to find a way to balance fast food with your nutrition goals, I am here for you!
I’ve gone through the menus for 17 popular fast food chains: Arby’s, Burger King, Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Culver’s, Firehouse Subs, Five Guys, Jimmy Johns, KFC, McDonalds, Noodles and Company, Panera, Qdoba, Subway, Taco Bell, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, and Wendy’s.
What did I look for?
- Protein (the more, the better)
- No fried food
- Some veggies
- 500 calories and under (or close to it)
- I usually choose leaner meats (chicken and turkey) when available. Because they have less fat, your protein to calorie ratio is going to be better. Fat has 9 calories per gram (opposed to carbs and protein at 4) so calories from fat add up really quickly.
Disclaimer: in some of the restaurants below, there are other options that are fine that didn’t make it into the blog.
I tried to give some variety, but also my own preferences were a factor here (especially with places that have a lot of similar options; Chipotle, Jimmy Johns, etc.).
I have linked all of the websites and nutrition guides for every restaurant.
- Watch your extras. Most calories counts do not include dressings, extra toppings, sauces, crouton packets, etc.
- Watch your sodium. Sodium was high across the board.
- Stick to water, black coffee (add your own cream), or unsweetened ice tea.
- Have dessert at home. Most dessert options are extremely high in calories. But I’ve highlighted two that aren’t too bad!
Bonus: they are in alphabetical order!
Creamy Mediterranean Chicken Wrap: roast chicken, banana peppers, red onion, green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, tzatziki sauce, artisan wrap. Calories: 550, Fat: 30g, Carbs: 41g, Protein: 32g
Roast Turkey + Swiss Wrap: roast turkey, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, red onion, leaf lettuce, spicy brown honey mustard, mayonnaise, artisan wrap. Calories: 530, Fat: 25g, Carbs: 42g, Protein: 37g
Roast Chicken Salad: roast chicken, pepper bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, green leaf lettuce, iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes. Calories: 250, Fat: 14g, Carbs: 8g, Protein: 25g (dressing not included)
Roast Turkey Gyro: roast turkey, greek seasoning, tzatziki sauce, red onions, tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce, pita. Calories: 470, Fat: 20g, Carbs: 48g, Protein: 25g
Classic Roast Chicken Sandwich: roast chicken, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, star cut bun. Calories: 370, Fat: 16g, Carbs: 35g, Protein: 24g
Side Salad: leaf lettuce, iceberg lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, chopped tomatoes. Calories: 70, Fat: 5g, Carbs: 4g, Protein: 5g (dressing not included)
Bacon, Egg + Cheese Biscuit: Calories: 387.6, Fat: 24.8g, Carbs: 28.5g, Protein: 12.2g
Ham, Egg + Cheese Biscuit: Calories: 370.8g, Fat: 22.5g, Carbs: 28.8g, Protein: 13.1g
Bacon, Egg + Cheese Crossain’wich: Calories: 335.7g, Fat: 18g, Carbs: 30g, Protein: 12.5g
Ham, Egg + Cheese Crossain’wich: Calories: 335g, Fat: 16g, Carbs: 30.8g, Protein: 16g
Breakfast Burrito Jr.: Calories: 374.1g, Fat: 28.8g, Carbs: 27.2g, Protein: 14.6g
Cheeseburger: Calories: 283.4, Fat: 13g, Carbs: 27g, Protein: 15g
Garden Chicken Salad w/Crispy Chicken: Calories: 440g, Fat: 25g, Carbs: 31g, Protein: 25g (Ken’s Lite Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette: Calories: 120, Fat: 8g, Carbs: 14g, Protein: 0g, Sugars: 11g)
Note: not an ounce of grilled chicken in sight here, folks. If you don’t want crispy chicken, add a plain beef patty to your side salad!
Egg White Grill: grilled chicken, multigrain English muffin, egg whites, American cheese. Calories: 290, Fat: 8g, Carbs: 29g, Protein: 26g
Grilled Chicken Sandwich: chicken breast, multi-grain bun, green leaf lettuce, tomato. Calories: 320, Fat: 6g, Carbs: 41g, Protein: 28g
Grilled Cool Wrap: sliced grilled chicken, green leaf lettuce, Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses, flaxseed flour flatbread. Calories: 350, Fat: 13g, Carbs: 29g, Protein: 42g. *Note: the Avocado Lime Dressing is an additional 310 calories
Grilled Nuggets (12 piece): grilled chicken. Calories: 200, Fat: 4.5g, Carbs: 2g, Protein: 38g
Sauces: Zesty Buffalo (25 cals), Honey Mustard (45 cals), BBQ (45 cals), Honey Roasted BBQ sauce (60 cals), Chick-fil-A sauce and Garden Herb Ranch (140 cals each)
Important note: Chipotle’s website has an excellent feature that lets you build your meal and gives you full macros and calories, based on what you pick. It updates in real time as you add items so that you can make changes and adjust to stay within a certain calorie range or macro range. Highly recommend!
Chicken Burrito Bowl: chicken, brown rice, black beans, fresh tomato salsa, lettuce. Calories: 550, Fat: 14.5g, Carbs: 63g, Protein: 44g
Steak Burrito Bowl: steak, black beans, tomato salsa, lettuce, guacamole. Calories: 540, Fat: 29.5g, Carbs: 36g, Protein: 31g
Salad with chicken: lettuce blend, chicken, black beans, fresh tomato salsa, monterey jack cheese. Calories: 460, Fat: 16.5g, Carbs: 30g, Protein: 47g
Salad with steak: lettuce blend, steak, black beans, fajita vegetables, sour cream. Calories: 425, Fat: 16.5g, Carbs: 33g, Protein: 33g
Lifestyle bowls: Chipotle also offers bowls specifically for Keto, Whole30, Paleo, Vegan, and Vegetarian. All of these are fine, but the Paleo bowl comes in with the least amount of calories at 460. The vegan is 600 calories and the vegetarian is 630.
Grilled Chicken Sandwich: grilled chicken breast, hoagie bun, shredded lettuce, tomato, dill pickles. Calories: 390, Fat: 7g, Carbs: 40g, Protein: 41g
Steamed broccoli (side): 40 cals
Side Salad (side): lettuce blend, cucumber, shredded cheddar cheese, grape tomatoes, croutons: 50 cals
Chicken Cashew Salad with Grilled Chicken: lettuce blend, grilled chicken breast, shredded cheddar cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, cashews. Calories: 450, Fat: 24g, Carbs: 13g, Protein: 46g
Garden Fresco Salad with Grilled Chicken: lettuce blend, grilled chicken breast, cucumber, shredded cheddar cheese, grape tomatoes, croutons. Calories: 350, Fat: 13g, Carbs: 15g, Protein: 44g.
Just for fun:
Chocolate custard (1 scoop in a dish): Calories: 280, Fat: 14g, Carbs: 35g, Sugar: 29g, Protein: 6g
And in case you were wondering, those cheese curds dropped straight from heaven are 510 calories for a regular and 1020 calories for a large order. This does not include dipping sauce.
Hook and Ladder Salad®: Smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham, romaine, tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, mozzarella, pepperoncini, and dressing. Calories: 370, Fat: 22g, Carbs: 23g, Protein: 30g
Firehouse Chopped Salad with Grilled Chicken: lettuce, mozzarella, oven-roasted chicken, green pepper, cucumber, pepperoncini, tomato, light Italian dressing. Calories: 460 Fat: 19g, Carbs: 16g, Protein: 57g
Turkey Sub (small): white sub roll, turkey breast, provolone, lettuce, onion, tomato, mayo, spicy mustard, dill pickle spear. Calories: 340, Fat: 17g, Carbs: 30g, Protein: 18g
Veggie Sandwich: grilled onions, mushrooms, green peppers, lettuce, tomato, bun. Calories: 280, Fat: 15g, Carbs: 60g, Protein: 7g? (protein not listed, but the full nutrition list states the bun has 7g of protein and the veggies have none)
All normal sized burgers and cheeseburgers range from 840-1060 calories each.
All “little” sized burgers and cheeseburgers range from 540-690 calories each. Little means they have one burger patty instead of two.
All dogs range from 520-670 for a single hot dog.
Note: calories easy to find, but no calculator that I could find for a specific order. PDF does have full nutrition information for all menu items.
Unwich: lettuce wrap instead of bread.
Slim #3: Tuna Salad: unwich: Calories: 260, Fat: 20g, Carbs: 5g, Protein: 11g
Slim #4: Turkey: unwich: Calories: 70, Fat: 0.5g, Carbs: 2g, Protein: 14g
#4: Turkey Tom: turkey, lettuce, tomato, mayo: Unwich: Calories: 240, Fat: 17g, Carbs: 4g, Protein: 14g. French bread: Calories: 530, Fat: 19g, Carbs: 58, Protein: 25g
#6: Veggie: provolone, avocado, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, mayo. Unwich: Calories: 440, Fat: 37g, Carbs: 6g, Protein: 18g
Chips: 290-300 depending on variety. Thinny Chips are 260. None of them are worth the calories, although they are delicious.
Honey BBQ Chicken Sandwich: bun, honey BBQ shredded chicken. Calories: 350, Fat: 3.5g, Carbs: 55g, Protein: 24g
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Breast: Calories: 210, Fat: 7g, Carbs: 0g, Protein: 38g
Caesar Side Salad: (dressing not included) lettuce, parmesan. Calories: 40, Fat: 2g, Carbs: 2g, Protein: 3g
(could add the grilled chicken breast to the caesar salad or the side salad)
Note: website was missing a lot of the menu when it came to the breakdown. PDF and other web sources were contradicting each other. Not user friendly at all.
Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken: lettuce blend, grilled chicken, corn, black beans, tomatoes, poblano peppers, cheese blend, tortilla strips, cilantro, lime wedge. Calories: 320, Fat: 9g, Carbs: 30g, Protein: 30g. (if adding the creamy Southwest Dressing, add 100 calories, 6g fat, 11 carbs)
Grilled Chicken Sandwich: bun, grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, mayo (?). Calories: 360, Fat: 9g, Carbs: 41g, Protein: 27g
Noodles and Company
Zucchini Rosa with Grilled Chicken: (size: regular) zucchini noodles, grilled chicken, spicy tomato cream sauce, mushrooms, tomato, spinach, parmesan. Calories: 440, Fat: 22g, Carbs: 23g, Protein: 38g
The Med Salad w/Chicken: (size: regular) grilled chicken, romaine, mixed greens, tomato, cucumber, red onion, kalamata olives, cavatappi pasta, spicy yogurt dressing, feta. Calories: 390, Fat: 16g, Carbs: 33g, Protein: 30g
Japanese Pan Noodles with grilled chicken: (size: small) udon noodles, grilled chicken, mushrooms, sesame seeds, broccoli, carrots, cilantro, Japanese pan sauce. Calories: 470, Fat: 10g, Carbs: 57g, Protein: 37g
Grilled Orange Chicken Lo Mein: (size: small) cabbage blend, black sesame seeds, cilantro, green onion, grilled chicken, lo mein noodles, orange sauce, snap peas. Calories: 490, Fat: 16g, Carbs: 53, Protein: 33g
Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken: romaine, chicken, mandarin oranges, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, poppyseed dressing, toasted pecans. Calories: 360, Fat: 14g, Carbs: 34g, Protein: 29g
Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken: mixed greens, chicken, cilantro, almonds, sesame seeds, wonton strips, Asian sesame vinaigrette. Calories: 430, Fat: 22g, Carbs: 28g, Protein: 33g
Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich: tomato basil bread, peppers, feta, cucumbers, greens, tomatoes, red onions, hummus, salt and pepper. Calories: 470, Fat: 13g, Carbs: 68g, Protein: 18g. (This sandwich is delicious and one of my very favorite meals. So good!)
Southwest Chicken Tortilla Soup (bowl): tomato and chili broth, chicken, masa, corn, poblano peppers, black beans, hominy, lime, cilantro, masa crisps. Calories: 250, Fat: 8g, Carbs: 32g, Protein: 14g
Burrito bowl: brown rice, chicken, black beans, pico de gallo. Calories: 490, Fat: 11g, Carbs: 66g, Protein: 35g
- brown or white rice doesn’t make a huge difference. Neither does the type of beans.
- To keep carbs lower, either do a burrito bowl or don’t put rice inside your burrito.
- Queso, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole are high in calories so use sparingly.
- The taco salad is a good option, without the fried tortilla bowl. Of course I can’t find it now, but the last time I calculated it for myself it was around 450-500 calories.
Website for macros I used is here. (Not sure if this is accurate or not.)
6-inch Turkey Breast on 9-grain wheat: provolone, green peppers, cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes, light mayo. Calories: 350, Fat: 12g, Carbs: 41g, Protein: 24g
6-inch Oven-Roasted Chicken in Spinach Wrap: (no cheese) green peppers, cucumber, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, vinaigrette. Calories: 420, Fat: 13g, Carbs: 53g, Protein: 24g
Best options: 9-grain whole wheat (or a chopped salad), chicken or turkey, any fresh veggies (lettuce, spinach, tomato, green pepper, cucumber) with either light mayo, mustard, oil and vinegar, Subway® Vinaigrette, or sweet onion sauce.
Nutrition information here. Note: if you click on a specific type of sub, it will let you customize it and then update the full nutrition profile based on what you add to it.
Power Menu Bowl: grilled chicken, black beans, seasoned rice, cheddar cheese, guacamole, lettuce, pico de gallo, reduced-fat sour cream, avocado ranch sauce. Calories: 470, Fat: 19g, Carbs: 50g, Protein: 26g
Fresco Burrito Supreme® Chicken: grilled chicken, refried beans, lettuce, onions, pico de gallo, tomatoes, red sauce, flour tortilla. Calories: 320, Fat: 7g, Carbs: 48g, Protein:17g
Fresco Soft Taco: flour tortilla, chicken, lettuce, pico de gallo. Calories: 150g, Fat: 6g, Carbs: 16g, Protein: 9g
Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Note: Most smoothies have between 77-132g of sugar. Triple Berry Oat has 56g and the Detox Island Green has 29g. For comparison, 53g per day is the recommended limit. While one could argue that this is mostly coming from fresh fruit, keep in mind they may use syrups, and even on the off chance they are blending everything fresh, you are removing most of the fiber. Which is why fresh, whole fruit is always better.
Baja Chicken Bowl: grilled chicken, rice, black beans, avocado, romaine, pickled red onion, cheddar, roasted tomato salsa. Calories: 470, Fat: 21g, Carbs: 37g, Protein: 33g
Thai Chicken Bowl: grilled chicken, carrots, sesame seeds, wontons, cilantro, scallions, romaine, Thai peanut sauce. Calories: 380, Fat: 13g, Carbs: 40g, Protein: 26g. (Thai Chicken Wrap is also a good option with 500 calories, 15g, of fat, 62g carbs, and 30g of protein)
Chicken Pesto Flatbread: grilled chicken, tomatoes, shredded parmesan, mozzarella, pesto. Calories: 430, Fat: 16g, Carbs: 43g, Protein: 28g
Grilled Chicken Sandwich: bun, grilled chicken, honey mustard, spring mix, tomato. Calories: 370, Fat: 10g, Carbs: 36g, Protein: 34g
Summer Strawberry Salad: lettuce blend, grilled chicken breast, cheese blend, bacon, strawberries, candied almonds, vinaigrette. (dressing included) Calories: 470, Fat: 24g, Carbs: 24g, Protein: 45g
Grilled BBQ Chicken Sandwich: grilled chicken breast, crispy onion, muenster cheese, pickles, BBQ sauce. Calories: 520, Fat: 18g, Carbs: 49g, Protein: 39g
Chili (small): Calories: 240, Fat: 11g, Carbs: 21g, Protein: 16g
Jr. Frosty: Calories: 200, Fat: 5g, Carbs: 33g, Sugar: 27g, Protein: 6g
And that’s a wrap, folks! I hope this makes eating out a little bit easier!
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