Published:
March 25, 2021
Last Updated:
March 26, 2021

The Fifteen Healthiest Fast Food Items

Here’s a scenario you might be familiar with: You’re on a long trip, maybe even with kids in tow.

Then it hits…hunger.

You know the feeling. The pangs start slowly, but before you know it, you’re full-on hangry with few options aside from the notorious golden arches or other heavy roadside options.

You’ve been working hard to get your well-being on track by making healthier choices and consuming more nutrient-dense foods that are more likely to be found at your local co-op than the truck stop. Needless to say, you’re frustrated and even a bit anxious about how you’ll quell your hunger. A bar won’t cut it or give you the energy you require, but you need to eat something and don’t have time to detour for an option that suits your nutritional needs.

When most of us think of a roadside bite, french fries and burgers come to mind as the love-it-but-hate-it fast food.

Fast food is the epitome of what we deem to be unhealthy, and in many cases, it is. It’s not the food we’d choose to put in our bodies on a regular basis nor the grub that feeds our cells the nutrition we need. But since we’re human, and life happens, it’s important to have options that can fuel us in these moments.

Given this context, “healthy fast food” might seem like quite the oxymoron, but as we continue to see an increased emphasis on personal well-being, fast food restaurants are taking the hint and adding healthier options to their menus. Some newer fast food chains are taking an even more forward-thinking approach by setting their core values around health and wellness.

Whether you’re dining at one of the fast food chains listed below or in your own kitchen, here are a few tips to help you create nutritious meals every time:

  • Add a side salad for an extra dose of vegetables.
  • Look to incorporate healthy fats, which will keep you satisfied longer.
  • Make your plate well-balanced by having protein, fat, and carbs.
  • Watch the sauce – many sauces include hidden sugar and salt!
  • Stick with water, tea, or coffee as your beverage.
  • Eat mindfully. This means no guilt or restriction, but moderation.

For the days when hanger comes on strong and you need to pull off to that roadside stop instead of eating a peaceful, distraction-free meal, we’ve got you covered for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks at some of the most popular fast food chains. We’ve even sourced options for our plant-based friends.

We’re not macro counters, but we needed criteria to evaluate the options, so we looked at total calories, grams of saturated fat and sugar, and how well a food can be eaten on the go. (We used a rating system where 1 means not easily eaten on the go and 5 means it’s perfect for on the go!)

Shake Shack

Shake Shacks aren’t located everywhere, but if you come across one, you’ll know it! Not only does Shake Shack taste delicious, but some of their meat is sourced from animals raised without hormones or antibiotics. Their potato bun is non-GMO, and they have gluten-free options.

1. Breakfast: Egg and Cheese Sandwich

Calories: 370

Saturated fat: 11 grams

Sugar: 5 grams

On the go: 5/5

2. Lunch/Dinner: ’Shroom Burger

Calories: 550

Saturated fat: 12 grams

Sugar: 7 grams

On the go: 5/5

Tip: This option is plant-based, and you can take the extra step to get it wrapped in lettuce to make it gluten-free.

McDonald’s

The restaurant known for its golden arches provides all kinds of nostalgia. It’s probably the most popular and beloved fast food chain out there. Given its popularity, you’ll be sure to find something to satisfy your hunger when you’re in a pinch.

3. Breakfast: Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

Calories: 320

Saturated fat: 1.5 grams

Sugar: 31 grams

On the go: 4/5

Tip: The fiber content is great in oatmeal, but ditch the dried fruit, which adds unnecessary sugar.

4. Lunch/Dinner: McChicken

Calories: 400

Saturated fat: 3.5 grams

Sugar: 5 grams

On the go: 5/5

Tip: While we’re not thrilled about deep-fried options, the chicken is a good source of protein and there’s a layer of lettuce that makes us feel like we’re getting some veggies. Take the extra step by ensuring there’s very little sauce.

5. Snacks: Apple Slices

Calories: 15

Saturated fat: 0 grams

Sugar: 3 grams

On the go: 5/5

Dunkin’

Did someone say avocado toast? Yes, yes, we did. Dunkin’ is officially the trendsetter of the fast food world by putting everyone’s favorite meal on the menu. Dunkin’ has a lot of great options that could be eaten any time of day.

6. Anytime: Avocado Toast

Calories: 240

Saturated fat: 1.5 grams

Sugar: 1 gram

On the go: 3/5

7. Anytime: Veggie Egg White Wake-Up Wrap

Calories: 190

Saturated fat: 4.5 grams

Sugar: 1 gram

On the go: 5/5

Chick-fil-A

If you’ve ever been to Chick-fil-A, you get the hype! We love that they have great, gluten-free options and make the chicken grilled for those of us who aren’t in the mood for the classic, deep-fried version. Plus...wait for it...they have...KALE!

8. Lunch/Dinner: Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Calories: 320

Saturated fat: 1 gram

Sugar: 9 grams

On the go: 5/5

9. Snacks: Grilled Chicken Nuggets (8 count)

Calories: 130

Saturated fat: .5 gram

Sugar: 1 gram

On the go: 3/5

10. Snacks: Kale Crunch Side

Calories: 120

Saturated fat: 1 gram

Sugar: 3 grams

On the go: 1/5

Taco Bell

You don’t have to head south of the border to get Mexican food at Taco Bell! One of the best things about Mexican food is that no matter where you get it, there are many plant-based options.

11. Lunch/Dinner: Power Menu Bowl

Calories: 470

Saturated fat: 6 grams

Sugar: 2 grams

On the go: 1/5

Tip: Make it plant-based with the veggie option.

12. Lunch/Dinner: Bean Burrito

Calories: 350

Saturated fat: 3.5 grams

Sugar: 3 grams

On the go: 4/5

Starbucks

Seattle’s finest and a logo we’d recognize a mile away, Starbucks has plenty of nutritious options. The options may vary by location, but Starbucks is one of the easiest quick hits for healthy fast food.

13. Anytime: Eggs and Cheddar Protein Box

Calories: 470

Saturated fat: 7 grams

Sugar: 21 grams

On the go: 3/5

Tip: Keep it protein heavy by eliminating the small piece of bread.

14. Anytime: Chicken and Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greens

Calories: 420

Saturated fat: 3 grams

Sugar: 11 grams

On the go: 1/5

15. Anytime: Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Wrap

Calories: 290

Saturated fat: 3.5 grams

Sugar: 5 grams

On the go: 5/5

Takeaways

It’s important to note that while these fast food meals are on the healthier side, they’re not superfoods foraged from the earth. They can’t replace the nutritional value of a meal cooked at home with nutrient-dense ingredients and a lot of vitamin L (that stands for love!). However, there can be a time and a place for all kinds of foods when eaten mindfully and in moderation.

If you’re interested in learning how making balanced food choices is part of the larger, holistic health picture, check out the Curriculum Guide for our Health Coach Training Program, an online educational experience where you’ll learn how to create your healthiest, happiest life!

Author Biography
Hailey Miller
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IIN Content Writer

Hailey Miller is a marketer, content creator, and host of the podcast How We'll Live. She completed IIN's Health Coach training program in 2014 and has used her training to inspire to develop content and live a life that embodies a holistic and functional approach to health and wellness.

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