When you’re trying to eat healthy, obviously one of the best solutions is to prepare all your own food. If you’re cooking things yourself, you know exactly what is going into your meals, you can control things like the sodium and the way they’re prepared, you can cut back on oils and unhealthy fats, and you can tailor your diet to what your body needs.
However, let’s be honest – sometimes, life happens. Sometimes you’ve worked an incredibly long day and just aren’t feeling up to oven roasting an entire chicken. Sometimes you’ve been busy all week and know you’ll get home to an empty fridge. Sometimes you’re on a road trip and the only pit stop options are fast food. And sometimes, to be perfectly frank, you just want a dang burger or something indulgent. You’re a human, not a robot who can exist forever on kale salads and green juices.
When faced with cravings or limited restaurant options, many people decide to throw all caution to the wind and just go for that super sized meal combo topping out at 2,000+ calories – more than many people need in an entire day – because they figure you can’t find anything healthy at a fast food joint anyway.
News flash – you totally can. Now, we’re not going to tell you how getting the salad option with dressing on the side is the best option. You know that. We’re talking about those times when you want something that feels like junk food, but won’t completely derail your healthy eating plan.
We’ve got you covered. Here are 15 fast food items that are oh-so-delicious, will totally satisfy your craving, and aren’t even that bad for you.
15 Vegetarian Burrito Bowl - Chipotle
Sure, you could get a salad at chipotle, but sometimes you don’t want to munch on a pile of lettuce, no matter how delicious the toppings. Burritos are pretty much the worst option on the menu at Chipotle because, not only can those massive burritos pack in a lot of fillings, the flour tortillas themselves also up the calorie count while not really doing anything to help with the nutritional value. Now, Chipotle allows you to customize your option a lot, so here’s just a basic run down – opt for brown rice to get some fiber, get some black beans for protein, toss on those deliciously seasoned fajita vegetables, add in a topping like the roasted chili-corn salsa, and maybe treat yourself to some guacamole for some healthy fats. The total will come in around 400 calories, will actually be pretty nutritious, and will satisfy that Chipotle craving you’ve been battling all week.
14 Barbacoa Tacos - Chipotle
Okay, we get it – sometimes that Chipotle meat smell is just too good and you can’t stomach munching on beans when you could be having delicious, tender meat. We get it. So, if you absolutely need some barbacoa, and something that isn’t a salad, go for the simple barbacoa tacos on soft corn tortillas. Sometimes, when that taco craving hits, you just have to listen. Sure, you could make some beef at home, season it up, and try to make your own version, but to be honest, Chipotle isn’t that terrible for you if you manage to steer clear of the super sized burritos. Just let someone else prepare your barbacoa when you’re having a long day and want a quick meal. Top it with lettuce, cheese, fajita vegetables and tomato salsa and you’ve got a fairly healthy meal, at about 400 calories and 10 grams of fat for a whopping three tacos. We’re not about that snack sized life.
13 Chicken McNuggets - McDonald's
If you’re watching your fat intake, obviously a fried option is going to be less healthy than a grilled option – but you’ve been dutifully eating grilled chicken that you meal prepped all week at home, and it’s been a long week, and you just want some freaking McNuggets. We feel you. Obviously, McDonald’s has some grilled chicken sandwiches that are fairly good choices if you take away things like fatty condiments, but they pack a lot of carbs, and honestly, you can make a grilled chicken sandwich at home. A six piece order of McNuggets comes in at less than 300 calories – 280, to be exact – and has 14 grams of protein, 17 grams of fat, and 16 grams of carbohydrates. The problem is that most people decide to turn things into a combo and add on a sugary soda and big order of fries, and all of a sudden things are over 1,000 calories. If you’re looking for an option that’s lower in carbs and you’ve got a craving for those nuggets, it’s actually not a terrible choice.
12 Fresco Chicken Burrito Supreme - Taco Bell
Taco Bell gets a bit of a bad rap when it comes to healthy options, because they do things like make taco shells out of Doritos and put Cheetos inside an already calorific crunchwrap. The fact that it’s best known as a drunk food spot also doesn’t help things – drunk people tend to want cheese, fat, more cheese, and some cheese sauce to top it all off. However, there are a surprising amount of healthy options at Taco Bell thanks to their Fresco menu. The chicken burrito supreme is substantial enough to satisfy your appetite, and if you go for fresco style (which swaps out the sour cream and cheese and replaces it with more calorie-friendly salsa) it clocks in at 320 calories. It’s still a burrito, so the carbs are a bit higher at around 44 grams, but there’s 15 grams of protein and only 9 grams of fat. Add a little calorie-wise hot sauce and you’ve got yourself a pretty good meal.
11 Protein Style Cheeseburger - In N Out
When it comes to healthy choices at In N Out, you should go for the animal style fries. Just kidding. Put the fries aside, put all the rich sauces aside, and satisfy your craving for a big juicy burger by going protein style. Sure, you can get lower calorie burger options at other restaurants with buns and everything, but they tend to be a bit smaller portions. When you just want a big hunk of greasy, cheesy, burger-y goodness, the protein style cheeseburger with onions is a great choice. It comes in at only 330 calories with 18 grams of protein, 25 grams of fat (I mean, it is a burger with cheese, after all), and only 11 grams of carbs. Is it something you should eat every day? Absolutely not. However, if you find yourself craving In N Out and you don’t want to ruin your healthy eating attempts by getting a loaded burger with animal fries and a shake and all the fixings, it can be a great option.
10 Cheeseburger - McDonald's
With things like the Big Mac on their menu, it can be tough to forget some of McDonalds’ humbler fare – for example, the simple cheeseburger. Sure, it’s not as gigantic as some of the newer sandwiches, with their fancy sauces and double patties and crazy toppings. However, if you’re looking to satisfy a burger craving, it is a phenomenal choice. It comes in at 290 calories with 33 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fat, and 15 grams of protein. The fat is a bit higher than you’d find on the regular hamburger, but come on – you need cheese in your life. Fun fact – it’s lower in calories than many of McDonald’s salads, so next time you find yourself reluctantly ordering a salad because you feel like it’s the only healthy option, just pause and check out the nutritional stats on some of the smaller sandwiches – you’d be pretty surprised.
9 Crunchy Beef Taco Fresco - Taco Bell
Sometimes, there’s certain elements of your menu item that you’re just not willing to give up. You really want a bit of that greasy Taco Bell beef. You want the crunch of the fried taco shell. We get it. So, when you’re just not feeling those healthier burrito options at the Bell, get a fresco style crunchy beef taco. You’ll get all the best parts of the taco, but swapping out the cheese and sour cream for salsa means your entire taco comes in at 140 calories with 18 grams of carbs, 8 grams of protein, and 7 grams of fat. Sure, a single taco might not be enough to satisfy you if you’re absolutely famished, but let’s be serious – you don’t really go to Taco Bell because you want a filling, nutritious meal. This is what you should order when you’re craving that crunchy Taco Bell goodness after a night of low-calorie cocktails.
8 Three piece chicken tenders - A&W
Okay, we hate to break it to you – when it comes to healthy options at A&W, you can’t order the onion rings. We apologize. You also can’t order the monstrous burgers that have like, six patties on them. However, the three-piece chicken tenders is actually a good option. Sure, like many fast food dishes, they’re fairly high in sodium – so you’d better balance them out with low sodium meals the rest of the day. The tenders themselves, though, have only 260 calories and 9 grams of fat – not too bad for something that’s fried! If you pair them with fries that ups the calorie and fat content considerably, and honestly, sometimes you don’t need the full combo – sometimes you just want someone else to cook you some delicious, crispy chicken to make your life easier. And three pieces of chicken somehow feels more satisfying than a mini child’s sized burger.
7 Broccoli Beef - Panda Express
The problem with getting some type of Chinese food at a fast food joint is that it can be tough to judge which of those sauces is truly the worst. Many, such as the sweet and sour sauce, are just packed with sugar, fried, and basically add up to so many calories you may as well just go for the large fries instead. It can be tricky, as a meat and veggie combination seems like a safe bet, but it’s those sauces that’ll get you. However, we have good news – if you’re cool with keeping things classic, the broccoli beef will get you the most bang for your buck. A serving is only 150 calories – about a third as much as a large Pepsi, to put it into perspective. You’ll get that delicious sauce, you’ll get 9 grams of protein, you’ll get 7 grams of fat (in comparison with dishes like the Beijing Beef, which boasts 26 grams of fat), and you’ll get a satisfying meal.
6 Spicy Toasted Wrap - KFC
Sometimes, the KFC commercial comes on, you see that bucket of golden, crispy fried chicken, and you just want it so badly. We get it. However, even if you split it, you always end up eating more than you intended – after all, it comes in a literal bucket – and you’re often tempted to get sides to go along with the chicken, which can bump up the calorie and fat count even more. So, when you’re craving the Colonel’s signature spice blend, the spicy toasted wrap is a great option (or the regular toasted wrap, if you’re averse to a little heat). The wrap contains a piece of crispy KFC chicken, slathered in an indulgent pepper mayonnaise sauce, all wrapped in a flour tortilla (with some lettuce thrown in for good measure). It’s only 280 calories, with 11 grams of protein, 26 carbs, and 15 grams of fat. Sure, it may look a little underwhelming in comparison to the giant bucket of chicken, but trust us – your waistline will thank you.
5 Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich - Carl's Jr
If you’re craving that charbroiled Carl’s Jr taste but don’t quite want to ruin your healthy eating plan with a greasy burger, this is the perfect option. The charbroiled chicken sandwich packs in a ton of flavour, thanks to that charbroiled smokiness. The barbecue sauce means the fat content is a lot lower than the burgers that have mayo and other fatty sauces on them, and there’s even an extra burst of flavour in the honey wheat bun. Overall, the sandwich comes in at 390 calories – not too bad, in comparison with some of the 600, 700, or even more calories that some other fast food sandwiches have – with only 7 grams of fat and a whopping 30 grams of protein. Sure, the carb count is a bit higher at 50 grams, but come on – it’s a sandwich, that’s kind of expected. Overall, this is a great choice for when you want that tangy charbroiled flavour.
4 Small Vanilla Cone - Dairy Queen
The Dairy Queen blizzard is an absolute hazard for anyone who is looking to watch their calories. They seem innocuous enough – after all, it’s just ice cream, blended up, with a few toppings thrown in there. How bad could it be? The answer is very – very, very bad. Some of the larger blizzard sizes have more calories than the burgers on the menu, as do some of the sundaes and crazy treat options. If you find yourself at a Dairy Queen craving a frozen treat, the best option is to keep things really simple with a small vanilla cone. Sure, it may not come slathered in crazy sauces or sprinkled with indulgent toppings, but isn’t that what frozen yogurt is for? A small cone comes in at only 230 calories and 7 grams of fat, so it’s the perfect option when all your friends are getting a Blizzard and you want a little something too.
3 6-Inch Club Sandwich On Whole Wheat - Subway
Subway gives you much more of an opportunity to keep things lighter, since you can literally tell the sandwich artist what you want on your meal, but it can be tough to decide what the right choice is if you don’t want the typical Veggie Delite or turkey breast options. There’s nothing wrong with turkey breast – but sometimes, you want a little bit more without having to go for the heavier options. Enter the Subway club. The club packs three lunch meats – turkey breast, roast beef, and black forest ham – onto one sandwich, giving you 23 grams of protein and a ton of flavour. If you start dousing the sandwich with mayonnaise and cheese, things will obviously veer closer towards the unhealthy end of the spectrum, but if you top your pile of meat with some veggies and a lower calorie dressing or sauce option, your sub should come in at around 310 calories with less than 5 grams of fat. Not too bad!
2 Egg McMuffin - McDonald's
There are a lot of breakfast sandwich options out there, and with many fast food restaurants chasing the healthy crowd by offering egg white options, it can be tough to figure out which choice is the best. If you’re craving a breakfast sandwich, sometimes it’s better to just go with the classics – forget the egg whites, you can make those at home. McDonalds’ iconic McMuffin contains 290 calories, 16 grams of protein (it’s that bacon and egg double whammy), 11 grams of fat, and 29 carbs. Sure, it’s not as healthy as a simple egg white omelette – but you get a bit of fried egg, a bit of cheese, a delicious hit of bacon, and the carb-y goodness of an English muffin. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to prepare a healthy option for at home – just go with something like a smoothie or oatmeal – so when it comes to breakfast on the go, just go for it.
1 Original Glazed Donut - Krispy Kreme
Okay, obviously, a donut is not the healthiest option in the world, and it’s not something you should have for breakfast every single day. However, let’s be honest – sometimes, you just want a freaking donut so, so badly, and you drive past a Krispy Kreme, and that light is on that means fresh, hot donuts are waiting right there… it can be tough to pass up. The good news is that the ‘everything in moderation’ theory applies here. A single original glazed donut has less than 200 calories – 190, to be exact – 11 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein and 21 grams of carbohydrates. Sure, there are healthier options out there – but as far as donuts go, it isn’t too bad. It’s definitely far better than some of the specialty options, the donuts dipped in chocolate and filled with all kinds of calorie-packed creamy fillings. Now, don’t get a dozen and think you’ll be able to just eat one – that’s a recipe for disaster – but satisfy your craving with one perfect donut and you’ll still be fine.
Sources: McDonalds, Subway, Chipotle
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