Skip to main content

Here Are 10 of the Healthiest Things to Order at Fast Food Restaurants

If you ask many people for their opinions on fast food, they’ll tell you that part of the appeal of these dishes come from their indulgence. They’re perfect examples of junk food, both flavorful and familiar. “Is this healthy?” can seem like a beside-the-point question where these drive-thru treats are concerned …

… however, the health argument is hard to make when you consider the convenience factor and the budget-friendly nature of fast food restaurants, which make them regular stops for a great number of Americans. If fast food plays a major role in your diet, then it’s in your best interest to seek out options that offer nutritional value without compromising on flavor. With that in mind, we asked nutritionists, dieticians, and health experts for their favorite healthy fast food items, and this list of 10 dishes represents the best buys out there, both in terms of nutrition and of taste.

Chipotle: Burrito Bowl With Brown Rice, Chicken, and Pinto Beans

chipotle burrito bowl 

When Chipotle first entered the market over a decade ago, it relied heavily on a health-based approach, claiming that its fresh ingredients and “build your own” model yielded nutritionally sound meals to eat on the go. Of course, making careful choices at Chipotle is easier said than done, considering that forearm-sized burritos wrapped in enormous flour tortillas are the brand’s flagship dish. But certified nutritionist and personal trainer Jamie Hickey of Truism Fitness does have a healthy Chipotle-order suggestion for you: “Chipotle can be a healthy option just as long as you nix the sour cream and cheese. A dollop of guacamole is fine, since it’s packed with healthy fats. A burrito bowl with brown rice, chicken, and pinto beans  is a deconstructed version of their burritos that only has 500 calories, 42 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat, 57 grams of carbs, and 705 milligrams of sodium.”

Starbucks: Spinach, Feta, and Cage-Free Egg White Wrap

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Starbucks has taken major steps in recent years to evolve its food menu and to provide a wide range of healthy options, and many of our sources mentioned Starbucks as an especially good place to find quick and nourishing meals. Registered dietician Jordan Lynn Higgins of Turning Tables Nashville gave a particular shout-out to Starbucks’ Spinach, Feta, and Egg White Wrap, saying that “at less than 300 calories, this warm whole-grain wrap provides a whopping 20 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.  Compare it to their Southwest Veggie Wrap at 590 calories, and you’ll see why it makes a good, healthy choice for breakfast.”

Starbucks: Skinny Vanilla Latte 

Image used with permission by copyright holder

There’s no shortage of high-calorie, high-fat, and high-sugar choices on Starbucks’ beverage list, but it’s also easy to find drinks that hit the spot without derailing health goals. One prime example? The Skinny Vanilla Latte, which contains espresso, steamed nonfat milk, and sugar-free vanilla syrup. It’s a favorite of certified nutritionist and QuickQuotes life insurance consultant Melissa Morris, who tells us that “the Skinny Vanilla Latte has sugar-free syrup, skim milk, and coffee. If you like a plain latte without any syrup, that’s even better. The skim milk provides minimal calories with a little protein, calcium, and vitamin D.”

Subway: Oven-Roasted Chicken Sub With 9-Grain Wheat or Honey Oat Bread

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sure, Subway does offer salads, which might be a viable option for those who want to eschew bread products altogether. But let’s be real: Most people aren’t coming to Subway for anything but a sandwich. With that truth in mind, registered dietician Megan Wong of AlgaeCal recommends the following: “Chicken is a healthier option than deli meats, which have been linked to increased risk of certain types of cancer. Choose 9-Grain Wheat or Honey Oat for a higher-fiber, lower-sodium bread. And fill up on as many veggies as you can when choosing toppings, but keep in mind that banana peppers, olives, and pickles will add a lot of sodium. Go easy on the sauces, which can pack on a lot of sodium, sugar, and fat.”

McDonald’s: Egg & Cheese McMuffin Without Bacon 

Image used with permission by copyright holder

From time to time, Mickey D’s will make an effort to introduce “virtuous” items to its burgers-and-fries menu, and they’re not usually welcomed with open arms (any ‘90s kids out there remember the McSalad Shaker?). But one of the most reliably healthy McDonald’s dishes is a longstanding classic. Registered dietician Kristen Carli of Camelback Nutrition and Wellness in Scottsdale, Arizona touts the health benefits of the Egg & Cheese McMuffin, explaining that “[if you remove] the Canadian bacon, you remove a lot of the sodium and saturated fat, which can be harmful to heart health. They use real eggs [for the McMuffins], which are healthy sources of protein.”

Taco Bell: “Power Menu” Bowl With Veggies or Chicken

Image used with permission by copyright holder

With their “Power Menu” Bowls, Taco Bell sought to replicate Chipotle’s successful formula by letting guests customize their orders. According to registered dietician Kasey Hageman of LiveinspiRD, these bowls are a smart move for anyone seeking a healthy meal at Taco Bell. “A healthy option from Taco Bell is their Power Menu Bowl (Veggie or Chicken) minus the avocado sauce with light cheese. You can order any item on Taco Bell’s menu “fresco” style, and they will replace the cheese, creamy sauces, sour cream, and/or guacamole with pico de gallo. Guacamole is a great way to add in some healthy fats. Skipping or limiting the cheese, creamy sauces and sour cream will reduce unhealthy fats and lower the calorie content,” Hageman explains. 

Domino’s: Thin Crust Veggie Pizza 


It’s very possible to include pizza in a healthy eating plan, and many fast food delivery spots offer options like gluten-free crusts and vegetable toppings to make those choices easier. For instance, when ordering from Domino’s, health specialist and CEO Vinay Amin of Eu Natural advises a thin crust and veggie add-ons, which allow you to “get your pizza fix in a healthy way. You can make it even healthier by asking for less cheese or no cheese at all for a pure vegan option. The thin crust also reduces the calories and carbs.”

Panda Express: Broccoli Chicken

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Panda Express may be most famous for its deep-fried Orange Chicken, but the menu includes several healthier options with grilled meats and steamed vegetables. Amin especially likes the Broccoli Chicken dish, telling us that “this healthy and vitamin-rich dish of steamed rice with broccoli and lean chicken” proves both satisfying and energizing. 

Wendy’s: Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad 

Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad 
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Nutrition experts often cast a wary eye on salads served at fast food joints, claiming that these supposedly “healthier” dishes often pack more fat and calories than burgers and fries (thanks to rich, high-sugar dressings and toppings). However, registered dietician Shannon Leininger of LiveWell Nutrition in Las Vegas points out one fast food salad that’s worth ordering from a health perspective: “I like to recommend the Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad from Wendy’s.You can choose a half- or full-size [portion], depending on how hungry you are. This [salad] has all the makings of a balanced meal: vegetables, heart-healthy fats, and protein. The fat and protein will help keep you full, and at only 300 calories for the half-size (including the dressing!), it’s good for those concerned about weight management as well.”

Panera Bread: “You Pick Two” Combo

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Like Chipotle, Panera Bread falls into that nebulous space between “fast food” and “fast casual,” so the company has a vested interest in including healthy items on its menu. Certified nutrition coach Elliot Reimers of Rave Reviews views Panera’s “You Pick Two” combo deal — which allows guests to pick two choices from a selection of half-sandwiches, half-salads, and half-soups, along with a side of chips, baguette, or an apple — as an opportunity to create a balanced and well-rounded meal. “Choosing a high-protein and high-fiber soup like the savory black bean soup and a seasonal greens salad with reduced-fat balsamic vinaigrette will load you up with nutrition-dense ingredients and keep the calories low.  Not only that, but this meal also will not leave you in a drowsy food coma,” Reimers says.

Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin is a freelance food, drink, and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn. She's contributed content to publications…
10 Best Foods From Your Millennial Childhood
bologna and cheese sandwich

If you were growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, the food was fantastically bad. Bowls of sugar for breakfast, lasagna out of the can for dinner, and if you were lucky, cut up hot dogs in your macaroni and cheese. Face it, the food of yesteryear was delicious for all the wrong reasons and today, if you were to come across a bowl of Cookie Crisp or a Kid Cuisine, you know you would take a bite and question everything about your upbringing. Everyone is going to have their favorites and some still exist today at the grocery stores and maybe in your diet, but it goes without saying, growing up a Millennial was something special for the tastebuds.
Chicken Patty

A classic from the cafeteria line, fast food drive-thru, or freezer, the chicken patty was a single, circular chicken nugget. It had the right amount of breading, questionable white chicken composition, and matched with some shredded lettuce and mayo, it was unbeatable. The choice of bun really wasn’t going to highlight the taste quality of the patty and all said and done, as long as you didn’t get third-degree burns from the first bite out of the microwave, the chicken patty was going to offer the same great taste day after day. And when paired with a pile of tater tots, oh lordy was it a complete meal.
Eggs and Soldiers

Read more
10 Destination-Worthy Food Halls Throughout the U.S.
Grand Central Market

If you want to experience a prime sampling of a city’s culinary offerings without putting serious miles on your engine (or your feet) from traipsing from neighborhood to neighborhood, the food hall provides maximum efficiency without sacrificing flavor and overall dining quality. And while food halls have been a consistent presence in American metropolises for decades, the last five years have witnessed an impressive rise in this food-service model, with new and inventive markets specializing in international bites and regional favorites popping up in U.S. cities both large and small. In this list, you’ll find 10 American food halls with enough excellent eats, attractive environs, and city-specific vibes to make them well worth a flight or a road trip.
Chelsea Market
New York, New York

The Big Apple is a veritable hotbed of upscale food halls nowadays, with high-profile versions opening in luxury buildings on the far west side of Manhattan, in quickly gentrifying downtown Brooklyn, and everywhere in between. But in 1997, long before this influx of posh indoor food markets, Chelsea Market arguably pioneered the concept, bringing an array of vendors and eateries together for a community-inspired, laid-back shopping and dining experience. Today, Chelsea Market continues to stand on the forefront of food-hall innovations, providing visitors with everything from an Italian grocer offering housemade pastas and imported ingredients (Buon’Italia) to an impressive kitchen-supplies retailer (Bowery Kitchens) to a lauded street taqueria (Los Tacos No. 1) to a chic but accessible wine bar (Corkbuzz).
Union Market
Washington, D.C.

Read more
How to cook flank steak: The tips and tricks you need
If it isn't already, flank is about to become your new favorite steak
Steak on a cutting board


Increasingly popular flank steak is enjoying its time in the sun, and for good reason. This trending little beef cut is loaded with savory, beefy flavor, a juicy, delectably tender bite, and far fewer calories than its fattier counterparts. The best part? Even with all of the attention this summertime barbecue favorite is getting, it's still one of the more affordable cuts of beef you can buy.

Read more