This Franchise Chatter guide on the McDonald’s menu was written by Laurie Swenson.
How hungry are you? McChicken hungry, Filet-O-Fish hungry, Quarter Pounder With Cheese hungry, or Big Mac hungry? This handy guide will help you match sandwiches from the McDonald’s menu to the size of your appetite.
Level 1: ‘I Could Stand a Bite to Eat’
On this level, food is nice but not imperative. If you were at work, you’d grab some Cheetos from the vending machine to hold you for a while before supper. But maybe you’re passing by McDonald’s and realize you’re just a little bit hungry. Small bites at McDonald’s can satisfy your hunger while also being easy on your wallet.
The classic McDonald’s Hamburger or Cheeseburger is where it all started — that simple little burger (and slice of cheese, for the cheeseburger) on a plain bun, with ketchup, mustard, pickle and onions (any of which can be held, if you’re willing to wait a minute). Smaller than the burger you’d make at home, this is a decent size for a snack. If you’re a little hungrier, go for two. The hamburger is 240 calories, the cheeseburger 290; neither makes a big dent in your diet.
A bit more burger, the McDouble’s second patty makes it that much more filling than the regular cheeseburger. The difference between the McDouble and the Double Cheeseburger is simple: the Double Cheeseburger adds another slice of cheese. If you like the joys of extra cheese, go for the Double Cheeseburger; if you’re cutting calories or like to taste more burger than cheese, opt for the McDouble, which has 380 calories, compared to the Double Cheeseburger’s 430.
Another modestly-sized sandwich, the McChicken’s famous patty of crispy chicken is topped with mayo and shredded lettuce. It’s perfect for the tiny appetite, and it weighs in at 370 calories. It comes with a lot of mayo for such a small sandwich, so you may want to ask your server to halve the amount (or just scrape some off yourself) so you can better taste the chicken.
A salad probably isn’t the first choice for most people eating in fast-food restaurants, but it’s a good option when you’re just looking for a bite to eat. The McDonald’s Side Salad has only 20 calories, but watch out for the Newman’s Own salad dressing – ranch is 170 calories, creamy southwest is 100, and low-fat Italian dressing is 50.
Experts say, though, that salad vegetables and high-fat dressing are actually a good combination, because the fat helps the body absorb nutrients in the vegetables, so many health-conscious people are ditching the low-fat dressings.
Chicken McNuggets, 4- or 6-Piece
Who can pass up a McNugget? These crunchy gems of crispy-fried white-meat chicken are easy to munch on. A four-piece pack is perfect for a mini-appetite and comes in at only 190 calories. You can order one or two sauces at no extra charge.
The Snack Wrap is perfect for the drive-through and easy to eat without too much attention. The only difficult part is which to choose, with three chicken varieties and one beef Snack Wrap. These one-hand meals range from 260-280 calories with grilled chicken and from 340-450 calories for crispy chicken or beef.
Level 2: ‘I’m a Little Hungry’
At this level, you legitimately want something to eat. It’s not the end of the world if you have to wait a bit, but you’d rather have something sooner than later.
McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish is a step up from the McChicken in terms of size and ability to fill you up. It’s still a simple little sandwich, but the pollock filet is a bit more substantial than the chicken patty, and it adds a slice of cheese. The steamed bun tops everything off perfectly.
The 390-calorie sandwich — the first non-hamburger item on the McDonald’s menu — dates back to 1962, when McDonald’s franchise owner Lou Groen of Cincinnati, Ohio, created it for his Catholic customers who did not eat meat on Fridays. Even today, the Filet-O-Fish is popular during the religious observance of Lent.
The Filet-O-Fish literally won its place on the menu, competing against the Hula burger, a sandwich of grilled pineapple and cheese on a cold bun promoted by McDonald’s company owner Ray Kroc. That doesn’t sound like a fair fight.
McChicken or McDouble? Why Not Both?
Customers often order both a McChicken and a McDouble, because they’re hungry enough to eat a larger sandwich but they can’t decide whether they want hamburger or chicken. Two small sandwiches with much different flavors means they don’t have to decide.
Premium Salads (Without Chicken)
The Premium Salads have a lot more oomph and flavor than a side salad. The rather complex list of ingredients and sauces makes these a good deal, considering what it would cost you to buy all the makings for one of these salads at home. They have 140 calories each, before dressing. For salads with chicken, see the “I’m Hungry” level.
Level 3: ‘I’m Hungry’
Here we go. This is normal hungry. You’re ready to eat, and you want to eat now. You actually feel hunger pangs at this point, and food will taste delicious. And yes, you probably want fries with that.
Premium Salads (With Chicken)
The addition of grilled or crispy chicken to the Premium Salads makes them perfect for a bigger appetite. These salads range from 340 calories to 450 calories, before the addition of dressing. A crispy-chicken salad could easily contain more calories than a Big Mac.
Chicken McNuggets, 10-Piece
You’ll get up to three sauces free with the 10-piece Chicken McNugget order, which should calm your hunger pangs nicely. You may as well designate three sauces per three McNuggets, since someone is probably going to ask to eat just one, since you have so many, and that would leave you with an easy-to-divide nine tasty morsels.
For a big step up from the Snack Wrap, try a Premium McWrap, with either grilled or crispy chicken. These wraps feature premium chicken breast fillets and pack more ingredients into larger flour tortillas. They also come with more complex, richer sauces and are MUCH more filling than a Snack Wrap. Calories range from 380-670.
Quarter Pounder With Cheese
The classic Quarter Pounder With Cheese, the Big Mac’s only slightly less popular (and more basic) cousin, could be just the thing for your basic appetite with its quarter-pound beef patty and twin slices of cheese. If you’re not a fan of the Big Mac’s special sauce, the Quarter Pounder With Cheese just may be your go-to burger. It’s nothing fancy, just a good burger.
The McRib, which semi-regularly rotates back onto the menu as a fan favorite, features a generous slab of pork meat topped with barbecue sauce, onions and pickles and served on a hoagie bun.
The McRib’s 1981 debut was actually caused by the introduction of the wildly popular Chicken McNuggets. Rene Arend, McDonald’s first executive chef and the creator of the McNuggets, designed the McRib so McDonald’s could make up for the shortage of chicken.
It was removed in 1985 because of poor sales, but later began to return sporadically, eventually tending to pop up on menus in the fall. It does best in Germany, where it’s on the menu all year.
Level 4: ‘I Want the Whole McDonald’s Menu’
You’re really hungry. You need to get some food in your belly. Your body needs fuel. You’re running on fumes. Anything smaller than these offerings just won’t cut it. You need something more. Something bigger.
The one-and-only Big Mac is the appetite fix from way back, the one they wrote a song about. Many people who were around back then can still recite the tune that begins with “Two all-beef patties” and ends with “on a sesame-seed bun.”
Did you know the Big Mac could have been known as the Aristocrat? It was the iconic sandwich’s initial name. It didn’t go over well, so the name Blue Ribbon Burger was introduced. Better, but it sounds like a bar burger that should be served with Pabst. The third time was the charm as they finally got the name right, thanks to 21-year-old Esther Glickstein Rose, an advertising secretary at the company’s corporate headquarters.
You might expect more calories from this classic, but at 540 calories, several sandwiches rank higher. Its special sauce is similar to Thousand Island dressing.
Bacon Clubhouse Burger
Here’s a tall order: The Bacon Clubhouse Burger, coming in at 720 calories, stacks thick smoked bacon, caramelized grilled onions, a slice of white cheddar cheese, a layer of leaf lettuce and a slice of tomato, topped with Big Mac special sauce, all served on an artisan roll.
Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese
The Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese packs a big punch, which you’d expect from a sandwich with 740 calories. Two quarter-pound beef patties, two slices of cheese, onions and pickles reside on a sesame-seed bun. It’s a simply big burger for a simply big appetite, assuming you can get your bite around it. It also gives you a gigantic protein fix with its whopping 47 grams.
Premium Grilled (or Crispy) Chicken Bacon Clubhouse Sandwich
This is McDonald’s biggest chicken sandwich. It packs a grilled or crispy chicken breast fillet, thick smoked bacon, caramelized grilled onions, white cheddar cheese, leaf lettuce and fresh tomato on an artisan roll, topped with Big Mac special sauce.
The crispy chicken version is the sandwich with the most calories on the menu; its 750 calories just edge out the Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese (it also has the highest sodium of any sandwich at 1,720 mg, which you can blame on the bacon). Choose grilled chicken to cut the calories to 590.
Chicken McNuggets, 20-Piece
Twenty Chicken McNuggets sounds heavenly when you’re famished. If you can’t eat them all yourself, there will always be someone to help. And you can mix up the sauces, with four available without additional charge.
You’re probably not counting calories if you order 20 McNuggets, but you’ll be up to 940, with 1,800 mg of sodium. That’s three-quarters of the sodium recommended for the entire day. It might be a good idea to skip the fries at this point.
Fries With That?
The hungrier you are, the more likely you are to have a combo meal rather than a large sandwich (although some people choose to have a second small sandwich instead of fries, since it’s pretty much a wash, calorie-wise). An order of fries and a drink will nicely round out your meal.
If you want lighter fare, grab a side salad or apple slices. And if you really want fries but want to cut calories, McDonald’s has a kid-sized order of fries at just 110 calories (compared to 230 for small, 340 for medium and 510 for large).
What About Dessert?
No matter how hungry you are, dessert may seem like a better idea before you start eating, so wait until you’re done with your meal to decide. By the time you’re done, if you’re not already stuffed, you’ll know whether you’re up for a small dessert like a cone, sundae, cookies or Baked Apple Pie, or something larger like a McFlurry or a McCafe Shake.
Keep in mind that if you want a seasonal specialty shake, they’re only available for a limited time, so you may want to save room if a favorite flavor, such as the Shamrock Shake, is up for grabs.
Sweets top out at 850 calories for the large chocolate McCafe Shake, while a Fruit & Yogurt Parfait is just 150 calories and Gogurt is 50 calories.
Something for Everyone
There’s something at McDonald’s for just about any appetite, whether you’re up for a snack or a five-course meal, and for just about any price range. For just a dollar or two, you can get a cheap serving of protein: 12 grams in a Snack Wrap, 14 in a McChicken, 15 in a Cheeseburger, 22 in a McDouble, and 24 in a Double Cheeseburger. A hefty appetite and money to burn can bring you a meal that provides enough protein, calories and sodium for the entire day.
Regardless of what you end up choosing from the McDonald’s menu, you have the opportunity to study the full nutrition menu and learn just what you’re eating so you can make an informed choice while considering your appetite, your diet and your budget.