Healthy eating isn’t just a trend – it’s here to stay. And if you think fast-food restaurants aren’t a good place to start, you haven’t been paying attention.
As diners increasingly seek better choices for weight loss and healthy diets, fast-food places are responding. Not only are these restaurants offering menu items with lower calories, less fat and fewer carbohydrates, they’re addressing gluten sensitivities, providing more choices to vegetarians, and sourcing better ingredients, such as grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs, to make healthy fast food available to diners. With some wise choices, fast food can be a tasty and healthy part of your good diet.
With that in mind, we’re exploring some fast-food menus to see what stands out as some of the healthiest fast food menu items for your wellness journey. Hope this makes you hungry!
Try These Healthy Fast Food Burgers
1. Lettuce Wrap, Elevation Burger
Elevation Burger, which uses organic, free-range, grass-fed beef and sells veggie and vegan burgers, offers most of its burgers wrapped in lettuce as well as on a bun. This cuts not only calories, but carbs as well.
Drop from 510 calories to 370 for a double Elevation Burger or from 330 to 190 for a single patty. The Veggie Burger is 300 calories or 160 wrapped in lettuce, while the Vegan Burger is 320 calories or 180 with the lettuce wrap. (If you can’t decide, you can get a Half-the-Guilt Burger with a beef patty and a veggie or vegan patty.)
Getting your sandwich in a lettuce wrap requires at least a little buy-in; we’re so ingrained that a burger goes in a bun that I think a lot of us don’t really know what to do when our holder is made of plant leaves. But it’s something one could get used to when making healthy fast food choices.
2. Whopper (w/o Mayo), Burger King
If you look at the nutrition info on the Burger King website, the Whopper is listed at 630 calories, which is substantial, but the next line lists the burger “w/o Mayo,” at 470 calories – not bad for this burger. I think of mayo as an indulgence on a burger, and I like it, but it’s tough to justify a 160-calorie difference, not to mention fat and cholesterol. I’m thinking mustard.
Unfortunately, I recently ordered a Whopper w/o Mayo and neglected to say I wanted it w/o ketchup as well. It was swimming in the red stuff, which I don’t like in the first place. My disappointment won’t keep me from my next Whopper, though; I need to erase the ketchup experience by ordering a ketchup-free burger.
The Whopper is a really satisfying burger, nice and juicy, with good basic presentation and a nicely formed ground beef patty. I find the whole thing more substantial than the Big Mac, its more popular but breadier cousin.
3. Double Original Butterburger, Culver’s
The Original Butterburger at Culver’s is still a simple choice: hamburger, a buttered Kaiser bun, and a dill pickle. A two-patty Double Butterburger has 560 calories and provides 28g of protein with only 670mg of sodium (the single has 390 calories, 20g of protein and 570mg of sodium).
I looked for burgers that were less than 600 calories and had less than 1,000mg of sodium, and the single and double Butterburgers delivered. BUT … as you can see if you look at the Culver’s menu, the Original Butterburger doesn’t come with cheese.
If you add two slices of cheese to a double, that adds 140 calories for a total of 700, and the sodium drifts close to that 1,000mg mark at 920. If you choose a single patty and one slice of cheese, you’ll be at just 460 calories and 695g of sodium.
So if you really want to count calories and sodium, I’d recommend a Double Original Butterburger, a Single Original Butterburger or a Single Butterburger Cheese, and add lettuce, tomato and onion.
Chicken Offers Healthy Fast Food Options
1. Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich, McDonald’s
If you’re counting calories, this sandwich comes in at 380 calories with only 6g of fat while providing 37g of protein. You’ll get a grilled seasoned chicken filet on a sturdy brioche-type roll, topped with lettuce, tomato, vinaigrette sauce and herb seasoning. If you’re counting cholesterol, you’ll also get 95mg there, but you can work around that by just being aware of the total cholesterol you consume that day.
Diners are looking for healthy fast food places, and artisan menu items are a popular trend among these health-conscious individuals who are concerned with fast food nutrition. But can anything made by a fast-food giant like McDonald’s be truly artisanal?
“Artisan” generally refers to a person or company creating something simple in small batches using traditional ingredients. Artisanal food generally refers to these methods. In any case, I think it’s more about the presentation, and this is a prettier and moister sandwich than the chain’s other chicken sandwiches.
2. Grilled Chicken Meal, KFC
I was astounded to see that you could get a chicken breast, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and corn on the cob for just 390 calories. This meal has 37g of protein and is low in fat at 11g (3g saturated fat).
Sodium, at 1,390mg, seems high, but that’s for four menu items at a fast-food restaurant. If you ordered Original or Extra Crispy chicken, you’d be getting much higher levels of sodium just for the chicken: 870mg for Extra Crispy and 1,100 for Original or Spicy Crispy, compared to 630 for the Grilled Chicken.
Of the 39g of carbs, it’s all from the sides, so you have plenty to play around with, as all three sides are starchy (although green beans only add 4g of carbs and 25 calories). On the other hand, the other three chicken recipes add 9-11g of carbs, so KFC’s Grilled Chicken is a pretty awesome choice for those looking for lower calories, sodium and carbs.
3. Fresco Soft Taco – Shredded Chicken, Taco Bell
The Taco Bell Fresco menu has seven signature Fresco items (tacos and burritos), each with 350 or fewer calories and less than 10g of fat. The lowest in calories are the tacos, which range from 140 to 160 calories, low enough that you could easily grab two without feeling guilty.
The healthiest choice here is the Fresco Soft Taco – Shredded Chicken, which has 140 calories, 30 from fat, and 10g of protein. Total fat is 3.5g (1g saturated). The Fresco Soft Tacos also come in beef and steak varieties, with similar numbers.
The Fresco Crunchy Taco – Beef boats a low of 300mg of sodium, so if your focus is on lowering your salt intake, this might be your taco of choice.
And the entire Fresco taco menu is low in carbs (13-18g) compared to the burritos (both chicken and steak burritos have 48g of carbs).
Go Fishing for Good Fast Food
1. Filet-O-Fish, McDonald’s
While not as iconic as the Big Mac, the Filet-O-Fish is a simple but delicious McDonald’s classic and a lighter choice at 390 calories. Drop the tartar sauce to save 90 calories or scrape off half to save 45 calories. I like to leave a thin layer to avoid dryness. I can take or leave the half-slice of cheese, which only saves 30 calories if you remove it.
Note: I also scrape off at least half the mayonnaise dressing (what is mayonnaise dressing? I thought it was just mayo!) on the 350-calorie McChicken, which for years was my go-to item because it was cheap and quick (I used to drive past a McDonald’s on my way to work).
Although the dressing on the McChicken only adds 40 calories and 5g of fat, it’s usually an overwhelming amount. The tartar sauce on the Filet-O-Fish can be overkill, too.
And I have to wonder if it’s measured out or if the workers just plop the dressing on and spread it out; I’m told that the mayo is relatively uniform because they use a mayo gun, but I don’t know about tartar sauce, which seems like it would be trickier.
2. North Atlantic Cod Filet Sandwich, Culver’s
For 600 calories, you can get a hand-cut, hand-battered fried filet on a buttered hoagie bun with shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce and pickle, and gain 26g of protein.
Again, I’m looking at the tartar sauce, which adds 115 calories and 12g of the sandwich’s 33g of fat. I’d probably scrape off all but a bit of the tartar sauce, which would drop this down to around 500 calories and cut around 100mg of the 835mg of sodium.
Culver’s does note that the tartar sauce is a Culver’s family recipe with olives, capers and sweet relish, so you might want to give it a try to see how much of a priority you find it (mediocre tartar sauce is easy to dispense with, but if we’re talking family recipe, I’m going to want to try that).
If you’re counting carbs and you’re willing to eat an open-faced sandwich, you could get rid of around 20mg of the 50mg of carbs) by removing the top part of the bun, which also removes 105 calories. I’m not sure I’d like to eat a fish sandwich open-faced, though, especially if it has tartar sauce.
3. A Taco Called Wanda, Moe’s Southwest Grill
This is perhaps my favorite menu category, in part because fish tacos are amazing, but also in part because I can’t find them just anywhere. Whenever they’re on a menu, I have to try them, and there are so many varieties with different kinds of fish.
A basic Taco Called Wanda, on a soft shell, at Moe’s Southwest Grill contains grilled tilapia, fresh pico de gallo, Southwest-style slaw, cilantro and a touch of lime, with chipotle ranch dressing. If you get it on a soft taco shell, it’s around 325 calories. You can add more ingredients, or you can start from scratch.
The website lets you build your own taco from the shell up. When I tried out the feature, I dropped the slaw and added shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions and grilled peppers and onions from the many available choices. Calories were at 344 and still only 429mg of sodium.
To make a heftier taco, I’d add seasoned rice and/or black beans (or just make a vegetarian taco starring those ingredients); with my configuration, adding either of these bumped the calorie count up to around 400; with both, the calories totaled 459.
Creative Sandwiches Provide Healthy Picks
1. Turkey Breast Sub, Subway
While I sometimes pick fancier subs, this is my go-to variety. It’s so basic and familiar. And it’s super-low in calories – while the sandwich is listed at 280 for a basic 6-inch sub, that doesn’t include the cheese. With cheese, it’s 320-340.
Most added veggies won’t stack up the calories, but your choice of sauce could. Regular mayo adds 110 calories; consider light mayo at 50 calories or mustard for only 10! It’s tough to give up the mayo on a sub, though, I know.
This sandwich is on Subway’s Fresh Fit menu of subs under 370 calories; the only sub lower in calories is the Veggie Delite, which is listed at 230 calories before adding cheese and sauce.
All of that said, the sticking point here, in addition to the mayo, might be how cheap it is to get a foot-long sub. If you do this, take a buddy with you and share. You’ll both save money with no extra calories. If you’re on your own and budgeting for leftovers, get a foot-long and ask for the sauce on the side; otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy, dismal sandwich.
2. Veggie Sandwich, Five Guys Burgers and Fries
This is a welcome choice in a sea of burgers and chicken sandwiches. The Veggie Sandwich features grilled onions, green peppers and mushrooms in a toasted bun along with lettuce and tomatoes. You can also order one from scratch, starting with the bun and adding veggie options and toppings.
This menu item is fairly low in calories at 440 and has only 15g of fat, but it’s probably not for the carb-counters, as it totals 60g. It’s also a little high in sodium at 1,040mg.
But I have to give Five Guys credit for being a burger place that makes a vegetarian sandwich option (vegan, too, I’m thinking, without cheese) that isn’t just a burger without the patty. These ingredients are upscale compared to the typical salad-type veggies you’ll find on a hamburger; they’re more like what you might see on a flavorful gyro or piled atop a high-end steak.
And by offering up a from-scratch option, Five Guys is providing a piece of fast-food heaven by allowing customers to create their own fantastic vegetable blends, complete with cheese and sauces. Now that is good fast food.
3. Beef Pot Roast Sandwich, Culver’s
The key to a 410-calorie sandwich is simplicity. There’s a 200-calorie bun (and Culver’s buns are worth every calorie) and 210 calories of hand-shredded beef chuck roast that’s been slowly braised in an herb-spice blend.
Then there’s a zero-calorie dill pickle. (News flash: it’s only zero because it’s a small amount of pickle. If you ate 100 of them you’d get calories. And you’d probably be really sick of pickles.)
You’ll get 31g of protein, but the bad news is 140mg of cholesterol: 47 percent of the cholesterol you should consume in a day. But that’s not the end of the world. If you pick this sandwich, try to watch out for cholesterol in your other meals that day. You can get protein from peanut butter, hummus, black beans and other non-meat foods to compensate for your cholesterol tryst, or choose lean meats and low-fat dairy.
I think that’s the key to making healthy fast food choices – making sure you have balance in one area when you go a little crazy in another, whether it’s calories, cholesterol or carbs.
Fast Food Salads Are Getting Amazing
1. Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, Wendy’s
Good fast food places are shaking up their salad menus to offer much more than lettuce, tomato and grated carrots. The one that stands out the most for me is Wendy’s Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad.
The most impressive thing about this colorful, flavorful salad is the sundried tomato grain blend, made up of garbanzo beans, red and yellow bell peppers, white beans, brown rice, red and white quinoa, red onions and sundried tomatoes.
Add grape tomatoes, marinated grilled chicken breast, crumbled feta cheese and drizzles of Mediterranean hummus and light balsamic vinaigrette, with a base of chopped lettuce, and you have a whopping 40g of protein (80 percent of what you need for the day) and 8g of fiber in a 450-calorie full-meal salad. That’s one busy bowl.
I’d like to see it available at a cheaper price without the chicken for vegetarians, vegans and people who just don’t eat a lot of meat or want to cut even more calories, fat and cholesterol. From my perspective, this salad has so much going on, it doesn’t need the chicken.
2. Grilled Market Salad, Chick-fil-A
This Chick-fil-A salad has 200 calories before adding dressing and is packed with 25g of protein and lots of Vitamin A, but only 15g of carbs. I like that the lettuce is romaine, where the Vitamin A comes from, and healthy baby greens, and the chicken on top is grilled, not fried.
You’ll get lots of color in this salad, with red cabbage, red and green apples and blue cheese, along with carrots, strawberries and blueberries. Putting lots of color on our plate from vegetables and fruits is a great way to ensure you’re consuming a good variety of vitamins and minerals; if you ate only green vegetables, you’d miss out on red onion, carrots, squash and other colorful veggies.
The apple cider vinaigrette seems like a good choice here for taste and keeping calories very low. The tantalizing addition of a nutty granola and a spiced nut blend makes this salad truly unique.
3. Veggie Delite Salad, Subway
This salad is particularly delightful because it’s at Subway, where there’s a feast of veggies laid out in front of you, and you can choose any or all. The Veggie Delite salad’s base calorie count is 60 (before dressing), and the salad contains a lettuce salad blend, spinach, red onions, tomatoes, green peppers and black olives.
Add Swiss cheese, which is low in calories and sodium, and choose avocado from the “Extras” menu (it adds 60 calories and 6g of fat, but it’s so healthy). Now we’re at 170 calories, 11g of fat and just 105mg of sodium, as well as 240 percent of the recommended daily allowance for Vitamin C.
Lastly, the dressing! You can pair vinegar (no calories) with an olive oil blend for a total of 290 calories; you won’t add sodium, but you’ll bump the fat up to 24g. Or pick sweet onion dressing for 270 calories, but the tradeoff will give you 235mg of sodium for a total of 340.
Skip the creamy dressings (ranch adds close to 300 calories), and you’ll have a great healthy salad for your fast food diet.
Make a Different Choice for Healthy Fast Food Options
1. Bistro Box, Starbucks
These look really promising. The 470-calorie Cheese & Fruit Bistro Box combines three cheeses (brie, Gouda and aged cheddar) with multi-grain crackers, green apple wedges and a mixture of roasted almonds and dried cranberries for a really nice light but satisfying lunch.
I’m also psyched for the ridiculously compelling Southwest-Style Steak Wrap (450 calories), featuring a sweet potato tortilla that holds a mixture of grilled fajita steak, fire-roasted corn, peppers, jicama, lettuce and a black bean spread, all in a chimichurri sauce.
The Bistro Boxes (there are more!) at Starbucks range from 370-470 calories and are good sources of protein.
2. Bowls, Panera Bread
You may think Panera is all about bread and various carb-overload menu items, but the chain has some dishes that are creative and full of healthy ingredients. Those include Panera Bowls, which come in two varieties.
The 290-calorie Thai Garden Chicken Wonton Bowl features a chicken-turkey broth with ginger-chicken wontons, fresh broccoli, spinach, cabbage, mushrooms and onions, topped with a Thai chili vinaigrette with cilantro and sesame seeds. You may be surprised to see 23g of protein in this well-apportioned bowl.
The 480-calorie Southwest Chicken Tortilla Bowl is a mighty pretty dish with loads of color. Smoked pulled chicken, with a quinoa tomato sofrito blend and brown rice, floats in a chicken-turkey broth along with cabbage, pickled red onions, roasted red peppers and lime, as well as an adobo corn and chili lime rojo vinaigrette. Fresh cilantro and masa crisps top this busy meal.
Both Bowls are a nice alternative to soup because they’re hearty enough that you might not want that sandwich to go with it.
3. Street Tacos, Taco John’s
These loaded tacos from Taco John’s start with shredded beef or grilled chicken in a soft flour tortilla, along with crumbled Mexican cheese and a bunch of crisp, colorful veggies. What makes them special, and different from typical tacos, is the combination of flavors in Taco John’s garlic lime sauce.
Each taco has fewer than 200 calories, so you could easily chow down on a couple of these. Even if you went with three, you’d only be at 540 for the beef and 510 for the chicken.
And with a taco, you don’t need a side. It’s a one-dish meal in a tortilla. So skip the Potato Olés if you’re trying to eat healthy; just a small order of these lightly spiced rounds is 480 calories and 1,380g of sodium, both of which are around three times as much as a Street Taco.
Plus, if you’re like me, you have to have a container of cheese sauce with your Potato Olés. I don’t want to think about those totals. Paying attention to nutrition info has crushed my enjoyment of too many not-so-good-for-you fast-food menu items!
Check Out These Healthy Fast Food Sides
1. Green Beans, Culver’s
It’s great to see vegetable sides on fast-food menus (and more variety of veggies in salads). The only problem is that in this combo of green beans and onions, the butter or oil and seasoning the veggies are tossed in drives up the sodium content to 850mg.
Kudos for offering a vegetable side in the first place, but it should be noted there’s more sodium in the beans than in a large order of fries (680) or a triple Butterburger (770). The green beans also have 160 calories (a cup of plain green beans is around 30 calories) and have 25g of cholesterol. This part is probably from butter.
I’m sure the green beans are great, and I’m happy to see a veggie side at a burger place, but I’d like to see a light version with a whisper of butter and seasoning that would keep the calories below 100 and the sodium to less than 400mg.
I also hope you can order the green beans plain. If I’m already getting a sandwich, I don’t need the sodium in this. And I’m probably not going to Culver’s for green beans. I’m probably there for the Butterburger.
2. Small Rich & Meaty Chili, Wendy’s
If you’re looking for a side that’s a bit heartier than most soups, try this chili classic from Wendy’s. You’ll gain 15g of protein and 4g of fiber, and it will only cost you 170 calories.
Adding cheese brings the calorie count up to 230 and adds a little more protein. It’s really not a bad trade-off, especially if you really love shredded cheese on your chili, as many people do.
Perhaps you love Wendy’s chili so much that you want the large size. Good news: You’re still only at 250 calories (320 if you opt for cheese).
Chili isn’t something you can get at every fast-food restaurant, and Wendy’s chili has been a favorite for decades. It’s nice to know it’s a pretty healthy option.
And not only is it good as a side, a small cup of chili is a nice idea for a little lunch, paired with a side salad (70 calories after you skip the croutons and ranch dressing and opt for a nice light balsamic vinaigrette) and some apple slices (35 calories).
3. Four-Piece Chicken Nuggets, Burger King
Maybe you’ve picked out your mayo-free BK Whopper and you’re feeling pretty darn good about saving all those calories, but now you’re also really feeling that craving for french fries. You can do better. A 4-piece order of Burger King Chicken Nuggets is only 170 calories, compared to 320 for a small order of fries. Plus, you get more protein (28g compared to 4g) and fewer carbs (11g compared to 44g).
BK’s hash browns also put up better numbers than the fries and are a non-meat option for a side, and it’s nice that Burger King places its Garden Side Salad among its sides. Many people think of a salad as a starter to go with a main dish, a side (usually a starchy food) and a vegetable. But for most people I know, if they’re ordering a salad, it’s a side to a sandwich.
Note: A four-pack of McDonald’s McNuggets is 193 calories, which isn’t a huge difference. With the longtime nugget war going on between the No. 1 and 2 fast-food burger joints, I’ll leave your final pick up to you.
Wash Your Healthy Food Down With Good Beverage Choices
1. Orange Julius, Dairy Queen
Now owned by Dairy Queen International, Orange Julius was for many years a separate business. It was often found in shopping malls, which is where my family enjoyed those delicious drinks. I loved both the Original Orange Julius and the strawberry flavor, but I was partial to the orange.
After not having the opportunity to enjoy this treat for a number of years, I was delighted to see them available at Dairy Queens. And while the product line also includes smoothies, I’m hesitant to try them in case I like them better than the original thing. So, I still order a regular Orange Julius.
A medium is a reasonable choice at 260 calories. It’s swimming in sugars at 62g, so I wouldn’t recommend it as an everyday beverage, but some of that comes from the orange juice.
It’s a refreshingly tangy beverage, a little frothier and creamier than orange juice, but considerably thinner and lighter than a shake. And that OJ puts you at 110 percent of the recommended daily value of Vitamin C.
2. Real Fruit Slushes, Sonic Drive-In
Having visible pieces of fruit in your slushy drink shows you there’s actually fruit in it. These refreshing beverages, featuring real fruit with crushed ice, come in two varieties: the Strawberry Real Fruit Slush and the Pineapple Real Fruit Slush.
The strawberry-flavored drink has 190 calories for a small size, and you’ll consume 50g in carbs, all from sugar. That’s a lot of sugar, but if you’re going to have a sweetened fruit drink, you’re going to have to put up some carbs. The pineapple slush also has 190 calories, with 51g of carbs.
You can get other slushes from Sonic, but which would you rather have, a blend of crushed ice and real fruit or a blend of crushed ice and … “green apple flavor”? I’ll stick with the real fruit.
If you want to keep the calories and carbs down but you’re still thirsty after your slush, fill your glass with water and enjoy a hint of fruit infusion. Plain old water, by the way, should always be on your list of options at fast-food restaurants. It’s good for you, and it’s free.
3. Small Super Blend Smoothie, Jamba Juice
While you have to watch out for the carbs in some of the smoothies at Jamba Juice (some of these drinks look more candy than beverages), the Super Blend Smoothies feature real whole fruit and wholesome ingredients. A small size will refresh you while not adding too much calories and carbs.
The Green Up ‘N Go variety, featuring apple, ice, nonfat Greek yogurt, cucumber, baby spinach, grapes, pumpkin seeds and fresh lemon juice, has 250 calories and only 30g of carbs while delivering 6g of fiber and 14g of protein.
If you want more protein, go for the Apples ‘N Charge, which blends nonfat Greek yogurt with milk, apple, banana, pumpkin seeds, honey and cinnamon. It’s higher in calories (410) and carbs (52) but packed with 25g of protein.
Rounding out this tasty trio is the PB ‘N Jealous, with milk, orange, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peanut butter, whey and chia seeds. It’s 380 calories with 47g of carbs and 20g of protein.
Of the three, the Green Up ‘N Go is my pick for the healthiest, given the lower calories and carbs.
Looking for Sweetness Without Sugar Overload?
1. Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait, McDonald’s
If you’re looking for something sweet but don’t want to blow your calorie, carb and sugar budget for the day, this is a choice that seems like a treat but really is just good for you.
It’s simple – plain yogurt layered with strawberries, blueberries and granola – but unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of yogurt or fresh fruit at fast-food restaurants. It seems like an easy menu item to put together, and it seems to be doing well for McDonald’s, so hopefully we’ll see more of the same across the board.
This menu item comes in at 150 calories, 30g of carbs and 2g of fat, and it provides 4g of protein.
The Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait is a good, simple food that mirrors what food experts are trying to get you to eat. This is also what your mom wants you to eat instead of that snack of french fries or that large chocolate shake. Listen to Mom. She knows food.
2. Pastry Ring, Panera Bread
If you want pastry without 500-plus calories and a boatload of carbs, head over to Panera Bread for its Pastry Ring in either cherry or apple flavors. This baked fluted pastry features a cream-cheese filling and fruit topping, and its numbers are pretty good, including 260 calories and 32g of carbs.
That’s healthier than you’ll find in most muffins, cupcakes and donuts, including those at Panera Bread, where you can overload yourself with carbs, sugar, fat and calories pretty easily.
Bonus Tip: If you’re really set on biting into a nice, soft, sweet muffin, why not opt instead for a Muffie, a puffy cookie-shaped muffin that’s lower in calories (290 for the Pumpkin Muffee and 320 for the Chocolate Chip Muffie)?
I know, it’s not as big as the real thing, but if you’re already getting 320 calories for the Chocolate Chip Muffie, do you even want to know what’s in a full-size Panera muffin? (How can so many calories be in something you can hold in your fist?!?)
3. Soft Serve, Dairy Queen
Who says you can’t have ice cream on a healthy diet? A small vanilla soft-serve cone has only 230 calories and 37g of carbs while providing 6g of protein. A medium cone has 330 calories and 52g of carbs with 9g of protein.
Dairy Queen’s soft-serve offerings give you a number of fairly reasonable choices. A small pineapple or strawberry sundae is just 230 calories, same as a small cone.
You can get a mini Banana Split Blizzard (my favorite Blizzard flavor!) for 280 calories, making the Blizzard more compatible with low-calorie diets. (The large Banana Split Blizzard has 820 calories, which pales next to the 1,500 calories of the large Brownie Cookie Dough Blizzard … but we’re straying down a bad path here.)
The lowest-calorie shake you can get at DQ is, surprisingly (at least to me), banana, which has 480 calories for a small. Vanilla, which I expected to be lowest, has 530 calories, and chocolate has 540.
A Dilly Bar, which is my usual DQ pick (my hands-down favorite is Chocolate Mint), is around 220 calories. Tip: If you live alone, don’t get these in six-packs, because 220 x 6 is 1,320 calories, and that’s not even taking into consideration the guilt.
Have Yourself a Healthy Little Breakfast
1. Wake-Up Wrap, Dunkin’ Donuts
If your idea of breakfast is to breeze through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through for a coffee and a pastry, maybe it’s time to rethink your morning meal and get some protein with those carbs. Not to mention fewer calories; while we tend to think of donuts as quite high in calories, I find that the actual levels can still be pretty shocking.
So instead of a sugary, fatty, high-calorie chocolate cinnamon strawberry banana fudge donut (that version probably isn’t out yet), try a Wake-Up Wrap. The basic wrap with an egg and cheese in a soft tortilla shell has just 180 calories.
If you add a meat to the mix, the calorie count will range from 200-290. Your meat choices are bacon, ham, sausage, sweet black pepper bacon and turkey sausage.
And instead of a full egg wrap, you can opt for an egg white veggie wrap, which in addition to egg white and cheese adds diced green and red bell peppers, shredded potatoes, diced green onions and roasted mushrooms. Calories are similar at 190, but cholesterol drops from 90g to 25g.
2. Superfood Cranberry Almond Hot Cereal, Au Bon Pain
This isn’t any ordinary oatmeal. Along with healthy whole oats, you get the amazing grain goodness of quinoa and amaranth, as well as cranberries, almonds, sunflower seeds, peptitas and raw flaxseed.
It’s a hearty hot cereal in three different sizes. The small (8 oz.) has 180 calories, and the rest of the numbers are good, too; 7g of fat, 15mg of sodium, 26g of carbs and 3g of sugar, with 6g of protein and 4g of fiber.
The reasonable level of carbs will give you energy, and with a little protein to go with them you’ll make it through to lunchtime without getting hungry again. Au Bon Pain’s Superfood Cranberry Almond Hot Cereal will give you a good start to your day.
If you like larger portions, calories go up to 270 for a medium (12 oz.) and 360 for a large (16 oz.)
There’s not really anything to dislike here. If you’re like me, you’ll want to order a container of milk, too. I have to pour a little milk over my oatmeal.
3. Seasonal Harvest Fruit Blend, Starbucks
If you like a light but healthy breakfast to start your day, this is a refreshing choice. I may wish vegetables had a loftier perch in fast-food offerings, but if you think about it, veggies are pretty ubiquitous in terms of burger toppings and salad ingredients.
Aside from packets of apple slices (don’t get me wrong, these are great to have, but apples aren’t very adventurous), fruit mostly shows up in high-calorie fruit smoothies and ice-cream treats. I do appreciate that you can get yogurt parfaits at some places, too, but what I love to see is a simple fruit cup like you might have at home or in a deli. A beautiful bounty of berries, melons and what have you.
The Seasonal Harvest Fruit Blend at Starbucks has 90 calories and 4g of fiber and gives you 60 percent of recommended Vitamin C for the day. The fruits will depend on what’s in season, and I assume the calorie count would shift a little as well.
If you want to balance the fruit with a little protein, you could ask for some cheese on the side or have a yogurt.
You can see by this guide that you don’t have to accept foods that are high in calories, fat, sodium and carbs but low in nutritional value. You can make many smart healthy fast food choices.
Most fast-food restaurants have comprehensive nutrition information on their websites so you can make informed choices, and some have this information right up on their overhead menus (you can also ask for printed materials).
Healthy fast food can indeed be a part of your good diet as long as you know the good things to look for and the bad things to watch out for. Happy dining!