If you’re a working mom, dad or caregiver (or just a busy human), you most likely spend a ton of time in your car. As a matter of fact, a recent study suggests that Americans spend anywhere from nine to almost eleven hours in their car per week. That means, at some point or another, you’re probably driving around hungry AF and you may not know where to go for the healthiest fast food. It starts with, “I’m kinda hungry. But, let’s see if I can get through these errands and just eat at home.” An hour later, you’re in Target rage-buying Oreos “for later.” Before you know it, you’re rolling up to Mickey D’s and ordering the whole left side of the menu. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.
If you’re like us, you probably couldn’t think of a healthy meal option for eating out so delaying the inevitable seemed like your best bet. Knowing where you can go and what you can get to stay relatively healthy is key to making good choices. One sure-fire way to eat healthy, without ordering a salad: Order off the kids’ menu. Even though you’re likely eating spicy nugs or just a burger, they come with healthier side options (like Wendy’s summer berry cup!) and offer smaller portions. Bonus: Kids’ meals are super cheap — which is why so many restaurants offer free meals to kids. So, where are the best places to find healthy fast food? Check out one of our over dozen suggestions so you can eat nutritious and balanced meals on the go.
Looking for some at-home meal ideas? Check out our package on yummy easy recipes that include quick breakfast ideas, tips on cooking the perfect hardboiled egg, easy egg recipes, and healthy breakfast foods.
Yes, Panera is fast food. Many new Paneras are building drive-thrus, making them optimal stops on errand days or short lunch breaks. Panera has the biggest selection of salads and soups in the fast food game, and also offer smoothies.
Maybe you want a more “traditional” fast food experience? It’s Chick-Fil-A’s pleasure to serve grilled nuggets and grilled chicken sandwiches. They were also one of the first fast food chains to offer up fruit cups or small salads instead of fries. Admittedly, salads are a bit harder to eat while driving. But, picking through a fruit cup is no more distracting than picking out the saltiest fry.
You can do Chipotle really wrong, for sure. Loading up on rice and chips (and their new queso blanco) might just crash your fitness app. But, with a bit of forethought, Chipotle can be an excellent choice for fresh, healthy food. Try a salad or just skip the tortilla. They also offer water and fruit juice, but their teas (sweet and unsweet) are also always freshly made.
4. Taco Bell
Taco Bell may not be healthy all the time, but it can be one of the healthiest fast food options if you order correctly. Their taco salads are surprisingly low in calories, especially if you skip the tortilla bowl monstrosity. Even their basic tacos can be fairly protein-rich and low calorie. As long as you don’t go balls-to-the-ball when you’re ordering, most menu items are small enough and contain enough protein to offer a fairly decent chance at being healthy-ish.
5. Tropical Smoothie Cafe
This is still a small chain, so it might not be everywhere. BUT, if you have it in your area, it’s the perfect lunch option. Of course they have fresh smoothies. However, unlike a lot of smoothie joints, they also offer made-to-order wraps and quesadillas.
Starbucks is another really decent option when you’re in a pinch, though you may not think of it as “fast food.” While their sandwiches may not be the best choice, their protein boxes are super filling and rarely have empty calories. The fruit and cheese protein box actually comes with brie, among other cheeses, some nice seedy crackers and a branch of grapes. They also have a box with hard-boiled eggs in it, which is the ultimate post-workout lunch.
Just like Taco Bell, seeing Wendy’s on a list of the healthiest fast food might surprise some people. However, Wendy’s has a solid salad selection that tends to change seasonally, so you’ll never get bored. And, as previously mentioned, their kids’ meals (with healthy side alternatives) are perfectly filling, bonkers cheap and don’t take up much room in your calorie count. For instance, the four-piece nugget is only 170 calories with nine grams of protein and the apple slices are a miniscule 35 calories. This means you can totally splurge on a Frosty. (Note: If you’re a speecy-spicy protein fiend like moi, a six piece of spicy nugs is 280 calories. There’s no rule that says you have to get a side.)
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the question, “Is Subway healthy?” Many nutritionists take real issue with bread to toppings ratios of their subs. Going for a wrap, though, is a much healthier option. You can also customize a salad there. Bonus, the big slab of eggs they use in their breakfast sandwiches can be used on their own, if you’re trying to go completely bread-less. (And they’re delicious.)
That being said, their Veggie Delight sandwich is SO delicious and comes in at only 230 calories. It is made up of 9 grain wheat and loaded with lettuce, tomato, green peppers, onion, olive oil, vinegar. You can also further customize it with your choice of cheese or different dressings that might skew the calorie count, but it’s undeniable that it’s a whole melange of vegetables that staves off those cravings. If you go for the wrap instead of the sandwich you can cut those carbs even further without sacrificing on flavor.
9. Dairy Queen
If you’re craving ice cream (and who isn’t always craving ice cream), you might like knowing that a small Dairy Queen ice cream cone only has seven grams of fat. Take that as you will.
10. In-N-Out Burger
No, not everything on their menu is healthy. Shoot, most of it isn’t. BUT, the California-based company knows how to appease carb-cutters. You can order a burger “protein style” and it will come wrapped in lettuce instead of on a bun, cutting out a ton of carbs and calories. You’re welcome!
11. Moe’s Southwest Grill
They don’t have a drive-thru, which sucks for us. But, this Chipotle-like southwestern restaurant is nearly everywhere and so, so delicious. “But, is it healthy?” You ask. It can be! Skip the wrap and go for a bowl, don’t go crazy on queso and chips (sigh.) and you’re on your way to a healthy, flavorful meal.
Nearly everything on the menu of this growing Mediterranean chain is healthy. You might want to skip the pasta salad, of course. But, with bold flavors (their Greek-seasoned rice is even better than you-know-who’s cilantro-lime rice) and grilled-to-order food, everything you order will delight your taste buds and leave you feeling like you made the right choice. Feeling out of your comfort zone? The “kids feast” is around $5 and comes with grilled, seasoned chicken chunks, white rice and an additional side (their fruit cups are bomb).
Another new-to-the-scene fast food place, Bibibop is best described as “Asian Chipotle.” You can start your bowl with rice (white or purple) or greens. Then work your way down the line and choose delicious toppings that range from beans and cheese to red cabbage and scrambled eggs. And, of course, they have a pretty solid protein selection that includes tofu and two kinds of chicken (spicy or regular). After you build your bowl, they have several sauces they can drizzle over your creation. Or you can hit the sauce-bar next to the soda fountain and try each instead of committing to just one. And did we mention they have free miso soup? Their bowls and sauces can be built to take quite the toll on your daily calorie count. However, all their ingredients feel relatively guilt-free and it’s easy enough to skip the more heavy additions.
14. The Cheesecake Factory
Before you chime in and say The Cheesecake Factory is not fast food, may we interject and argue that it takes roughly the same amount of time to get a meal here as it does at Panera. And in addition to pick up, there are tons of delivery options that make this a fast food option. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s a list of some healthy and delicious options on The Cheesecake Factory’s famous super long menu.
The restaurant’s SkinnyLicious (ugh on the name) menu offers roughly 50 lighter-calorie fare choices or smaller portions of their most beloved dishes, like Mexican chicken lettuce wraps, mini burgers, and Ahi Tartar. Now, less calories don’t mean less saturated fat or sodium, so take it all with a grain of, well, salt.
15. Five Guys
Burgers and fries may not be top of mind when you think of healthy eating, but Five Guys has options for people watching their salt, calorie, and fat intake without sacrificing on taste. You may be looking for a general list of items you can order and luckily the good people at Health.com offered a taste of just that. Here is what they recommend as options:
- Little Hamburger: 480 calories, 26 grams fat, 380 milligrams sodium
- Little Cheeseburger (no bun): 290 calories, 30.5 grams fat, 360 milligrams sodium
- Hot Dog (no bun): 285 calories, 26 grams fat, 800 milligrams sodium
- Veggie Sandwich: 440 calories, 15 grams fat, and 1,040 milligrams sodium
Five Guys offers lettuce burgers if you decide to go bun less, you should consider the nutritional facts of the toppings you choose, and unfortunately, you’re going to have to forego those delicious cajun fries the chain is known for.
This choice can work for any pizza place, really, as most offer healthier choices like salads in addition to pizza. You can also ask for a smaller slice of pizza that you pair with a salad, fulfilling the craving without going off your health kick.