14 Healthy Fast-Food Orders, According to Nutrition Experts

From veggie-stacked sandwiches to bowls bursting with flavor, these healthy fast-food options prove you can score convenient, inexpensive eats while still scoring plenty of nutrients. 

Photo: Courtesy of Burger King / Chipotle / Subway

You're traveling and hungry, but the only option for miles (and miles) is fast food. Or maybe you're having a super busy day and you simply just can't with cooking dinner. But wait — what if you generally avoid or limit fast food? Can you still get a meal that's somewhat nutrient-dense and filling?

As it turns out, you can. The key is to pick menu items that are nutritionally balanced, according to Blanca Garcia, R.D.N., a registered dietitian at Health Canal. In general, this means choosing a meal with a satisfying combo of carbs, protein, and fat — and, when possible, plenty of fiber-rich veggies. It may also entail ordering eats that are relatively low in things such as sodium and saturated fat — which tend to be rather abundant in fast food — as excess intake may lead to conditions such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, respectively.

On that note, it's recommended to limit your intake of sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day and saturated fat to 13 grams per day, according to the American Heart Association. So, assuming you're eating three meals a day, that comes out to be approximately 767 milligrams of sodium and 4 grams of saturated fat per meal. Aim to order healthy fast-food items that fit within these ranges, if possible, and consider any other nutritional advice your doctor has provided. Typically, you can find the nutritional info for each menu item on the restaurant's website or on the actual menus. In fact, all chain restaurants with 20 or more locations are legally required to disclose the nutrition info of their items, according to the Food and Drug Administration. So should you want to check the stats on your meal, you'll be able to do just that.

But before diving into healthy fast-food meals, it's worth noting that the "healthiest" option will look different for everyone, as everyone has different needs, goals, and concerns when it comes to their diet. What's more, anything — including fast food! — can be enjoyed once in a while, says Marissa Meshulam, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of MPM Nutrition. "It's what you're doing on a daily basis that affects your health — not just the one fast food meal."

Translation: Try not to overthink it when making the occasional fast food jaunt. In addition to being convenient and inexpensive, fast food might be just what you need to stay energized and full when you're on the go. That being said, if you're at a fast-food restaurant and seeking a nutrient-dense option, consider ordering one of the following dietitian-recommended meals.

14 Healthy Fast-Food Items to Order When On the Move

Subway Veggie Delite Sandwich

Subway-Veggie Delite-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

Veggie lovers, this healthy fast-food order is for you. Thanks to its crunchy combo of lettuce, cucumbers, green peppers, and tomatoes, the Veggie Delite sandwich is Garcia's top choice at Subway. Unlike the majority of Subway sandwiches, it's free of deli meat, which is often high in sodium. Plus, it's served on multigrain bread, a type of complex carb that's generally higher in fiber and digested more slowly than its simple carb counterparts (see: white bread).

With only 200 calories, however, the sandwich might not contain enough energy to qualify as a complete meal (and, in turn, stave off that dreaded hanger), says Garcia. As such, she suggests adding cheese (for another 50 or so calories) to make the healthy fast-food order more filling and pairing it with an apple to round it all out. And if you're vegan? Some Subway locations offer a soy-based Veggie Patty, which you can add to your Veggie Delite instead; it will add a whopping 9 grams of plant-based protein to your meal. (

Nutrition Information for Subway Veggie Delite Sandwich:

  • 200 calories
  • 39 grams carbohydrate
  • 8 grams protein
  • 2 grams fat
  • 4 grams fiber

Taco Bell Black Bean Soft Taco

Taco-Bell-BLACK BEAN SOFT TACO-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

If you find yourself at a Taco Bell, consider ordering two of these tacos for a meal that's not only packed with protein and fiber but also lower in sodium than other menu items, says Katherine Basbaum, R.D., a registered dietitian at the Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Virginia. Case in point: Two black bean soft tacos contain 740 milligrams of sodium, almost half the amount in the restaurant's chicken quesadilla, which has 1,240 milligrams. Those 740 milligrams of sodium fit well into the recommended daily intake of 2,300 milligrams per day — which, BTW, is "not an easy feat when you're eating out," notes Basbaum. (Remember, eating too much sodium over time can increase the risk of high blood pressure.) And if you'd like to add veggies for extra crunch and fiber, don't hesitate to pile on the tomatoes, onions, and extra lettuce.

Nutrition Information for Taco Bell Black Bean Soft Taco:

  • 170 calories
  • 23 grams carbohydrate
  • 6 grams protein
  • 5 grams fat
  • 4 grams fiber

Starbucks Chicken and Hummus Protein Box

Starbucks-Chicken & Hummus Protein Box-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

Offering 7 grams of fiber and 22 grams of protein, "this is the perfect on-the-go snack or mini-meal when you're in a rush," says Meshulam. The veggies (e.g. baby carrots and snap peas) provide fiber while the grilled chicken breast offers lean protein. This type of protein is ideal because it's low in saturated fat but still offers satiating calories (read: energy!). And then, of course, there's the hummus which also contains protein and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, due to its base of chickpeas. In a way, this healthy fast-food item is like a Lunchables for grownups. (See also: How to Make Sense of Calories — No Counting Included)

Nutrition Information for Starbucks Chicken and Hummus Protein Box:

  • 300 calories
  • 32 grams carbohydrate
  • 22 grams protein
  • 9 grams fat
  • 7 grams fiber

Shake Shack 'Shroom Burger

Courtesy of Merchants

For a vegetarian option, consider the mushroom burger at Shake Shack, as suggested by Paula Doebrich, M.P.H., R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Happea Nutrition. It features a crispy Portobello mushroom that's filled (yes, filled) with cheddar and muenster cheeses, along with lettuce, tomato, and the restaurant's "secret" ShackSauce. Specifically, the sandwich might be the way to go if you're looking to limit your sodium intake, as it contains less sodium (670 milligrams, to be exact) than other options on the menu, notes Doebrich. Likewise, should you be looking for a heart-conscious item, this healthy fast-food item is lower in saturated fat than other burgers at Shake Shack, she adds. (To recap, a high intake of saturated fat can lead to high blood cholesterol, a major risk factor of heart disease.) On that note, if you'd like to bring in some heart-healthy unsaturated fats — looking at you, omega-3s — add avocado to this burger.

Nutrition Information for Shake Shack 'Shroom Burger:

  • 510 calories
  • 49 grams carbohydrate
  • 18 grams protein
  • 27 grams fat
  • 0 grams fiber

Wendy's Avocado Chicken Salad

Wendys-Avocado Chicken Salad-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

When it comes to eating at Wendy's, opt for the avocado chicken salad, suggests Isa Kujawski, M.P.H., R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Mea Nutrition. The healthy fast-food option consists of grilled chicken breast (hello, lean protein!), avocado, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes. It also comes with cheese and dairy-based dressing, which can add calories to the meal, should you want the extra bit of fuel. However, if you'd prefer something on the lighter side (or if you're lactose-intolerant), you can skip the dressing or ask for the restaurant's pomegranate vinaigrette instead. Pro tip: Order it with a plain baked potato on the side for a well-balanced meal of veggies, carbs, fat, and protein, says Kujawski.

Nutrition Information for Wendy's Avocado Chicken Salad:

  • 485 calories
  • 7.5 carbohydrate
  • 32 grams protein
  • 36 grams fat
  • 1 gram fiber

Panera Green Goddess Cobb Salad

Panera-Bread-Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

If you're at Panera, consider ordering the cobb salad with chicken and vinaigrette dressing — a healthy fast-food lunch (or dinner!) that gets two thumbs up from Karen Raden, M.S., R.D., C.C.N., registered dietitian and certified clinical nutritionist at Raden Wellness. Full of fresh, crunchy veggies such as arugula, baby kale, romaine, grape tomatoes, and pickled red onions, "there is a lot of fiber in this salad," says Raden. Not only is fiber a key nutrient for supporting satiety but it also keeps your system running smoothly, which can be especially important when you're on the road. (Travel constipation is real, you guys.) The menu item also has heart-healthy avocado, along with grilled chicken and hard-boiled egg, aka sources of satisfying lean protein.

Nutrition Information for Panera Green Goddess Cobb Salad:

  • 510 calories
  • 27 grams carbohydrate
  • 37 grams protein
  • 30 grams fat
  • 8 grams fiber

Chipotle Whole30 Salad Bowl with Chicken

Courtesy of Merchants

Chipotle offers myriad nutrient-dense meal choices, such as the Whole30 Salad Bowl, says Meshulam. This healthy fast-food order offers lean protein in the form of grilled chicken, essential fats from guac, and fiber from veggies (think: lettuce and bell peppers). For an even more filling bowl, you can also add beans and brown rice, says Meshulam. Both ingredients are high in fiber, which will be digested slowly and over time, thus keeping you satiated for longer.

Nutrition Information for Chipotle Whole30 Salad Bowl with Chicken:

  • 500 calories
  • 20 grams carbohydrate
  • 27 grams protein
  • 34 grams fat
  • 10 grams fiber

McDonald's Garden Salad with Crispy Chicken

McDonalds-Garden Salad with warm crispy chicken-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

Of all the sandwiches and salads at McDonald's, the chain's Garden Salad with Crispy Chicken gets the green light from Garcia. That's because it offers carbs, fat, and protein from the chicken, along with a variety of colorful vegetables (romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn). The restaurant also has two other salad options, but unfortunately, neither includes protein, making them less satiating and thus, not necessarily the "healthiest" or practical choice. While a grilled chicken dish would contain less saturated fat than that which includes the crispy kind, the restaurant doesn't seem to offer any grilled chicken items. So, all things considered, this menu option may be the way to go if you're looking for the most nutrient-dense meal at McDonald's. (

Nutrition Information for McDonald's Garden Salad with Crispy Chicken:

  • 352 calories
  • 29 grams carbohydrate
  • 24 grams protein
  • 15 grams fat
  • 4 grams fiber

Panera Mediterranean Bowl

Panera-Bread-Mediterranean Bowl with Chicken-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

The mix of protein and fiber in this bowl makes for a balanced, healthy fast-food option, according to Kujawski. For starters, it contains hummus, grilled chicken, and Greek yogurt, all of which offer satiating lean protein. It also has cilantro lime brown rice (yum!), quinoa, and veggies such as arugula and grape tomatoes. These ingredients are teeming with fiber, which is crucial for kicking hunger to the curb. Moreover, the fiber will balance your blood sugar levels, adds Kujawski, helping you stave off those dreaded energy crashes throughout the day.

Nutrition Information for Panera Mediterranean Bowl:

  • 680 calories
  • 77 grams carbohydrate
  • 29 grams protein
  • 30 grams fat
  • 10 grams fiber

Chick-Fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Chik-Fil-A-Grilled Chicken Sandwich-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

For a filling meal, try the grilled chicken breast sammie at Chick-Fil-A, suggests Raden. Featuring chicken seasoned with a lemon-herb marinated, multigrain bread, lettuce, and tomato, "this sandwich is much lower in calories and saturated fat than Chick-Fil-A's signature fried options," making it an ideal choice should you want to limit either component, says Raden. "It's [also] high in protein, which helps keep you full and supports lean muscle mass." If you'd like, "round out your meal with a Kale Crunch Side salad for a dose of vitamin A, folate, and vitamin K," she adds.

Nutrition Information for Chick-Fil-A Grilled Chicken Sandwich:

  • 380 calories
  • 44 grams carbohydrate
  • 28 grams protein
  • 11 grams fat
  • 2 grams fiber

Starbucks Rolled and Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries

Starbucks-Rolled & Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

The whole grain steel-cut oatmeal at Starbucks is "a great breakfast option for busy days," says Doebrich. The menu item consists of oats, fresh blueberries, and a medley of almonds, pecans, and walnuts, the last of which offer heart-healthy fats. All these ingredients are also teeming with fiber, which will help you stay satiated for longer, adds Doebrich. But if you want to make it even more satisfying, she recommends asking the barista to prepare the healthy fast-food order with milk — instead of the hot water the restaurant typically uses — for an extra dose of satiating protein. Want to skip the dairy? Go for soy milk, which is high in plant-based protein. Or if you do eat dairy, you can order yogurt on the side, suggests Doebrich. Starbucks currently offers Siggi's 0% Vanilla Yogurt, which contains an impressive 15 grams of protein. However, if the location you're visiting doesn't have it in stock, consider choosing any type of plain or vanilla yogurt sans fruit to avoid added sugars.

Nutrition Information for Starbucks Rolled and Steel-Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries:

  • 320 calories
  • 46 grams carbohydrate
  • 8 grams protein
  • 12 grams fat
  • 7 grams fiber

Subway 6-inch Egg and Cheese Flatbread

Courtesy of Merchants

With a whopping 19 grams of protein, this sandwich is dubbed as a "winner" by Basbaum. The protein comes from the egg and cheese, though you can also add plenty of veggies for fiber and vitamins, too. The availability of vegetables will depend on the location, but according to Subway's website, you can choose from options such as black olives, green peppers, red onions, spinach, and tomatoes. To top it off, the sandwich contains less sodium than other Subway items, according to Basbaum.

Nutrition Information for Subway 6-inch Egg and Cheese Flatbread:

  • 450 calories
  • 43 grams carbohydrate
  • 19 grams protein
  • 22 grams fat
  • 2 grams fiber

Dunkin' Wake-Up Wrap with Turkey Sausage

Dunkin-Donuts-WAKE-UP WRAP-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

The Wake-Up Wrap at Dunkin' is a healthy fast-food breakfast sandwich that's made to order; it comes with egg, cheese, and your meat of choice in a flour tortilla. Not sure which meat to opt for? Turkey sausage has less saturated fat than standard pork sausage (6 vs. 8 grams), and more protein than bacon (11 vs. 10 grams), says registered dietitian Victoria Whittingon, R.D.N., C.P.T. The meal will also "provide a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that will keep you feeling satisfied until your next meal," explains Whittington.

Nutrition Information for Dunkin' Wake-Up Wrap with Turkey Sausage:

  • 240 calories
  • 15 grams carbohydrate
  • 11 grams protein
  • 15 grams fat
  • 0 grams fiber

Burger King Whopper Junior

Burger-King-Whopper Jr-Healthy-Fast-Food-Embeds
Courtesy of Merchants

"If you're at Burger King, your best bet is to get a hamburger or the Whopper Junior," says Bess Berger, R.D.N., C.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition by Bess. The reason? Like McDonald's, Burger King only offers fried chicken options, which contain more saturated fat and calories than that which is in their burgers. So, a Whopper Junior can actually be considered the "healthiest" order at the establishment — especially if you're looking to keep your intake of saturated fat and cals low. Moreover, the Whopper Junior has less sodium (571 milligrams) than most of the other menu options at Burger King, says Berger.Again, this will help you stay within the daily sodium rec of 2,300 milligrams a day, and ultimately, reduce the risk of high blood pressure.

Nutrition Information for Burger King Whopper Junior:

  • 337 calories
  • 30 carbohydrates
  • 15 grams protein
  • 19 grams fat
  • 2 grams fiber
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