Courtesy of Brand
Fast-food restaurants are known for their convenient and, oftentimes, budget-friendly offerings, but their menus aren’t necessarily known for being the healthiest. While you can find more nutritious picks on a menu (like these sandwiches from popular chains), here at EatingWell, we know that any food, including the burgers and fries you might pick up from a fast-food restaurant, has its time and place in a healthy diet—the key is moderation.
“There are times when ordering from a fast-food chain is more affordable, faster or maybe just what you’re in the mood for, and that’s OK. All foods can fit in a healthy eating pattern,” says Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, nutrition editor at EatingWell. “The key is to focus on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and healthy fats most of the time. These foods are harder to get at fast-food restaurants, whose meals are typically higher in added salt, added sugar and saturated fat than what you would make at home. That said, one fast-food meal, whether it’s on a road trip or when you need something inexpensive and fast, is not going to make or break your health.”
To inspire your next order, I reached out to my EatingWell co-workers to find out their go-to orders from fast-food restaurants like Taco Bell, Panera and more. Here’s what’s in our to-go bags.
If you’ve ever visited Taco Bell, then you’ve heard of their Crunchwrap Supreme. The filling dish features a layer of beef or beans with cheese topped with a crispy tortilla and lettuce and tomatoes all encased in a pressed tortilla. Allison Little, our production manager, says, “The Crunchwrap Supreme is one of my favorite culinary inventions.” Try it the next time you stop at Taco Bell, or re-create it at home with our Homemade Crunchwraps, which swaps ground turkey for beef.
Nutrition info for Taco Bell’s Crunchwrap Supreme, beef: 540 calories, 21 grams total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 1,210 mg sodium, 73 g carbohydrates, 6 g fiber, 6 g sugars, 15 g protein
Cheeseburger & Fries
When it comes to fast-food burgers, I have a certain nostalgia for McDonald’s. The golden arches remind me of my grandparents and our trips to get Happy Meals when I was a kid. While I no longer have a toy to look forward to in my meal, my go-to order has remained the same over the decades, a single cheeseburger with a side of small fries. I love the crunch of the chopped onions: they’re an ingredient that I don’t usually ask for on my burgers at other restaurants, but at McDonald’s, they’re a must-have.
Nutrition info for McDonald’s Cheeseburger: 300 calories, 13 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 720 mg sodium, 32 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 7 g sugars, 15 g protein
Nutrition info for McDonald’s Fries, small: 230 calories, 11 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 3 g protein
You Pick Two
When our editors can’t decide what to order at Panera, they rely on the You Pick Two, which allows you to get two half-sized entrees. For Danielle DeAngelis, EatingWell’s fellow, her duo includes the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich and a cup of Bistro French Onion Soup. The sandwich is loaded with veggies like cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, while hummus lends a creamy note and a boost of protein.
Nutrition for Panera’s Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich, half: 320 calories, 7 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 830 mg sodium, 54 g carbohydrates, 4 g fiber, 6 g sugars, 11 g protein
Nutrition info for Panera’s Bistro French Onion Soup, cup: 190 calories, 8 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 1,070 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 10 g sugars, 8 g protein
Meanwhile, for Victoria Seaver, EatingWell’s associate editorial director, her Pick Two includes a sandwich and salad. For the sandwich, Seaver opts for the Frontega Chicken Sandwich, a combination of smoked chicken, mozzarella, tomatoes, onions and a spicy chipotle sauce on focaccia (Re-create the sandwich at home with our Copycat Panera Frontega Chicken Sandwich). On the other side, Seaver chooses a classic Caesar salad to complete the meal she’s been ordering since high school.
Nutrition info for Panera’s Toasted Frontega Chicken, half: 420 calories, 19 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 950 mg sodium, 39 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 22 g protein
Nutrition info for Panera’s Caesar Salad, half: 170 calories, 13 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 5 g protein
Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken
When you need a filling, delicious salad, the Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken is a top choice for myself and my co-workers. While I’m a fan of all the ingredients, from the creamy, herbaceous dressing to the crumbled bits of bacon, it’s the pickled red onions that stand out for Addie Knight, our associate director, content operations. Knight says, “This salad inspired me to start putting pickled onions on everything I can!” Pickled red onions add a pop of brightness to this salad, but you can also use them on sandwiches or in grain bowls. Try making the salad for yourself with our Copycat Panera Green Goddess Cobb Salad.
Nutrition info for Panera’s Green Goddess Cobb Salad with Chicken: 500 calories, 29 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 275 mg cholesterol, 1,040 mg sodium, 27 g carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, 14 g sugars, 36 g protein
When our editors stop at their local Wendy’s, odds are high they’ll be ordering a baked potato. For Ball, the baked potato is the one item she always orders. Not only does it remind her of fun memories with her mom, but she’s also a fan of the dish’s versatility. The baked potato can be enjoyed as is, or it can be topped with sour cream and chives, bacon and cheese, cheese or chili and cheese, so you’re sure to find a topping combination that you love.
Nutrition info for Wendy’s Plain Baked Potato: 270 calories, 0 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol 40 mg sodium, 61 g carbohydrates, 7 g fiber, 3 g sugars, 7 g protein
Spicy Chicken Sandwich
When Carolyn Malcoun, EatingWell’s senior food features editor, and her family are on a road trip and need to stop for a meal, they always look for a Wendy’s. From their single cheeseburgers, which Malcoun says always taste fresh, to refreshing beverage options, Malcoun is a fan. One item that she likes to order is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which features a spicy breaded chicken breast on a bun with lettuce, tomato and mayo. If you’re not craving a full sandwich, you can also order the spicy chicken in nugget form.
Nutrition info for Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich: 490 calories, 20 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 1,160 mg sodium, 50 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 28 g protein
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Proteins to Top Salads, Bowls or Burritos
While the flavor combinations are endless at Chipotle, thanks to their mix-and-match format, there are a few ingredients that our editors always add to their order. Maria Laura Haddad-Garcia, EatingWell’s senior nutrition and news editor, opts for a salad topped with the grilled chicken and a range of toppings. Another go-to protein choice for Little and Ball is the sofritas. The flavorful, seasoned tofu is a great option if you’re looking to eat more plant-based (try our Copycat Chipotle Sofritas at home). Whether it’s a bowl or burrito, learn how to order healthy at Chipotle.
Nutrition info for Chipotle’s chicken: 180 calories, 7 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 125 mg cholesterol, 310 mg sodium, 0 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 32 g protein
Nutrition info for Chipotle’s sofritas: 150 calories, 10 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 560 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 8 g protein
When Sean Kenniff, EatingWell’s senior food editor, was growing up, his family lived by a Burger King. Since he didn’t eat meat then, his go-to order at the chain was the fish sandwich, and “it still holds a place in my heart,” says Kenniff. Featuring white Alaskan pollock with a panko breading, tartar sauce and pickles on a brioche-style bun, this sandwich is a great alternative to a hamburger.
Nutrition info for Burger King’s Big Fish: 560 calories, 30 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 53 mg cholesterol, 1,275 mg sodium, 55 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 9 g sugars, 18 g protein
Step aside, tenders and nuggets. If Knight is going to order chicken from a fast-food restaurant, it’ll be in the shape of Burger King’s chicken fries. Knight grew up as a picky eater, so chicken fingers were a frequent order. While her palate has since broadened, whenever she gets a craving for chicken fingers, her go-to choice is the chain’s chicken fries (although she does miss when Burger King’s nuggets used to be in the shape of crowns!).
Nutrition info for Burger King’s Chicken Fries: 253 calories, 13 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 44 mg cholesterol, 769 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 15 g protein