Going Out, Nutrition
Healthy Fast Food: The Best and Worst Fast Food Chains Revealed | Nutrition Gone Wild

Healthy Fast Food: The Best and Worst Fast Food Chains Revealed

So it may sound like a lie…

HEALTHY FAST FOOD.

You are not wrong, fast food is really unhealthy.

But in a race full of unhealthy choices, it could be helpful to decipher where you have some better options and where you should avoid at all costs.

In a world full of tacos, sandwiches, burgers, burritos, pizza, fried chicken tempting you all the time (especially when your guard is down as you leave the bar), it is worth talking about the nutritional content of fast food.

Fast doesn’t mean it has to be drive-thru, so I tried my best to also include some fast-casual restaurants too because just talking about the typical burger places has been done a thousand times.

Before making a full evaluation of America’s favorite fast food, I should share with you how I decided to evaluate each one. I’m not going to try and rank all these places by number, just give you my two cents on many popular fast food establishments.

My criteria:

  1. Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?
  2. If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?
  3. Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?
  4. Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

Obviously there is much more to health than this criteria, but these are some points really worth talking about.

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McDonald’s

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

The biggest fast food chain in the world clearly needs to be part of this evaluation. In 2015, McDonald’s was valued at $81 billion (so a few people like it, I guess)! They account for a fifth of the fast food market in the United States.

To the evaluation:

  • Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

In the chicken department, when it’s grilled you can do okay at McDonald’s:

  • McChicken: 370 calories
  • Buffalo Ranch McChicken: 370 calories (how is the addition of ranch not add to the calorie count?)
  • Premium McWrap Chicken Sweet Chili (Grilled): 400 calories

Burgers…the smaller ones are reasonable in calories, but personally it’s hard just to have one of the small burgers at McDonalds (maybe less reasonable given french fry supplementation)

  • Regular Hamburger: 250 calories
  • Regular Cheeseburger: 300 calories
  • Double Cheeseburger: 440 calories
  • McDouble: 390 calories

Filet-O-Fish is only 390 calories, but it is fried and contains 19g of fat. So lower in calories, but not really a healthy fast food option. 

Chicken McNuggets (10 piece): 470 calories (like the fish, it’s fried and rings in at 30g of fat)

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

  • Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken: 270 calories, 24g fat (You save yourself 140 calories by going grilled over fried or “crispy” chicken, but the fat content is still very high). If you take the chicken off, you have a salad with 140 calories and 7g fat.
  • Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken: 310 calories, 14g fat (somehow more reasonable in the fat but contains bacon and ranch…very confusing).If you take the chicken off, you have a salad with 190 calories and 12g fat.
  • Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken: 330 calories, 11g fat (while higher in calories than the other choices, the fat is the most reasonable among your salad choices). If you take the chicken off, you have a salad with 160 calories and 7g fat.

Your salad choices here are not the worst you could do, but skip the ranch, bacon, and fried stuff where possible for some actual healthy salad.

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

The kids meal side is now not just limited to fries. You can choose apple slices or yogurt now if you want to choose something healthier for the kiddos (or yourself). Ordering the kids meal when they offer fruit as a side is an easy way to easily portion control yourself and get some nutrients. Just watch how much sugar is in the yogurt however (should you not want apples).

McDonald’s is now offering 2% milk (also in chocolate) and apple juice. Beware of the sugar! You are better off with water or the regular milk if you are a milk drinker.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

You can get a side salad that will only cost you 15 calories, before you dress it. Not a bad option. Other than that, McDonald’s only offers a non-fried side to the kiddos.

Takeaways

The Good: There are salads that are reasonable in calories, the kiddos can get sides other than fries, and grilled chicken sandwiches aren’t too dangerous.

The Bad: The most popular and classic options, like the Big Mac (540 calories and 28g fat) and Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (780 calories and 40g fat) are calorie and fat bombs!

Conclusion: You can maneuver the McDonald’s menu and eat something that won’t push you completely off the healthy eating bandwagon, but tread carefully. Don’t make dining at McDonalds a habit.

 

Taco Bell

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

Taco bell is not Mexican food. But sometimes you crave the “not really that Mexican” food that is Taco Bell, usually when sobriety has left the building. With the fast food industry struggling to stay relevant given the bad health rap, Taco Bell managed to grow their worldwide sales by 8% in 2015.

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

Taco Bell came in early trying to vie for your attention via the “healthier” menu. Their fresco menu, around since 2003, promises “7 signature Fresco items, each with only 350 calories or less and all under 10 grams of fat.”

This Menu Offers:
  • Burritos (Bean, Chicken, Steak): 350 calories, 340 calories, 340 calories

  • Soft Tacos (Beef, Chicken, Steak): 160 calories, 140 calories, 140 calories

  • Beef Crunchy Taco: 140 calories

This is not a bad option and I commend Taco Bell for making health(ier) eating easier. Of the “specialty” menu (their words not mine) options, there are few lower calorie options:

  • Chalupa Supreme (Beef, Chicken, Steak): 360 calories, 340 calories, 340 calories (beware, high in fat however)
  • Gordita Supreme (Beef, Chicken, Steak): 280 calories, 260 calories, 270 calories (fat was much more reasonable (chicken and steak options have less than 10g fat)
  • Feeling Nachos? Nachos supreme will 440 calories and 23g of fat. When you consider the fat content of nachos from a real taco shop, this is relatively low.
What about the classics?
  • Regular Crunchy Taco: 190 calories and 9g fat
  • Regular Beef Soft Taco: 180 calories and 9g fat

If you order the same tacos on the fresco menu, you get to save a few calories and add some veggies to your meal. An easy way to add a little health to your Taco Bell order.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

They offer one taco salad that varies by meat choice, none of which are low in calories or fat:

  • Beef Taco Salad: 770 calories and 39g fat
  • Chicken Taco Salad:720 calories and 33g fat
  • Steak Taco Salad: 730 calories and 34g fat

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

Back in 2014, Taco Bell decided to stop offering a kids menu. I can see why you don’t need one in a place that offers tacos, an already small portion option. Order the kiddos something off the fresco menu and you should be safe.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

You can get a side of black beans and rice which will cost you 180 calories and 4g of fat. Not too bad in comparison to the fried side items you usually get at a fast food place.

Takeaways

The Good: The Fresco menu makes things easier when wondering what healthier options exist.

The Bad: Avoid the salad option and skip the cheese and sour cream where possible.

Conclusion: Taco Bell is by no means is healthy, but with portion control and limiting visits to special occasions (and no, being drunk on a Tuesday is not a “special occasion”), you could do much worse.

 

Panera

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

I recently made a visit to Panera (one of my go-to spots for lunch and writing) and noticed they are touting their establishment as a place where you can still eat clean. So I decided they needed to be investigated a little and included on this list. Clean eating doesn’t always equate to low calorie and usually just indicates a lack of preservatives and additives (which from what I can tell they are not lying about).

Panera’s revenue in 2015 was $2.68 billion, so clearly i’m not the only fan. But are their offerings really that healthy?

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

I’m not going to include pastries/breads (because that could be it’s own article) or salad in this section. Salads will be debated in the next section.

Of their whole sized sandwiches:
  • Smoked Turkey Breast Sandwich on Country bread: 440 calories. This is the ONLY whole sandwich you can order for less than 500 calories!

If you want to order a sandwich or flatbread option, order the HALF if you want to keep the calorie count healthy.

  • Steak and Arugula on Sourdough: 250 calories
  • Roasted Turkey and Avocado BLT: 270 calories
  • Napa Almond Chicken Salad Sandwich on Sesame Semolina: 350 calories
  • Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich on Tomato Basil: 280 calories
  • BBQ Chicken Flatbread: 370 calories
  • Mediterranean Flatbread: 310 calories

Soup is a major option at Panera too. Usually not very healthy due to the sodium content, here is their 3 healthiest options in the 1.5 cup bowl size option:

  • Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup: 310 calories, 850mg sodium
  • Low-Fat Vegetarian Black Bean Soup: 140 calories, 1110mg sodium
  • Low-Fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto: 120 calories, 1110mg sodium

The sodium count is not great, but these are the better options of their many soups.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

You can order a few salads at Panera in their whole size for less than 400 calories, but most hit the mark just above that. Considering how large these salads are, the calories counts are not that terrible.

Whole salads that hit the calorie mark:
  • Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken: 340 calories, 13g fat
  • Greek Salad: 400 calories, 36g fat (where the hell is the fat coming from?)
  • Caesar Salad: 290 calories, 23g fat
Whole salads that are just a little over the calorie mark:
  • Watermelon Feta Salad: 460 calories, 24g fat
  • Romaine & Kale Caesar Salad with Chicken: 490 calories, 32g fat
  • BBQ Salad with Chicken: 450 calories, 20g fat
  • Caesar Salad with Chicken: 420 calories, 25g fat

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

Their kids meal options are just like mini sizes of the less complex meal options for adults. Nice of them to make a salad an option for the kiddos…

Side for the kids are the same as for adults (with the addition of yogurt), so avoid the side of bread and fried kettle chips and opt for the apple or yogurt. Like with McDonald’s, check the sugar on the yogurt option.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

Other than the kettle chips, all their side options are not from the fryer. I don’t think Panera restaurants even have a fryer in their kitchen. So there is a win for them in my book. However, a side of bread if you are already eating a sandwich isn’t exactly healthy.

Takeaways

The Good: If you are trying to portion control, Panera’s half size choices is great! And to be honest, you can only really keep it low in calories in the half size choices. The kids can get get a salad for a meal and apple on the side, so they get my recommendation for a good place for kids (or your grandma).

The Bad: Their soups, as to be expected, are HIGH in sodium. Many of the bowl size options push your intake very close to the edge of your daily recommendation. YIKES! Some salads are high in the fat and calorie counts, but consider taking the meat off if you are getting your protein at another meal. This could help the salad situation.

Conclusion: If you are going out for a quick meal, Panera gets high marks for offering many items that are both delicious and relatively healthy. They may not have a drive thru window, but choosing Panera over many other options will leave you in a much healthier position.

 

Chipotle

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

Chipotle has been riding the health struggle bus for reasons much more terrible than calories.

Their food safety issues have led them into a corner that looks like they may not make it as a chain into the next decade…The love for Chipotle came from their philosophy of using locally sourced and fresh ingredients, but it has now been overshadowed by reports of food poisoning and their now former CEO’s drug habit.

But many of you are still eating there, so it’s a chain worth talking about. They are second to Taco Bell in the Mexican food quick serve category, even with their bad headlines as of late. Chipotle’s third quarter sales growth was rather abysmal at only 12%. With sales this year only at $1.2 billion, way down from their $4.11 billion sales in 2014, hopefully they can regain control over their business and improve their reputation.  

If Jack in the Box can recover from the death of a little boy from E.Coli, I think Chipotle may stand a chance…

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

Since Chipotle is all about building your meal yourself, their nutrition information is also a calculator. This is great for those regular people wondering what their meal adds up to calorie-wise, but for my purposes makes this more arduous.

Let’s look at some of the popular items bases and their toppings:

Tacos: Your choices starts with your 3 (that’s a lot of tacos) tortillas to build on. Crispy corn and soft corn tortillas both cost you 210 calories and flour will cost you 250 calories.

Burritos: Their flour tortilla has 300 calories and 10g of fat.

Burrito Bowl: Luckily you don’t eat the bowl, so their is the calorie saver.

Salad: They give you a base of 10 calories worth of romaine lettuce.

Meat Options:
  • Chicken: 180 calories
  • Steak: 190 calories
  • Carnitas: 210 calories
  • Barbacoa: 165 calories
  • Sofritas: 145 calories *awesome for its low calories and flavor
Fillings:
  • White Rice: 210 calories (1g fiber)
  • Brown Rice: 210 calories *But there is more fiber than it’s white counterpart (2.5g fiber)
  • Black Beans: 120 calories
  • Pinto Beans: 115 calories
  • Fajita Vegetables: 20 calories (PILE THEM ON! Low calorie and very filling and nutritious)
Salsas:
  • Pico: 25 calories
  • Corn Salsa: 80 calories
  • Tomatillo Green salsa: 15 calories
  • Tomatillo Red salsa: 30 calories
Other Toppings:
  • Sour cream: 115 calories *AVOID

  • Cheese: 100 calories *AVOID

  • Guacamole: 230 calories

  • Lettuce: 5 calories

So let’s build some things that cost less than 500 calories:
  • 3 chicken tacos on corn tortillas with fajita veggies, pico, red tomatillo salsa, and lettuce will cost you 455 calories.
  • 3 sofritas tacos on corn tortillas with black beans, with green tomatillo salsa, and lettuce will cost you 495 calories.
  • In the burrito department, it is almost impossible to keep it under 500 calories when the tortilla is already 300 calories. All you can really have is meat and a tortilla…
  • The Burrito bowl option makes it easiest to lower the calorie count. You can have the barbacoa bowl with black beans, fajita veggies, and ALL the salsa choices for 455 calories, but add some cheese or guac and you’re pushing over 600 calories.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

You can build your own salad just like any other offering at Chipotle, which is nice when you want more control over the calories.

  • You can build yourself a chicken salad with black beans, fajita veggies, and red tomatillo salsa for 360 calories.
  • Or a change it up with steak and you can still get away with keeping it at 370 calories.

Given the size of meals at Chipotle, your salad should be plenty filling.

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

The kids have an option of building a 2-taco meal themselves or a quesadilla with sides. The side are rice and beans, like the typical Mexican restaurant, so that’s not a bad offering. In addition, you get a choice of grapes, an orange, or chips. Skip the chips, they are deep fried. The fruit offerings are great, so stick with that.

Like McDonald’s, they also offer milk or juice. Stick with water unless you need the low fat milk.

The calories add up quickly when you build your meal, and the kids meal is no different. Just be aware of your choices’ calories.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

For the adults, you can choose to buy chips. Their tortilla chips, while delicious, are high in fat and calories. They are deep fried and weigh in with 570 calories and 27g of fat! Add that to your 500 calorie meal and you have just had over 1,000 calories for lunch.

Maybe ask if you can purchase the fruit option from the kids menu if you really think the rest of your meal isn’t enough…

Takeaways

The Good: Trying to eat fewer calories? The power is in your hands. Often the hard part about eating about is not having much control. Chipotle offers you some control, if you know how to order.

The Bad: You really have to have self-control when it comes to ordering at Chipotle, if you want to be healthy. Your burrito will be boring if you are trying to limit calories. At least if you get the burrito bowl you can add some extra goodies and get wild with salsa…

Conclusion: You have the control. Get a salad or burrito bowl. Avoid tortillas. Oh, and pray you don’t get food poisoning…

 

Subway

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

Subway has really done well to market themselves as a healthy place to eat. Thanks to Jared (what a terrible person he turned out to be), Subway got some help in positioning their food as a dieting tool. In 2015, Subway’s sales in the U.S. was $11.5 billion!

Are Subway sandwiches actually healthy for you? It is definitely not something I would tout as a “dieting tool,” but if you need a quick meal, it is a better option among the others on the list for fast food. I mean, THEY HAVE VEGETABLES!

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

Here are their 6-inch sandwich options with their “standard toppings” that won’t cost you more than 500 calories:

  • Carved Turkey sandwich: 330 calories (this is with no cheese and whether condiments are included is unclear).
  • Classic Tuna: 480 calories (this does include mayo)
  • Italian BMT: 410 calories
  • Oven Roasted Chicken/Roast Beef: 320 calories
  • Veggie Delight: 280 calories

Without getting too list-y here, MOST options are under 500 calories before you add cheese and condiments. Consider skipping the cheese and be cautious with the mayo-based sauces. When it comes to bread, stick to whole wheat. It has the fiber content you want!

Also, if you are concerned about sodium, watch out for the pickled items among the veggies.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

Subway salads are just the sandwich options in salad form. So go heavy with the vegetables and stick to chicken and turkey. Go with a vinaigrette over a creamy ranch for dressing and you can easily keep the calorie count under 400.

*Pro tip: Dip your fork in the dressing and then into salad, rather than dumping it on. It will better control how much dressing your consume. This is a good idea since often the dressing is what ruins the health of a salad.

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

The kids meal is a mini sandwich, which hovers between 180-200 calories. The side options are apple slices, baked chips, or a cookie. Obviously the good choice is apples. While baked chips are better than the fried kind, they are still devoid of any real nutritional value.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

Subway doesn’t have a deep fryer. You can get nutrition-less chips or a cookie, but consider skipping a side all together. Your sandwich should really be enough. Ask for the kids apples if you must…

Takeaways

The Good: Most menu items are pretty safe and the kids offerings are also healthy. You can also load on the veggies!

The Bad: It is a little deceptive that the nutrition information doesn’t include condiments or cheese, but I would have made the suggestion to skip cheese and mayo to begin with.

Conclusion: Not really something you should eat everyday, but Subway is pretty healthy if you can’t make your own sandwich at home.

 

Panda Express

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

We have all had the Panda Express orange chicken that elicits a response similar to crack. I have learned to stay away from one of the only fast food chinese chains in the U.S. because of some less than enjoyable stomach aches. Their food is high fat, high sugar, and high sodium, making it perfectly addictive…

With nearly $1.8 billion in sales in 2014, the lack of nutrition isn’t keeping people away from the crack-chicken. But is there anything of redeeming quality on their menu? Is it even possible to eat at Panda Express with my criteria?

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

There are a few ways to order things at Panda Express, but I’m going to cover this subject like it is just an individual ordering, not like Chinese take-out for the fam.

The only way you can have a meal less than 500 calories is if you have only one entree. And really, you can’t really have your side with it…But we shall try and see what is possible here.

Your sides:
  • Chow mein: 510 calories (already more than your meal by my standards)
  • Fried Rice: 520 calories
  • Mixed Veggies: 80 calories (say yes to the VEG)
  • White Steamed Rice: 380 calories
  • Steamed Brown Rice: 420 calories (higher in fiber than the white)
Entrees of a reasonable calorie count (which Panda Express denotes for you):
  • Pacific Chili Shrimp: 200 calories
  • String Bean Chicken Breast: 190 calories
  • Kung Pao Chicken: 290 calories
  • Mushroom Chicken: 170 calories
  • Black Pepper Chicken: 280 calories
  • Grilled Chicken Teriyaki: 300 calories
  • Broccoli Beef: 150 calories

So let’s take your lowest calorie side, mixed vegetables and add it to each “low-calorie” entree and see how we do. Consider that you are ordering their Panda Bowl.

  • Pacific Chili Shrimp: 280 calories
  • String Bean Chicken Breast: 270 calories
  • Kung Pao Chicken: 370 calories
  • Mushroom Chicken: 250 calories
  • Black Pepper Chicken: 360 calories
  • Grilled Chicken Teriyaki: 380 calories
  • Broccoli Beef: 230 calories

All these seem reasonable if you are just considering their calorie counts. But both the Kung Pao chicken and Black Pepper chicken have 19g of fat. This is more fat (by 1g) than the Orange chicken has. I guess the point being here that the calorie counts have been improved upon from earlier Panda Express options, but they are still not healthy. Less calories does not always a healthy meal make.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

Salads? There are no salads at Panda Express.

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

Their website no longer lists a kids meal, but I’m pretty sure they offer a one entree sized meal as a kids meal option. If you go veggies for the side, it is going to add up the same as what an adult will be eating. Not great for the kids.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

This is fried side mecca. They have fried rice, chow mein, and then all their deep fried sides you can add on:

  • Cream Cheese Rangoons: 190 calories, 8g fat
  • Chicken Egg roll: 200 calories, 9g fat
  • Veggie Spring roll: 190 calories, 8g fat
  • Crispy Shrimp: 260 calories 13g fat

Takeaways

The Good: If you are going as a treat, the calorie count here is probably better than at a real Chinese restaurant. But I can’t say there is anything nutritious about Panda Express. Not a shock to you I hope…

The Bad: Looking at the calories for a single entree without the accompaniment of sides, all seems okay…But fat, sugar, sodium counts are terrible and the sides automatically come with a meal, so that really ruins everything. 

Conclusion: Chinese food is unhealthy in America. It’s not real Chinese food and we have taken our unhealthy American ways and sauced, sugared, and fried it up! If you eat at Panda and are willing to basically throw money away by not eating your side, go for it. Otherwise, you should probably steer clear. Nothing good can come of your trip to Panda.

 

Chick-Fil-A

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

The health of Chick-Fil-A has been overshadowed by their choice to get involved into hot political debates, like gay rights. But they have maintained a relatively good reputation through their focus on customer service and well, grilled chicken isn’t that terrible for you.

Not quite as popular as KFC, Chick-Fil-A still has quite the customer base, bringing in $5.1 billion in U.S. sales in 2015. I first became aware of Chick-Fil-A’s relatively healthy options thanks to the book Eat This, Not That, which grew its brand and now has a website of information that I find very informative when eating out.

Let’s check out what makes Chick-Fil-A a healthier choice:

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

So we know that fried chicken isn’t healthy. But, even some of their fried sandwiches ring in under 500 calories. Obviously grilled options are the healthier option and you can save some calories. But here is the full list of options:

  • Classic crispy chicken sandwich: 440 calories
  • Spicy crispy chicken sandwich: 490 calories
  • 8-count nuggets: 270 calories
  • 4-count chicken strip: 470 calories
  • Grilled chicken club sandwich: 440 calories
  • Grilled chicken sandwich: 320 calories
  • 8-count grilled nuggets: 140 calories (If you must nugget, do it grilled)
  • Grilled chicken cool wrap: 340 calories

There are very few things that go above the 500 calorie mark in the sandwich department. If you want to have a side with your sandwich, consider a lower calorie sandwich.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

Chick-Fil-A doesn’t quite do as well in the salad department across the board. They offer just a couple, but some are high in calories and fat:

  • Cobb salad: 500 calories and 24g of fat
  • Grilled market salad: 320 calories and 14g of fat **The only reasonable option
  • Spicy Southwest Salad: 420 calories and 19g fat

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

The kids meal offers a cup of fruit in addition to the standard criss-cross fries. But they only offer the kiddos the nugget options. If you want to stick to the kids menu, go grilled nuggets and fruit. But there are other healthier side options available not on the kids menu.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

If you can resist the delicious fries, there are many healthier options for sides for your meal:

  • Fruit: 50 calories (must be a good size serving)
  • Greek Yogurt parfait: 160 calories
  • Chicken Soup: 140 calories (sodium is 1040mg, not great)
  • Side salad: 80 calories
  • Superfood side: 140 calories (props for the trade out for coleslaw)

In comparison to fries (310 calories), these are great options!

Takeaways

The Good: Pretty much all the sandwiches are reasonable in calories and you can add to your meal with healthier sides that really aren’t options in any other fast food place.

The Bad: It is still fried chicken and fast food. You would still be better off at home cooking, but hey, this is a decent fast food option as long as your moral compass is afflicted by eating there.

Conclusion: Stop being so political Chick-Fil-A and keep your food offerings on the healthy side (like they currently are) and I can’t even hate. Just don’t try and go on Sunday, they are closed.

I always want Chick-Fil-A on Sundays…

 

KFC

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In case you have forgotten, like the company helped you to forget via marketing, KFC stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’m not a marketer, but I would say their move to rebrand themselves without the world “fried” being prominent, was a smart choice.

Brand revenue for KFC in 2015 was $12.6 billion, making them the fourth largest fast food brand in the world. One quarter of their stores are located in China and there are 26.7 KFC stores for every million people in Australia.

KFC is EVERYWHERE.

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

So KFC didn’t fare as well as Chick-Fil-A when it comes to keeping the calories lower. Here are some highlights, keeping in mind this calorie count is even before sides:

  • Original recipe crispy chicken breast (1pc, on the bone): 320 calories, 16g fat
  • Kentucky grilled chicken breast (1pc, on the bone): 180 calories, 6g fat
  • 3 Extra crispy chicken tenders: 410 calories
  • Colonel’s Original sandwich: 500 calories (drop the sauce and its 430 calories)

Beyond switching to grilled, what will really make or break your meal will be the sides.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

Luckily, even with the fried chicken, the salad options weigh in less than 400 calories:

  • Crispy Chicken BLT salad: 370 calories and 19g fat (minus chicken the salad is 100 calories)
  • Crispy Chicken Caesar salad: 350 calories and 19g fat (minus chicken the salad is 80 calories)

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

The kids get a choice of any of the regular sides. Some of them are not so terrible:

  • Corn on the cobb: 70 calories
  • Green beans: 25 calories
  • Sweet corn: 110 calories
  • Mashed potatoes: 90 calories

Corn isn’t the most nutritious vegetable, but it is better than fries. Baked beans are not fried, but the sugar content is not thrilling.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

So there are non-fried side options, but I wouldn’t say that KFC offers healthier options like Chick-Fil-A. Here is the lineup:

Healthier choices
  • Corn on the cobb: 70 calories
  • Green beans: 25 calories
  • Sweet corn: 110 calories
  • Caesar side salad: 40 calories
  • House side salad: 15 calories
Unhealthy non-fried options:
  • Baked Beans: 240 calories and 16g sugar (AVOID)
  • Mashed Potatoes: 90 calories (skip the gravy to make is less unhealthy)
  • Coleslaw: 140 calories, 10g sugar, 12g of fat (this is not salad, skip it)
  • Cornbread: 210 calories (delicious, but not healthy)

Takeaways

The Good: EHHH Just go to Chick-Fil-A…

The Bad: Read above.

Conclusion: KFC serves bad-for-you comfort food. You can eat there, just make sure you aren’t in denial about the lack of nutrition.

 

Burger King

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

Burger King serves 55 million customers a month! Despite their decreased growth since 2009, Burger King is still the number 4 quick serve restaurant worldwide. They are on this list because they are very popular, but I don’t expect their offerings to be healthy by any means.

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

Let’s just get straight to the point here:
  • Whopper (no cheese, no mayo): 470 calories
  • Whopper Jr.: 310 calories
  • Grilled hot dog: 310 calories
  • Grilled chili dog: 330 calories
  • Tendergrilled chicken sandwich: 420 calories (if you take the mayo off you save another 100 calories)
  • Chicken Burger: 480 calories
  • 10-pc chicken nugget: 430 calories

There is not a lot of wiggle room there for sides. Also, just because the hot dogs are lower in calories doesn’t make them healthy…

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

I have discussed their salads before in my fast food salad article

Their salad options are abysmal in number, but I must push on and look at their TWO salads:

  • Garden grilled chicken salad (no dressing): 320 calories *add 260 calories with ranch dressing. Not bad, but who doesn’t dress their salad?
  • Bacon cheddar ranch chicken salad (with dressing): 590 calories

Skip the salads, this was pointless.

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

They offer applesauce (50 calories). Other than that, its fries only. *UNHAPPY NUTRITIONIST

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

Burger King has stuck to their guns offering fries and onion rings without the addition of a fruit or vegetable option. They offer the kids applesauce, but I’m not impressed.

Takeaways

The Good: If you must, get a Whopper Jr, at least it’s portion control.

The Bad: Pretty much everything, and I didn’t even talk about their chicken fries…

Conclusion: While “sticking to their guns” and deciding not to offer healthy food options may set them apart from their “conformist” competition, healthy eating and the wellness of humanity is not a fad that’s going to go away. Avoid Burger King. They have nothing redeeming about their offerings. What they call a salad grosses me out.

 

Arby’s

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

Arby’s may not be up in the list of the most popular fast food places, but they earned a review on this list because they offer some things that are unique to their restaurant. They ranked 15 in the U.S. in 2014 with $2.99 billion in sales.

I haven’t been to an Arby’s in a long time, so maybe they have made some health improvements like some of the others on this list…

To the evaluation:

Are there any meal items that cost you less than 500 calories?

I never knew there were so many menu options at Arby’s, but here are some things you can eat for less than 500 calories:

  • Classic roast beef sandwich: 360 calories
  • Classic beef and cheddar: 450 calories
  • Turkey Gyros: 470 calories
  • Ham and Cheese slider: 230 calories (also on the kids menu)

I will mention that they could step up their game with some more veggie toppings on their sandwiches. They are lower in calories, but lack some plant-based ingredients.

If they have salads, are they reasonable in fat and calories (less than 400 calories)?

Arby’s is doing alright in the salad department. Not a lot of choices, there is ONE… But the one they have isn’t bad.

  • Roast turkey farmhouse salad: 230 calories and 13g of fat

There is a crispy chicken option of the same salad, which rings in at 430 calories and 24g of fat. If they had grilled chicken, I think it would fare better in the fat.

Does their kids meal offer a side that is a fruit or vegetable?

Like Burger King, they only offer applesauce as an alternative to fries. The calorie count on the sandwiches they offer are reasonable, but then again they had to make it “slider size” to make that happen.

Do they offer any sides for your meal that are not deep fried?

Everyone loves curly fries, which Arby’s does well. But a small curly fry costs you 410 calories and 22g of fat. They also offer fried jalapenos, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, and potato cakes.

ALL FRIED.

There are no side options that are not fried other than the kid’s applesauce.

Takeaways

The Good: There are plenty of sandwich options that are under the 500 calories mark (but there are no veggies on those options) and their salad with the turkey is okay.

The Bad: It’s 2016, time to offer some side that don’t have a date with the deep fryer. Get it together Arby’s.

Conclusion: If its the only place around on your road trip, do it. Otherwise go somewhere they offer you a non-fried side and some more veggie toppings on your sandwich. At least at the burger places there are veggies on the burgers.

Grab your healthy fast food cheat sheet so you can remember this list the next time you find yourself in a fast food pinch!
GET MY CHEAT SHEET NOW>>

Can you have healthy fast food?

The Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants | Nutrition Gone Wild

If you have made it this far into this review, I commend your diligence to learning more about your fast food options.

My 3 healthiest fast food picks:

  1. Subway
  2. Chick-Fil-A
  3. Panera

My 3 least healthy fast food picks:

  1. Arby’s
  2. Burger King
  3. KFC

Fast food should never be your first choice, but if you have to go to one of these places, it would be smart to be informed. Being aware of the calories at these places is your armor in the war against unhealthy eating.

You can have fast food if it’s something you enjoy, but keep it a special occasion meal and try and make healthy trades to make you visit less unhealthy.

Want the scoop on some other fast food places? Tweet me or post on my Facebook page. I’d love to do some more investigating for you!

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About Kaitlin Cushman


Welcome to Nutrition Gone Wild. I'm Kaitlin, I have 2 degrees in nutrition, and I want to make a promise to you: I'm going to offer advice that is easy, beneficial, and applicable to your everyday life. This advice is meant to empower you to make these small changes that ultimately will benefit your overall health without taking the fun out of your daily schedule. Join me on this journey to living health(ier), wild and free!

Being healthy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good cocktail…

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Half the calories, all the fun.