Fast Food Best Choices

Nutrition at Fast Food Restaurants

Subway sandwich
elvabaro/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

When you are looking for a nutritious meal on the go, fast food restaurants can be a minefield of less healthy, high-calorie choices. Having in mind what to choose can help you avoid tempting "meal deals" that could add 200 or more calories.

If you are dieting or simply looking for the best nutrition, aim for a meal that is 500 calories or less, including the drink. It is helpful that many chains now show the calorie total with the items on their displays.

Many chains also have an app with a nutrition calculator that can help you customize your meal and even order it ahead. This can help you ensure you are staying within the bounds of your diet, whether it be low-carb, calorie-controlled, or another popular format. These will also help you spot which items provide more vitamins, minerals, and fiber as is needed for a balanced and healthy diet.

Nutrition Rules of Thumb for Fast Food

  • Meals of 500 calories or less
  • Grilled rather than fried
  • Choose salads and avoid high-fat toppings
  • 6-inch subs rather than foot-long sandwiches
  • Single-patty burgers without bacon or mayonnaise
  • No-calorie drinks (water, diet sodas, coffee, unsweetened tea)
  • Order ahead on the restaurant's app so you aren't tempted by worse choices

Subway Best Choices

Subway features its "Fresh Fit" sandwiches, and it is easy to find options for under 500 calories that are low in fat and packed with healthy vegetables.

Their Fresh Fit subs have a standard recipe of being served on 9-grain wheat bread with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and cucumbers. Even if you are choosing one of their less-lean meat sandwiches, having them hold the mayo and oil can reduce the calories and fat. You can also choose to have any of the sandwiches as a salad.

  • Best Choices for Subs: The lowest-calorie sub is the 6-inch Veggie Delite with 190 calories, 2 grams fat, 39 grams carbohydrate, and 9 grams protein. Other good choices for under 350 calories and under 6 grams of fat include the 6-inch ham, turkey, sweet onion chicken teriyaki, and oven-roasted chicken.
  • Best Low-Carb Diet Choices: The salads are your best bet when eating low-carb. Choose the same meats as in the healthier subs (ham, turkey, oven-roasted chicken) as well as tuna. The lower-carb dressings are the oil, red wine vinegar, and light mayonnaise options.
  • Avoid: Skip adding cheese, mayonnaise, and other high-fat toppings and condiments to your sandwich or salad. Don't add on a bag of chips or a cookie.

Wendy's Best Choices

Wendy's has some good options for a quick stop, including a very healthy grilled chicken sandwich. Some of the options below, such as the grilled chicken wrap and the chili, are only available at locations in Canada.

  • Caesar Side Salad: With the Caesar dressing and croutons, this salad has 340 calories, 29 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrate, and 9.4 grams protein. If you take away the dressing, that goes down to 160 calories, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrate, and 9 grams protein. The salad alone provides 15% of the daily recommended calcium and 10% of the daily recommended iron.
  • Grilled Chicken Wrap: The wrap has 280 calories, 12 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrate, and 18 grams protein. Note that the spicy version is significantly higher in calories and has nearly twice as much fat, so it is not as good of a choice.
  • Grilled Chicken Sandwich: The sandwich has 360 calories, 34 grams protein, and 9 grams fat. They keep the fat low with a smoky honey mustard dressing and a healthy mix of spring greens.
  • Chili: You make a good choice here whether you choose the small or the large chili. The small has only 290 calories, while the large is still low at 380 calories and 16 grams fat. The carbohydrate level is rather high (40 grams), but the chili also has 23 grams protein and 8 grams fiber.
  • Sour Cream and Chive Potato: The potato has 310 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 63 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams protein, 8% of recommended daily calcium, and 15% of recommended iron.
  • Avoid: The breaded and fried chicken sandwich choices are high in fat and calories, so don't choose those over the grilled chicken.

McDonald's Best Choices

You can find a few nutritious choices at McDonald's, especially if you select the apple slices rather than fries. McDonald's Nutrition Calculator helps you make good choices by selecting current items and customizing ingredients to see the results.

  • Filet-O-Fish Sandwich: Made from wild-caught Alaskan Pollock, the fish sandwich has only 380 calories and 18 grams fat. It also has 16 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrate, and 10% of the recommended daily amount of iron.
  • McChicken Sandwich: This sandwich has 400 calories, 21 grams fat, 14 grams protein, and 39 grams carbohydrate. Pair it with the apples for a nutritious meal.
  • Apple Slices Pack: Never fear adding this instead of fries, as it has only 15 calories and 4 grams carbohydrate.
  • Hamburger or Cheeseburger: The single burger and single cheeseburger are surprisingly low in calories (250 and 300 respectively), and if teamed with a apple slices rather than fries, they are good choices. The hamburger has 9 grams fat, while the cheeseburger has 13 grams.
  • Avoid: Hold the fries and slushies. The buttermilk chicken sandwich has 200 more calories than the McChicken sandwich, so if you want a healthier chicken-based meal, it should be your last choice.

Burger King Best Choices

Burger King has a few good options, but you must select carefully. Burger King's Nutrition Explorer helps you find current best items based on criteria including under 300 calories, under 500 calories, less than 10 grams fat, less than 800 milligrams carbohydrate, less than 800 milligrams sodium, and less than 20 grams sugar. You can also sort by allergies.

  • Spicy Crispy Chicken Jr: With 387 calories and 21 grams fat, this seems to be the healthiest of the chicken sandwich options. It has 11.5 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrate, and 742.5 milligrams sodium.
  • Hamburger: The plain hamburger has 242 calories, 9.7 grams fat, 26 grams carbohydrate, and 12.6 grams protein.
  • Big Fish: If you don't want chicken or beef, the Big Fish is one of your better alternatives. The fish sandwich has 513 calories, 28 grams fat, 51 grams carbohydrate, and 15.5 grams protein.
  • Apple Sauce: The apple sauce is the healthiest side with only 50 calories and no fat. It has 13 grams carbohydrate and 1 gram fiber.
  • Avoid: Skip the fries and onion rings. You may also want to avoid the crispy chicken salad, as the Nutrition Explorer shows it has over 870 calories and 70 grams fat. The Impossible Whopper is another choice that isn't as healthy as it appears, with over double the calories of a plain hamburger and three times the amount of fat.

Taco Bell Best Choices

Taco Bell provides a Fresco Menu of items with reduced fat and calories that skip the cheese and use fresh salsa. You can find items easily that way for 350 calories or less. You may be able to lighten other items by ordering them "Fresco Style" as well. Those on low-carb diets can do well with ordering chicken items without sour cream and not eating the tortilla or shell.

Portion control is important at Taco Bell. While many menu items are low enough in calories, the temptation is to eat more than one. Use Taco Bell's Nutrition Calculator to see nutrition for each item, including results when adding or subtracting ingredients.

  • Taco: The basic beef soft taco has 180 calories, 9 grams fat, 9 grams protein, and 17 grams carbohydrate. The beef crunchy taco has 170 calories, 9 grams fat, 8 grams protein, and 13 grams carbohydrate.
  • Fresco Tacos (Beef): The soft taco has 160 calories, 6 grams fat, 7 grams protein, and 19 grams carbohydrate. The crunchy taco has 150 calories, 7 grams fat, 6 grams protein, and 15 grams carbohydrate.
  • Fresco Burrito Supreme (Chicken): This burrito has 340 calories, 9 grams fat, 17 grams protein, and 48 grams carbohydrate. It also provides 20% of the daily recommended value of iron.
  • Fresco Bean Burrito: The fresco bean burrito has 320 calories, 7 grams fat, 11 grams protein, and 53 grams carbohydrate.
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Article Sources
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  2. Wendy's. Nutrition and Health. 2021.

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  4. Burger King. Nutrition Explorer. 2021.

  5. Taco Bell. Nutrition Calculator. 2021.