Welcome to the blog page for Fast Food With Healthy Choices! This is the place where we’ll share our thoughts on everything from the food to the decor to the service at restaurants in our area. We’re focused on places that serve fast food—but not exactly what you would expect from most fast-food chains. We’re interested in chains that specialize in healthy, organic, natural foods—as well as sit-down restaurants that serve fast food with a side of healthy choices.
Fast Food With Healthy Options
While most fast foods are based on cheap, unhealthy ingredients, many fast-food establishments now offer healthy alternatives.
Some major chains even focus exclusively on providing healthy fast food.
These can be life-savers when you don’t have the time or energy to cook a healthy meal.
Here are 10 fast-food restaurants that have some healthy options on the menu.
Chipotle Mexican Grill is a restaurant chain that specializes in foods like tacos and burritos.
The company tries to use only organic, local ingredients, with meats from naturally raised animals.
Healthy options: burritos, tacos, and salads, with a variety of meats, veggies, rice, beans, and guacamole
Locations: all over the United States, as well as Canada, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom
Chick-fil-A is a fast-food restaurant that specializes in chicken sandwiches.
They were the first fast-food chain in the United States to offer a menu completely free of trans fat.
They have taken strides to make their dishes more healthy. In particular, their kids’ menu offers fruit cup sides and milk to drink.
Healthy options: grilled chicken nuggets, chicken salads, grilled market salad, and multi-grain breakfast oatmeal
Locations: throughout the United States
Wendy’s is the third-largest hamburger fast-food chain in the world, behind McDonald’s and Burger King.
Although their menu consists mostly of hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and French fries, they also offer some healthier alternatives.
Healthy options: chicken salads and chicken wraps
Locations: 30 countries worldwide, mostly in North and South America, Asia, and the Caribbean
McDonald’s is the world’s biggest fast-food chain.
It is famous for its signature burgers, such as the Big Mac.
Most of the offerings at McDonald’s are highly processed and unhealthy. The company has been slammed for its role in facilitating the worldwide obesity and type 2 diabetes epedemics.
However, due in part to this critique, McDonald’s has added several healthy options to its menu.
Healthy options: several healthy salads, mostly made with chicken, vegetables, and fruit
Locations: worldwide, in a total of 119 countries
You can take a look at their salad menu here.
Ruby Tuesday has many restaurants across the globe.
They offer a large menu, ranging from steaks and seafood to pasta and salads.
The healthier options on their menu are marked with the moniker “Fit & Trim.” Those dishes contain fewer than 700 calories per serving.
Ruby Tuesday offers options based on all sorts of dietary needs, such as gluten intolerance.
Healthy options: a variety of meat, fish, and salads, with side dishes like baked potatoes and fresh vegetables
Locations: North America and Europe
You can take a look at their
The Cheesecake Factory is known for gargantuan portion sizes and high calorie content.
However, due to increased pressure, they now offer a “SkinnyLicious” menu with smaller portion sizes and healthier ingredients.
Healthy options: steaks, fish, seafood, salads, and various appetizers
Locations: the United States, with several restaurants in the Middle East
You can take a look at their SkinnyLicious menu here.
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is an international fast-food restaurant known for its signature deep-fried chicken. This franchise serves mainly unhealthy foods.
However, some of their restaurants sell grilled chicken to serve their more health-conscious customers.
Healthy options: grilled chicken pieces and sides like green beans or corn on the cob
You can take a look at their menu here.
Subway is a fast-food restaurant that primarily sells build-it-yourself submarine sandwiches (subs) and salads.
That said, you can also skip the bread altogether and get a salad with chicken breast and plenty of fresh vegetables.
Healthy options: whole-grain bread, plus plenty of vegetables
Locations: 44,000 restaurants in 110 countries
You can take a look at their menu here.
Panera Bread is a bakery, café, and restaurant that serves baked goods, soups, salads, and sandwiches.
Healthy options: a variety of healthy soups and salads
Locations: North America
Healthy fast food breakfast
As always, keep an eye out for sugar. “Sugar can definitely be an issue at breakfast, even beyond the obvious offenders, like donuts and cinnamon rolls,” says Ansel. Smoothies, for example, may contain frozen yogurt or added sweeteners—and are often so large that you’re getting three to four servings of fruit per blend.
“Considering just about anything you order from a fast food restaurant is going to have more than enough fat and calories, be mindful of your portion sizes,” Ansel adds. “Whenever you can squeeze in a serving of fruit or vegetables, that’s a bonus,” she says.
To eliminate the guesswork (and online menu stalking), order up one of these dietitian-approved breakfasts next time you’re on the go.
1. Panera Bread Mediterranean Egg White Wrap
“I actually recommend ordering it with the whole egg,” says dietitian Kelly Jones, RD. “This way, you’re getting healthy fats, which are important for feeling satiated, so that you aren’t hungry again soon after the meal.” The egg yolk also provides essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. “Plus, you’ll get spinach, tomato, and whole grains,” Jones adds.
Of course, if you stick with the egg whites as is, you’ll still have a delicious and healthy breakfast that’s super low in sugar.
Per egg white wrap: 260 calories, 8 g fat (3 g sat), 31 g carbs, 3 g sugar, 650 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 10 g protein
2. Au Bon Pain Egg White, Cheddar, and Avocado Bagel Sandwich
AU BON PAN
“Au Bon Pain keeps things light but satisfying with their egg white, cheddar, and avocado bagel sandwich,” says Jones. “It comes on their wheat bagel, and you can order a small fruit cup on the side to start your day off with produce.”
Though a little higher in sugar (because of the fruit), this order provides plenty of energy, protein, and filling fiber.
Per sandwich + fruit cup: 430 calories, 23 g fat (12 sat), 40 g carbs, 17 g sugar (no added sugars), 605 mg sodium, 10 g fiber, 20 g protein
3. Jamba Juice Vanilla Blue Sky Bowl
“Jamba Juice has a variety of smoothie bowls, but many are very high in sugar and low in protein,” says Jones. “The Vanilla Blue Sky Bowl is one of their better options.
Loads of fruit provide some natural sugar and potassium, while blue spirulina algae gives it a fun color and adds lots of essential nutrients and phytochemicals.
Order this one without the granola and it also happens to be paleo-friendly.
Per bowl: 330 calories, 9 g fat (3 g sat), 62 g carbs, 33 g sugar, 85 mg sodium, 8 g fiber, 6 g protein
4. Pret a Manger Ricotta & Veggie Frittata
PRET A MANGER
“If you’re living in a city or frequently in airports or train stations, Pret a Manger’s Ricotta and Veggie Frittata is a great hot option,” says Jones. It provides hearty vegetables (like mushrooms and spinach), is high in protein, and is low enough in carbs to be keto-friendly.
To be fair, the meal doesn’t skimp on sodium, so you’ll want to keep intake a bit lower the rest of the day (and drink plenty of water), says Jones.
Per frittata: 430 calories, 28 g fat (11 g sat), 11 g carbs, 6 g sugar, 110 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 35 g protein
5. Dunkin’ Donuts Ham, Egg, And Cheese Wakeup Wrap
Skip the bagel sandwich and donut and go for this protein-rich option, suggests dietitian Karman Meyer, RD. With less than 200 calories and nine grams of protein, it’s a solid, quick option.
Just note that it’s a little higher in the sodium department.
Per wrap: 190 calories, 11 g fat (4 g sat), 15 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 600 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 9 g protein
6. Taco Bell Breakfast Soft Taco
Yes, you can actually eat a decent breakfast at Taco Bell. “Skip the meat on this egg and cheese wrap and order two to score a total of 14 filling grams of protein,” says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD.
Per taco (with egg and cheese): 170 calories, 9 g fat (3 g sat), 15 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 330 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 7 g protein
7. McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
Hitting up McD’s in the morning? Skip the McMuffin. “The trick to making this whole-grain oatmeal bowl healthier is to ask for it without the brown sugar and cream,” says Ansel. “Then, it becomes a decent egg-free breakfast option with five grams of fiber.”
Per oatmeal cup (without cream): 290 calories, 2 g fat (0 g sat), 61 g carbs, 32 g sugar, 130 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 5 g protein
8. Starbucks Spinach, Feta, & Cage Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap
“This toasty whole-grain wrap delivers nearly half your daily recommended vitamin A and a quarter of your calcium needs,” says Ansel. Plus, thanks to the spinach and tomatoes, you score some veg, too.
To make this pick lower in carbs and more keto-friendly, ditch the wrap and grab a fork.
Per wrap: 290 calories, 10 g fat (3.5 g sat), 33 g carbs, 4 g sugar, 830 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 19 g protein
9. Sonic Jr. Breakfast Burrito
Don’t let the “Jr.” in the name of this breakfast pick fool you; it’s got enough staying power to keep you full until lunch. Thanks to a higher fat and protein content, Sonic’s breakfast burrito is a good option, says Elizabeth Shaw, RDN, (who previously recommended it to Women’s Health).
Though it packs a good amount of carbs, it’s super low in sugar.
Per serving: 300 calories, 17 g fat (7 g sat), 24 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 900 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 12 g protein
10. Chick-fil-A Egg White Grill
If you want to eat Chick-fil-A for literally every meal of the day, their grilled breakfast sandwich is a great healthy option to start with, says dietitian Jessica Ivey, RDN. The English muffin contains less saturated fat than the biscuit, and the egg whites provide lots of filling protein.
Per sandwich: 300 calories, 7 g fat (3 g sat), 31 g carbs, 1 g sugar, 970 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 25 g protein
The Cost of Eating Healthy vs Unhealthy by City
Science has proven the benefits that a balanced and nutritious diet can have on our physical condition both now and as we age. While the benefits of eating healthy are well known and accepted, one thing that often stops people from pursuing such a lifestyle is price.
Many people have an idea in their head that eating healthy requires buying and preparing expensive organic foods. Given the choice between fast food options that are as cheap and convenient as they are unhealthy, or grocery bills for healthy options that they believe will be complicated and expensive, many people will opt for the unhealthy options. They assume it will be lighter on their wallet even if it is heavier on their bathroom scale.
But are they right about those cost assumptions?
To find out, our team at TYE Medical conducted a study to determine how much it actually costs to eat healthy compared to fast food in cities across the U.S.
How We Did It
We used a combination of DoorDash and official company websites to collect the cost of the same breakfast, lunch and dinner fast food meals in 50 of the largest U.S. cities. These are the fast food meals included in the study:
- Breakfast: Small iced coffee and sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich from Dunkin
- Lunch: A McDonald’s combo meal (entree, side, drink)
- Dinner: Three slices of a Papa John’s meats pizza
Finally, we created a healthy alternative meal for each meal and collected pricing data on the specific set of ingredients required for each using Walmart’s online shopping functionality. Ingredient costs were divided into appropriate serving sizes to get costs for a meal for one. These are the healthy meals included in the study:
- Breakfast: A strawberry breakfast smoothie
- Lunch: Salad with dressing, pecans, cranberries, and grilled chicken
- Dinner: A marinated chicken breast, brown rice, a side of mixed vegetables, and a roll
Calorie Count Methodology
For the fast food meals we used official calorie count and nutrition information provided by each restaurant to find the full calorie counts for each meal. For the healthy meal options we calculated the amount of each ingredient that was used in each meal and compared that to serving sizes and nutritional information on the back of the package for each item to calculate the overall calorie count per meal.
Comparing Meal Costs And Calories
The full results of these calculations, both for costs and calories, can be seen above. For both breakfast and dinner the healthy meals we have chosen contain 455 fewer calories than the fast food alternatives, while a healthy lunch saves over 700 calories. On average, healthy meals can save the average person over $4 for the first two meals of the day, and another $2.50 at dinnertime.
The average meal costs across all of the cities is also included, showing that on the whole people who take the time to make healthy options similar to our examples three times a day can save over $11 and 1600 calories on average over the course of a day!
Cities Where Fast Food Is Most Expensive
To dive deeper into our analysis, we first wanted to spotlight how much a full day of fast food meals can cost. The map above shows the 15 cities where the combined totals of the fast food breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals we included are most expensive, each of which surpasses $20. In each of these cities you will need more than $20 to feed yourself for a day, with Seattle being the most expensive at just shy of $25. While that amount isn’t going to break the bank, it does begin to feel a little wasteful when compared to the prices for the healthy meals.
That is because even in the cities where a full day of healthy meals is most expensive, people can eat for less than half the price of fast food in the 15 cities where fast food is most expensive. In fact, Las Vegas is the only city in the entire 50 city set we analyzed where the daily cost for three healthy meals exceeds $10.
Cities Where Healthy Meals Are Cheapest
The differences get even starker when looking at the cities where it is cheapest to eat healthy. Pittsburgh is the cheapest city in the country, with a daily healthy meals cost that is nearly 66% cheaper than a day of fast food in Seattle!
Cities Where Eating Healthy Saves The Most Money
Speaking of Seattle, the Emerald City is the place where healthy meals are second cheapest. Given that it also has the most expensive fast food costs in the country, it is no surprise that the home of Starbucks is the place where people can save most by eating healthy, to the tune of a $16.44 difference, a full $1.54 more than any other city! While that $16 total is the most significant in the country, each of the top 15 represent a savings of at least $11.50 every single day. That’s a lot of savings over the course of a year!https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/5315289/embed
While each of those graphics only focus on the top or bottom 15 cities in any given category, we also wanted to make the full results of our analysis available. To that end, we created the interactive elements above. The map includes all 50 cities included in the study, and hovering on a dot will display the cost for a day of fast food meals, the cost for a day of healthy meals, and the difference between the two for each city. The interactive chart goes even more in-depth, showing the exact price for each individual meal, both fast food and healthy, in each city as well as the respective totals and differences.
Whether or not we’ve changed your minds or habits when it comes to healthy eating versus fast food and their respective costs, we hope this analysis has been as illuminating for you reading as it was for our team as we compiled the results. Eating healthy is one of the best ways to improve your mental and physical health, including benefits for your heart, brain, and digestive system. And remember, if you are experiencing incontinence issues related to diet, aging, or illness, TYE Medical has plenty of solutions to meet your needs.