Life can be a juggling act, especially for driven men. It’s not uncommon to drop the ball from time to time, but hopefully we can be tactical about how far we let it slip. In a perfect world, we plan ahead and meal prep for the work week or a family road trip. But let’s be honest fellas, sometimes we are stuck settling for whatever is closest to the office. Or worse yet, that dreaded interstate stop with only Taco Bell or McDonald’s to choose from. That's why I’ve created this guide to healthy fast food options from the largest fast food chains. I counted the protein, tallied the calories, and dug up the sodium and fat content in these fast food meals, so you can get in and out with no regrets (or maybe just minimal regrets). Keep reading or skip ahead to the restaurants listed below.
Before we get started, a disclaimer: I’m just an everyday guy like you and far from a nutritionist. So keep in mind, this article is coming from a 35 year old father of 3 trying to fight off the dad bod daily, but at least I’m in your corner on this! So let’s get started.
In order to evaluate the fast food menus for healthier options, I put a priority on a few factors; however, in most cases there were difficult tradeoffs to make. For example, an item would be low in calories, high in protein, but also high in sodium. But we’re stuck at a KFC located inside a truck stop on Route 66, this ain’t a Sprouts Farmer’s Market (they have killer made-to-order sandwiches for $5 and Mdrive protein shakes, too). So if you don’t like the item I recommended or want to see all your options, I’ve included the links to the menu. As for the criteria, below are the dietary areas I prioritized, not necessarily in a particular order:
The secret killer, in my opinion, is sodium. Packaging and menus often highlight low-carb and high protein numbers, but the sodium is quietly excluded from view. The daily recommended allowance is 1,500 to 2,300mg, so keep that in mind. We have a complete guide on a low sodium diet, it’s eye opening.Additionally, always take note of the saturated and trans fat content in the food you’re ordering. We only looked at the overall fat content of the healthy fast food order options in this article.
If you read nothing else, read this: Arguably the biggest diet mistakes made at fast food restaurants are the smallest culprits. These drive-thru attendants are not your friends, they will ask you to upgrade to the combo or push you to pay 10 cents more for the larger drink. Just say no. Why, you ask? See below:
Ranch Sauce: 110 calories and 160mg of sodium
Ketchup Packet: 10 calories, 90mg of sodium, but the secret killer is 11g of sugar
Mayonnaise packet: 90 calories, 60mg of sodium
Medium Fries at McDonald's: 320 calories, 260mg of sodium
Medium Coke at McDonalds: 210 calories, 56g of sugar
McDonald's slice of cheese: 50 calories, 3.5 g of fat, 230mg of sodium
A plain hamburger at McDonald's contains 250 calories and 12 grams of protein, making it one of the lowest-calorie items on the menu with a decent protein content. To keep the calorie count low, you can pair your hamburger with a side of apple slices instead of fries. (shocker: fresh fruit or side salads are the healthiest add-ons you can get at fast food restaurants).
I know the Coca-Cola gods sprinkle some type of magic in the Coke at McDonald’s, but stay strong and avoid eye contact, that magic they
sprinkle dump in is called sugar, and it's 56 grams and 210 calories you don’t need today.
Calories: 250, Protein: 12g, Carbs: 31g, Fat: 9g, Sodium: 510mg
Just because you are at Subway does not mean you’re off the hook, you can still drop the nutritional ball. Sure as the Minnesota Vikings will disappoint me this year, Karl at Subway is going to ask you if you want a Raspberry Cheesecake Cookie, or two. Negative ghost rider. That’s 210 calories and a shanked last-second field goal in my book.
So stick with the 6-inch, Rotisserie-Style Chicken Sub sandwich with 300 calories, 6g fat, and 23g protein.
In terms of bread, the 9-Grain Wheat or the 9-Grain Honey Oat are good choices as they contain 270 mg of sodium for a 6-inch sub. This is relatively lower compared to other bread choices at Subway.
6-Inch Rotisserie-Style Chicken Sub:
Calories: 300, Protein: 23g, Carbs: 36g, Fat: 6g, Sodium:710mg
If you’re like me, this could be a Hangry Killer as it will keep you full for the full drive while the kids are arguing in the back. This breakfast provides a good amount of fiber and antioxidants. It has 410 calories, 12 g of fat, 140 mg of sodium, and 8 g of protein. However, it's recommended to skip the added brown sugar and instead enjoy it with dried fruit and nuts for a dish full of whole grains.
Rolled & Steel Cut Oatmeal
Calories: 410, Protein: 8g, Carbs: 67g, Fat: 12g, Sodium: 140mg
Plain coffee or an Americano (espresso diluted in hot water) is one of the healthiest options. At just 5 and 10 calories, respectively, these options deliver a rejuvenating jolt without added sugar, fat or carbs.
Brewed Coffee or Americano
Calories: 10, Protein: 0, Carbs: 2g, Fat: 0, Sodium: 10mg
At only 60 calories, this is the lowest-calorie milk-based drink on the menu; it's also low in fat. You can adjust the calorie content by opting for different milk choices, like nonfat milk (also known as skim milk), almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, or oat milk, which often have lower calories and less fat.
Calories: 60, Protein: 6g, Carbs: 9g, Fat: 0, Sodium: 70mg
Much like the plethora of fried goodness that can be found at my county fair, KFC is delicious but not nutritious. With that being said, we’re here, let’s eat.
Stick with Original Recipe Chicken Wing, it provides a decent amount of protein with lower fat and sodium content. Considering the establishment is named “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, this option is far from perfect, but it might be the healthiest available choice.
Original Recipe Chicken Wing:
Calories: 130, Protein: 10g, Carbs: 3g, Fat 8g, Sodium 380mg
The King doesn’t seem to have a Queen close by telling him to eat his veggies, so keep that in mind. The Hamburger is surprisingly the most nutritious option at Burger King. Just like at other burger joints, avoid the condiments, sodas, and cheese and you can minimize potential damage. I will add that Burger King’s hamburgers have flame-grilled beef patties, which is a major plus and a noticeably different taste.
Calories: 250, Protein: 13g, Carbs: 29g, Fat: 10g, Sodium: 560mg
Surprisingly, Pizza Hut has the veggies! The Veggie Lover’s Pizza offers a good serving of vegetables for about 100 calories per slice. The toppings on this pizza include mushrooms, red onions, green bell peppers, Roma tomatoes, and black olives which are not processed.
Veggie Lover’s Pizza with Thin and Crispy Crust:
Calories: 100 per slice, Protein: 5g, Carbs: 14g, Fat: 5g, Sodium: 270mg
Another option, which could add extra protein to your meal, is the Dry Rub Wings. One wing has 80 calories. These wings are seasoned with dry rub, avoiding any sugar-filled sauces.
Dry Rub Naked Wings:
Calories: 80 per 1 wing, Protein: 9g, Carbs: 0, Fat: 4.5g, Sodium: 160mg
This has the least number of calories and fat and minimal sodium per serving, One serving is ¼ of the pizza contains 110 calories. This is without toppings, but you can add zero-calorie vegetable toppings for some extra nutrition.
The Small Crunchy Thin Crust Pizza (10inch):
Calories: 140 (1/4 of pizza), Protein: 2g, Carbs: 15g, Fat: 4.5g, Sodium: 40mg
The Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad without dressing is also a protein-packed and low-calorie choice.
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad (no dressing):
Calories: 170, Protein: 19g, Carbs: 9g, Fat: 7g, Sodium: 590mg
This menu item has 250 calories, 14 grams of protein with no added sugar and a boost of potassium. This will be low in fat, has a good amount of protein, and is not fried, which are all pluses.
Egg White Bowl:
Calories: 250, Protein: 14g, Carbs: 19g, Fat: 11g, Sodium: 450mg
Courtesy: Taco Bell
Mr. Taco Bell did away with his Fresco Style healthier menus a while back, but if you stick with the basics you can still live mas at The Bell. I opted for the crunchy beef route over chicken because of the lower sodium content. Also, crispy > soft shell because of sodium content, again. Be sure to skip the sour cream and add hot sauce if you feel it needs something extra.
Crunchy Beef Taco:
Calories: 170, Protein: 8g, Carbs: 13g, Fat: 10g, Sodium: 300mg
Courtesy: Dairy Queen
I never knew Rotisserie-style Chicken Bites were a thing, but I haven’t been to a Dairy Queen since high school, and I had my eyes on the Blizzards. These Rotisserie-style Chicken Bites are protein powerhouses coming in at 33 grams of protein and only 210 calories. The only weak spot here is sodium content at 590mg.
Rotisserie-style Chicken Bites:
Calories: 210, Protein: 33g, Carbs: 1g, Fat: 8g, Sodium: 590mg
Wholesome Bowl? Never heard of her... I’m here for carne asada!
This bowl is a balanced and nutritious option that provides a good amount of protein and fiber. The Wholesome Bowl contains a mix of fresh vegetables, including lettuce, fajita veggies, and tomato salsa. Not to mention it includes guacamole, and it’s not extra either 😉
The Wholesome Bowl:
Calories: 460, Protein: 35g, Carbs: 18g, Fat: 29g, Sodium: 35mg
Listen to those genius cows and eat more chikin, just make sure you choose the grilled option.
Grilled Chicken Nuggets (8 count):
Calories: 130, Protein: 25g, Carbs: 1g, Fat: 3g, Sodium: 440mg
Courtesy: Panda Express
The Grilled Chicken Teriyaki is one of the healthiest options available at Panda Express. This dish is made with chicken breast that has been marinated in a teriyaki sauce and grilled, providing a lean yet delicious source of protein. Keep in mind you still need to add a side, and I’ll let you decide because believe it or not the rice and veggies both have major flaws. Brown rice is 420 calories but low in sodium. The Veggies are 90 calories but 260mg of sodium.
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken (6oz):
Calories: 280, Protein: 33g, Carbs 14g, Fat 10g, Sodium: 470 mg
We've now established a plan of attack to navigate the fast food restaurants menus, but I wanted to leave you with a little pro tip. At home, at the office, and on every road trip I bring a scoop of Mdrive Start or Lean protein to help hold me over when I'm feeling hunger creep in. It's by no means a meal replacement, but a scoop of Lean has clinically studied ingredients that help satisfy hunger.
If you enjoyed this article, you will also like our guide to Healthy Energy Drink Alternatives.
The older I get the less inclined I am to lean into what's trending on the internet. But needless to say, there may be an opportunity cost to not embracing the future, or even remaining on the sidelines so long that you have to catch up.
The mission of The Driven is to help equip you with the tools to live smarter, better lives. Today, I want to challenge you to lean into learning the basics of artificial intelligence-powered chatbots, specifically, Chat GPT. Launched in November of 2022, Chat GPT was the leader of AI chatbot tools and is truly a groundbreaking tool that is changing the way we communicate and create.
Comments will be approved before showing up.