Just to be clear, I’m not a raving fan of eating at fast-food establishments on a regular basis, buuuutttttt I’ve found that I have more lately. Why? I moved to a new area that has fewer grab-and-go, order-at-the-register, local eats and a whole lot more chain restaurants. Sweet Green, where art thou?!? I was pretty bitter at first, feeling like I only had two options: 1) eat at home or 2) go to a sit-down restaurant. But then I opened my mind a little, looked at the menus of restaurants I used to curse under my breath, and discovered a few really awesome, quick options for meals on-the-go or when I just can’t bring myself to cook salmon, broccoli and quinoa again.
So, here’s the roundup of fast-foody chains: Starbuck’s, Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, Tropical Smoothie and…drum roll, please…McDonald’s.
Funny story. I spent three years living in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC, exactly one block from McDonald’s. I swore when I moved there that I would never set foot inside it, even when occasionally stumbling back from bars in my early 20s. And I didn’t. A while later, my husband and I owned a town home near a DC metro stop, once again just a couple blocks away from the golden arches. In all five years of living there, I went to McDonald’s only a handful of times, typically to grab a quick breakfast and coffee when getting up early for a road trip. So, the fact that I’ve been to McD’s as many times in 8 months as 8 years…*gulp*… is a bit scary sounding.
I’m not saying fast food is ideal for your body’s health. But I AM saying that the eats I’ve found below aren’t too bad, either. In fact, these five little go-to’s have gotten me through moving with my family to a new area and adjusting from city to suburban life. And guess what? I’ve LOST five pounds since moving even though I don’t have easy access to lots of farm-to-table restaurants like I used to, and even though I don’t have to take my dog on twice-a-day walks to go #2. She has a yard full of squirrels and chipmunks to chase now! The point is: Even in a world full of fast-food chains, WE HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE. We don’t have to choose the unhealthy stuff. Even when we’re in a rush. Even when we’re low on cash. Even when we are airport hopping due to work travel. We CAN find a way to be healthy. If we put in the effort.
My 5 Favorite *Mostly* Healthy, Low-Calorie Eats at Fast Food Places:
Starbucks; Protein Bistro Box
“A hard‐boiled cage free egg, sliced tart apples, grapes, and white Cheddar cheese served with multigrain muesli bread and honeyed peanut butter.”
Calories: 370 | Total Fat: 19 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 18 g | Protein: 13 g
Likes: I love that this meal packs in meatless protein, making it a great option for carnivores and vegetarians alike. And since there are Starbucks on basically every city block and in every airport, this protein box is easy to find for a heavy snack or light meal. It definitely beats getting a scone. I even let my toddler eat half of it sometimes!
Dislikes: I don’t love that this meal is 18 grams of sugar but, at the same time, it’s almost all from the fruit so the sugar is natural. Also, if you’re sensitive to gluten, dairy or peanut butter, this little meal probably isn’t a great choice.
Chick-Fil-A; Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap
“Sliced grilled chicken breast, nestled in a fresh mix of Green Leaf lettuce, petite red and green lettuce, and shredded green cabbage with a blend of shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, tightly rolled in a flaxseed flour flat bread. Made fresh daily.”
Calories: 350 | Total Fat: 14 g | Dietary Fiber: 15 g | Sugars: 3 g | Protein: 37 g
Likes: This meal is FULL of protein for very few calories. Woot woot! It’s also packed with fiber and low in sugar. The mix of greens, flaxseed flour and grilled chicken mean it’s also nutritious. It’s a pretty stellar combination for a grab-and-go lunch, if you ask me.
Dislikes: The pros of the cool wrap can be easily outweighed when paired with french fries, soft beverages, and dressing toppings. Any time you enter a fast food establishment you must APPROACH WITH CAUTION.
Chipotle; Salad Bowl with Chicken
Make-your-own salad bowl topped with; romaine lettuce, chicken, black beans, fajita vegetables, fresh tomato salsa, and tomatillo-green chili salsa.
Calories: 380 | Total Fat: 8.5 g | Dietary Fiber: 10 g | Sugars: 8 g | Protein: 42 g
Likes: I appreciate that Chipotle comes with options. So while my husband woofs down a burrito, I have lighter meals at my disposal. This combo of ingredients for the salad bowl is my go-to when it comes to Chipotle. It’s full of vitamins A and C, and gives me a solid boost of iron. Not bad on calories either, right? This meal stays low-calorie by avoiding calorie-laden toppings like cheese, sour cream, queso, and rice. Heck, if you’re really hungry just throw some healthy guacamole on top for an extra 200 calories and stay satiated for even longer!
Dislikes: It’s extremely tempting to dive into the lime-salted chip bag of the Chipotle kingdom. They’re so good. But the salad bowl is already chocked full of sodium (1485 grams!), so tread lightly. And drink plenty of water.
*To calculate how your favorite burrito or bowl’s nutrients add up, check this out: Chipotle Nutrition Calculator.
Tropical Smoothie; Detox Island Green Smoothie
“This smoothie is made with spinach, kale, mango, pineapple, banana, and fresh ginger.”
Calories: 180 | Total Fat: 0 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 29 g | Protein: 4 g
Likes: I love that this smoothie packs in power veggies like spinach and kale. The ginger gives it a zing and is great for digestion. Believe it or not, this smoothie is actually far lower in overall calories and sugar than the vast majority of the other ones on the menu. People love to think of any “smoothie” as healthy, but some of Tropical Smoothie’s drinks have up to 780 calories and over 100 grams of sugar! Yikes! Stick with this one or another lower calorie/sugar option. Your tummy will thank you for not destroying your gut health with sugar overload.
Dislikes: It’s important to mention that you don’t want added sugars or sweeteners with smoothies. Don’t forget this crucial step when ordering or you’ll end up with something that is less healthy than you planned. Also, if you want to make this low calorie smoothie into a meal, choose your wrap, salad or flatbread carefully. Calories can quickly add up, especially when a smoothie + sandwich combo results in a “free” cookie or bag of chips. They get me nearly every time with those Salt & Vinegar chips, darn it!
McDonald’s; Fruit & Maple Oatmeal w/o Brown Sugar
“Our oatmeal starts with two full servings of whole-grain oats and a touch of cream. Loaded with red and green apples, cranberries and two varieties of raisins. And you can have it just how you like it, with or without brown sugar.”
Calories: 290 | Total Fat: 4.5 g | Dietary Fiber: 5 g | Sugars: 18 g | Protein: 5 g
Likes: This oatmeal really sticks to my ribs. It fills me up and was a lifesaver when we were moving into our new home this summer, kitchen cupboards empty and entering each day in a craze (plowing through as much work as possible while the toddler was under Grandma’s care).
Dislikes: When topped with brown sugar, this oatmeal quickly skyrockets in sugar; up to 33 grams! Also, the oatmeal is a mix of slow-cooked and instant oats, meaning it’s not *quite* as healthy as it could be…but that’s fast food for ya.
Again, I’m not saying everyone should live off fast food. I try to keep it to a minimum in my diet, but every now and then, it’s helpful to know where to find healthy fast-food eats. They’re out there. Just gotta find ’em.
Yours in health and wellness,