Let’s face it, we all know that fast food restaurants aren’t the places to be if you’re trying to make healthier eating choices. Between the trans fats, sodium, sugar, saturated fats and the preservatives these places just scream unhealthy. But the reality for most of us isn’t IF we we’ll eat at a fast food restaurant but WHEN. For most of us between our crazy work schedule, getting the kids from soccer practice to ballet lessons and all the other things that seem to suck up all our day, sometimes it’s fast food or starvation. But what if I told you, you could make healthy food choices at a fast food joint…Well at least healthier food choices. So if you’re looking for the healthiest fast food meal, take a look at this.
Let’s start with how I’m defining healthy. Healthy is not the thing on the menu with the lowest calorie count: a Styrofoam cup is low in calories. That doesn’t make it healthy. I am willing to trade a few calories for something that has some vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in it. On the other hand, a salad that has a full day’s worth of calories doesn’t cut it either. So let’s look at the list:
1. Panda Express: The Chinese fast food joint is by far the best place to get a healthy meal. With mixed veggies as a side dish (70 calories)and entrees like Broccoli Beef (120 calories), Kung Pao Chicken(240 calories) and Egg Plant & Tofu (220 calories). You may do better here than at home. But stay away from the Chowmein and the Orange Chicken as this combo will set you back a whopping 910 calories and that’s before you get a drink.
2. Subway: Another stellar choice for those trying to eat well and fast. The fact that you can add spinach, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrots, red onion, avocado, olives, green pepper and several different hot peppers to any sandwich as well as several choices of fresh baked whole wheat breads makes even their most unhealthy fare shine a little brighter. In terms of calories the 6-inch veggie delight (230 calories) and the 6-inch turkey breast and ham (280 calories) come in the lowest. They also offer apple slices instead of chips with their combo meals—a nice touch. I am bothered by the whole nitrates thing (let’s face it—most cold cuts are loaded with them), but in a pinch I like Subway.
3. Burger King: I’ll be honest, Burger King surprised me. I had no idea they offered a veggie burger (410 calorie) I don’t know if it’s healthy but I give them a big thumbs up for creativity. The Sweet Potato Fries are a calorie (390) and sodium (720mg) bomb, but if you’re going to order fries anyway at least the sweet potatoes pack a vitamin and mineral punch as well. As far as I’m concerned the Tender Grilled Chicken Apple and Cranberry Salad (520 calories) is the best fast food salad out there, just go easy on the dressing. The pulled pork sandwich was tasty and only had 290 calories.
4. McDonalds: Mickey D’s has been experimenting with healthier fare for years and they actually have a lot of low calorie options to choose from on the menu. If you go on their website they actually have a list of “favorites under 400” menu. But calories aren’t the whole story. The problem is most of it isn’t very exciting or nutrient-dense. If you look at the food there really isn’t much that has colorful veggies or a lot of fruit, though they also have apple slices as a side with their combo meals. The exception: Their fruit and walnuts and the fruit and yogurt parfait.
5. Carl’s Jr: this place is a bit of a wasteland when it comes to healthy choices. But if you find yourself with no other option they do have a grilled chicken salad at 290 calories, but not much else.
6. Kentucky Fried Chicken (“KFC”) : Just step up to the counter and ask for a heapin’ helpin’ of bedonkadonkbutt, a side of back fat and some heart disease to go! Seriously.