While not everyone makes fast food a first choice, when you’re on the road, sometimes finding the healthiest fast food menu choices at fast food chains really is your best — or only — bet. Millions of families travel by car each summer, which means there will be at least a million little backseat voices saying, “I’m hungryyyyy!” And while packing your own snacks is always advisable, there will inevitably be times where you really need to stop a little something more. (Or, you just can’t bear to eat another goldfish.)
We’ve already put together our picks for the best fast food iced coffee when you’re road tripping. But since mom (nor man) can live by iced coffee alone, I’ve put together a list of the best, healthy fast food options from the top chains around the country.
While fast food drive-thrus are not overall a great idea for healthy eating, turns out there are some surprisingly smart fast food menu choices you can make for you and your family. And there’s a lot more than salads!
All calorie counts are accurate per the company websites, to the best of our knowledge
Smarter, healthier fast food choices for your family
You’ll notice that not all of these immediately read “healthy” — no tofu stir fry with low-sodium soy sauce here. But these are still some of the smartest, healthiest fast food choices you can make from a calorie perspective.
If you have specific dietary concerns (sodium, saturated fat, kosher, dairy, gluten and so on) just be sure to look up the nutritional information of your favorite chains before you stop in. They’re all fairly readily available online. But I would start with these low-calorie fast food choices for your family.
Big difference between a 40-calorie order of apple slices, and a 230-calorie order of small fries!
The healthiest menu choices at Subway
• Veggie Delite Fresh Fit Sub (230 calories) for a 6″ sub on 9-grain wheat bread
• Turkey Breast Fresh Fit Sub (280 calories, shown above) for a 6″ sub on 9-grain wheat bread
• Black Forest Ham Fresh Fit Sub (290 calories) for a 6″ sub on 9-grain wheat bread
(There are a total of eight options, topping out at 370 calories for the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki)
• Turkey Breast Mini for Kids (80 calories for the sandwich) Also comes with apples and an Honest Kids juice drink.
**Healthy Eating Tip: Check the kids menu, even for you! It’s a good option if you want a snack too, but don’t want to indulge in a massive serving.**
The healthiest menu choices at Starbucks
Believe it or not, popping into a Starbucks for lunch or an afternoon snack is one of your best bets as far as healthier fast food menu choices – as long as you can resist the double Frap with whipped cream.
• Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal (220 calories)
• Spinach, Feta & Egg-White Breakfast Wrap (290 calories)
• Eggs & Cheese Protein Box (460 Calories) While high in calories, this is a lot of food and packed with protein. Makes a great snack to split among siblings!
• PB&J Protein Box (520 calories, shown above) My girls would be stoked to open their own boxes and find this assortment of favorite veggies, fruit and a half-sandwich.
•Roasted Tomatoes, Mozzarella, Spinach and Basil Pesto Toasted Focaccia (350 calories)
•Chicken & Quinoa Protein Bowl with Black Beans and Greens (420 calories) Technically a salad, but so much great stuff in here including 27g protein
The healthiest menu choices at Wendy’s
The trick here is to avoid anything fried. Also, props to Wendy’s for removing sodas from the kids’ meal listings. It makes it way easier to push for milk.
• Small Chili (210 calories)
• Grilled Chicken Wrap (270 calories, shown above)
• Grilled Chicken Sandwich (370 calories)
• Junior Cheeseburger (280 calories) Only about 180 calories though, if you hold the cheese
• Plain Baked Potato (270 calories) just add salt + pepper, or add an extra 40 calories for sour cream + chives
• Apple Bites (35 calories) Yep, apples again
• Summer Burst Berry Fruit Cup (25 calories)
The healthiest menu choices at McDonald’s
We know, not everyone wants to support McDonald’s. But if you’re a fan, if you have no other options, or if it’s a guilty pleasure, these healthier menu items will make it a little less guilty.
• Grilled Ranch Snack Wrap (240 calories) Make sure to grilled and not crispy!
• Plain Hamburger (250 calories)
• Plain Grilled Chicken Patty (110 calories) Hold the bun and everything else. You can even cut into strips for the kids if you have the energy
• Egg White Delight McMuffin (250 calories)
• Egg McMuffin (no meat) (280 calories) Those sausages and bacon will get you.
• Yogurt Tubes, strawberry flavor (25 calories for the McDonald’s brand) Note that while the yogurt parfaits are low on calories (150 calories) with 22 grams of sugar, I stick with the tubes.
• Apple Slices (40 calories)
The healthiest menu choices at Burger King
Burger King also has a special gluten-sensitive list (PDF) which is a big help for a lot of families.
• Regular Hamburger (240 calories) Surprised?
• Whopper Jr. Sandiwch (310 calories) Get it down to 230 calories if you hold the mayo
• Morning Star Veggie Burger (320 calories without mayo)
• Oatmeal King Jr. Meal (170 calories for the oatmeal). Served with applesauce and milk.
• Small Onion Rings (150 calories) If you’re okay with a little fat
The healthiest menu choices at Taco Bell
Stay away from the burritos. Most are in the 440-500 calorie range, and top out around 840 calories. Whoa! Otherwise, there are quite a few healthy fast food choices here.
• Chicken Soft Taco (170 calories)
• Black Beans & Rice (190 calories)
• Breakfast Soft Taco – Egg & Cheese (170 calories)
• Power Menu Vegetarian Bowl (480 calories) – I know it’s higher in calories, but it’s packed with lots of hearty ingredients. Order it without sour cream and sauce to knock off some calories.
The healthiest menu choices at Jack-In-The-Box
Another burger chain where the other options are better for you.
• Chicken Fajita Pita (320 calories) Bonus, you can eat it one-handed. Add 10 calories for salsa.
• Plain Hamburger (280 calories) Compare with the Jr. Jack Burger, which is 320 cal.
• 4-Piece Grilled Chicken Strips (250 calories) For comparison, get them crispy and they go up to 560 calories, or more than double. Yikes!
• Apple Bites with Caramel (70 calories) Of course, you could always toss the caramel when the kids aren’t looking, ha.
The healthiest menu choices at Sonic
Note: You can also use Stacie’s trick and add avocado on anything here, giving a little nutrition boost to whatever you order at Sonic. Smart!
• Kids Menu Corn Dog (230 calories)
• Junior Burger (320 calories) Hold the mayo.
• Veggie Burger (110 calories)
• Kids Menu Grilled Cheese (430 calories). Okay, not the healthiest but a decent option for the picky eaters.
• Mini Tater Tots (130 calories) size up to a “Small” for 250 calories.
The healthiest menu choices at Dairy Queen
Hey, sometimes you just need a treat!
• Small Vanilla Cone (230 calories)
• Non-Fat Cherry StarKiss Bar (80 calories)
• Non-Fat Fudge Bar (50 calories)
• Child’s Vanilla Cone (170 calories) Get one for you if you’re counting calories. It will hit the spot!
Top image: Micheile Henderson via Unsplash