I love when Kevin and I have the time and ability to cook a meal for ourselves at home. We love preparing healthy meals, and are getting better about meal planning and making larger portions of dishes we love so we can enjoy the leftovers for a couple of days. (Opening the fridge in the morning and remembering I have delicious leftovers to take to lunch that day has to be one of the best feelings in the world.)
But sometimes, making dinner at home isn’t an option. Some nights, we get busy and need to pick up something quickly after work (or, more likely, after whatever it is we were doing after work — usually Pure Barre in my case). We travel a lot, so often we’re on the road and need to grab something fast that we can eat in the car. On occasion, we’re just feeling lazy and end up swinging through a drive-thru. Whatever the reason, I’ve found that there are lots of ways to find healthy meals at fast food restaurants — ones that actually taste pretty great!
(You’ll notice that some of these menu items are somewhat modified. Kevin likes to refer to me as “medium maintenance” — not high maintenance, but definitely not low maintenance. I’m okay with it. A little customization never hurt anyone, right? As Sally from When Harry Met Sally said, “I just want it the way I want it.” She was high maintenance, to be sure, but the sentiment stands.)
Here’s my go-to list:
- Wendy’s: This is hands down the fast food restaurant Kevin and I eat at most frequently. Thank goodness it’s also the fast food restaurant that’s closest to our house! Though their chili is an awesome healthy option (a large chili has 250 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 23 grams of protein), I tend to go for a Wendy’s salad: either the full-size Asian Cashew Chicken (380 calories / 14 grams of fat / 36 grams of protein) or a new one that’s available at select locations, the Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad (430 calories / 14 grams of fat / 39 grams of protein). (I’m not a big fan of salad dressing in general, so I usually leave those off of these salads.)
- Moe’s/Chipotle/Qdoba: At any of these restaurants, my favorite meal is a burrito bowl without rice. I get black beans, a protein (usually chicken or pork), lots of lettuce, and then load up on veggie toppings. I leave the guacamole, sour cream, and cheese off, but always ask for cilantro (which they always have, but sometimes don’t keep out in view). A bowl like this comes out to roughly 350 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 42 grams of protein.
- Zoe’s Kitchen: I was SO thrilled when a Zoe’s was built near our house (within walking distance, even — we tried it out once!), and this is probably the place I get takeout from most frequently. My standing order there is the chicken kabob plate, but I substitute the rice pilaf for roasted veggies. I skip both the pita and the Greek dressing (I’m just not a dressing fan, aside from balsamic vinegar), and it adds up to about 500 calories, 19 grams of fat, and 50 grams of protein.
- Panera: Did you know Panera has a sorta-secret low-carb menu? Kinda awesome, right? Give their Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad or Power Mediterranean Turkey Salad a try and you’ll have a delicious, healthy meal that contains about 360 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 35 grams of protein.
- McDonald’s: Yep — you can feel good about a meal from McDonald’s these days. Their Premium Asian Salad with Grilled Chicken serves up 270 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 32 grams of protein. My recommendation? Round it out a bit with a soft serve ice cream cone for dessert. Ice cream just doesn’t get any better than a classic McDonald’s cone. I have dreams about that stuff…
- Taco Bell: Don’t get me wrong — I love a good soft taco or bean burrito from Taco Bell. But I was thrilled when they added their Cantina Power Menu, so now there are some healthier options to choose from. I opt for the Cantina Power Bowl with chicken, and leave off the cheese, sour cream, avocado ranch sauce, and guac. I add tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, and a packet or two of mild sauce, and that brings the meal’s nutritional total to 360 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 25 grams of protein.
- Zaxby’s: Zaxby’s zalads are great, and if you skip the bread and cheese, and swap out the dressing for hot sauce, you have an even healthier meal. My favorite is the Blue Salad with Blackened Chicken, and it comes to about 380 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 40 grams of protein.
What are your top healthy picks at fast food restaurants?