But what if we were to tell you that you actually can stop at your favorite fast food joints on the reg and still keep your waistline in check? As it turns out, you can satisfy your fast food cravings: just order the highest-quality food items on the menu. Make sure they’re high in nutrients, fiber, and protein to keep you satiated and energized.
So what are these fast food options? A few dieticians shared their top picks with us, so the next time you walk into Taco Bell with a major chalupa craving, you can swap out for a healthier option instead.
The craving: Chicken tenders and fries
Swap out with: a power med chicken salad and a Frosty
Power Med Chicken Salad: 480 calories, 17 g fat, 29 g carbs (4 g fiber), 43 grams protein
Frosty: 340 calories, 9 g fat, 5 g protein, 56 g carbs (3 g fiber)
Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, a nutrition expert and author, believes that every good meal deserves a sweet touch or a dessert. This frosty is small and not too heavy on the sugar compared to, say, a large slice of chocolate cake or a sundae. With the salad, you’re getting lots of protein, fiber, and iron to give you fuel. (A tip: try to drink a large bottle of water with it to fill you up faster.)
The craving: a giant turkey sub with mayo
Swap out with: a Rotisserie-Style Chicken Sub: 350 calories, 6 g fat, 5 g fiber, 29 g protein.
Subs have some serious bread—and if you’re lathering it in sauce, those calories can skyrocket fast.
Luckily, Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, NYC-based Registered Dietitian, bestselling author, and founder of The F-Factor Diet, has a better meal plan when dining at Subway. The Rotisserie-style chicken sub is made with tender, hand-pulled chicken raised without antibiotics, she says, so it has some good protein to keep you full.
“When building a sandwich, choose 9-grain wheat bread for additional fiber. It has 4g of fiber as opposed to the 1g of fiber in the Italian white bread,” says Zuckerbrot. “Plus, because you can customize your sub, you can go nuts on the veggies. “
Add as many vegetables as you would like, such as lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers, and spinach. Loading up on vegetables is a great way to add bulk and fiber to your meal without adding calories and fat, she says.
For dressing, use mustard or vinegar over high-calorie condiments, such as full-fat mayo and creamy dressings.
The craving: a bread bowl
Swap out with: an Ancient Grain & Arugula Salad with Chicken: 400 calories, 6 g fiber, 14 g fat, 25 g protein
It’s easy to get sucked into the bread bowl trap at Panera, even though they’re crazy high in carbs with very little protein. Opt for a salad with protein instead, says Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, and author of The MIND Diet.
“This salad is packed with brain-boosting leafy greens and whole grains like farro, freekeh, and fiber-rich black barley,” she says. These grains offer sustainable energy and fiber, too. “The chicken offers a lean protein raised without antibiotics to keep you full,” she adds.
Those purple grapes also pack an antioxidant punch. “The fresh antioxidant-rich red grapes and apples add natural sweetness,” she says.
The craving: wings and a cheeseburger
Swap out with: 6 oz. Sirloin with Grilled Avocado off the menu: 420 calories, 21 g of fat, 23 g of carbs (6 g fiber), 39 g protein.
Chili’s is a good spot to hit when you want to get a full, well-rounded meal you can sit and eat — but you want to get it fast. But the menu is high in empty carbs and sugars, making it not so diet-friendly.
Still, you can get a basic meal that’s also really good for you, says Zuckerbrot. The trick here is to not get too fancy with your order.
Get a 6-ounce (oz) sirloin with a side of steamed broccoli and a glass of red wine, says Zuckerbrot. The whole meal comes to 420 calories as well as 21g of fat, 23g of carbs, 6g fiber, and 39g of protein, she says. It “provides a good source of fiber from the broccoli, fresco salad and avocado,” she says.
The sirloin steak is great source of lean protein, which is important for maintaining and building muscle. What’s more, “the steak is a good source of iron, which is an essential part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to your cells, while the grilled avocado provides a good source of monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy because they lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol),” she adds.
The Easiest Steak Sauce Ever:
The craving: a Big Mac and a soda
Swap out with: a Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken: 350 calories, 37 grams protein, 27 grams fiber, 11 grams of fat
Occasionally, you might find yourself at McDonald’s at 3 a.m. with a hankering for a Big Mac, and you might feel guilty about it. But if you’re choosing the right things, there’s no reason why you can’t order at McDonald’s every once in a while.
Moon says the Southwest Salad is a good choice because “a variety of leafy greens from baby kale to red leaf lettuce means this salad is packed with antioxidant vitamin A, which is so important for immunity and healthy vision,” she says.
It’s also fiber-rich, thanks to the black beans and corn, she adds. And “it’s filling because of protein from lean grilled chicken, as well as the beans,” she says.
The craving: a carnitas burrito
Swap out with: a Burrito Bowl with sofritas, brown rice, black beans, roasted chili-corn salsa, and romaine lettuce: 575 calories, 23 g protein, 84 g carbs (16 g fiber), 19 g fat
Those burritos are hefty in size, but they’re also hefty in calories. Good news—there’s a way to eat Chipotle and still have a healthy, balanced meal. Moon gives her tips.
The first step? Order a bowl instead of a burrito. That tortilla wrap is super high in carbs, while the bowl is a “a hearty plant-based meal that offers a ton of filling fiber and satisfying plant protein. It is full of wholesome nourishing foods, from whole grains, beans, and leafy greens, to a super flavorful chili-corn salsa,” she says.
The craving: a roast beef sandwich and a Coke
Swap out with: a Turkey Gyro: 470 calories, 20 grams fat, 3 grams fiber, 28 grams carbs, and 25 grams protein.
Brisk Unsweetened Green Iced Tea: 5 calories
Too many fattening sandwiches won’t do your waistline any good, but you can get a slimmed down, lower-calorie sandwich that is high in nutrients and protein, says Zuckerbrot.
The turkey gyro is one of the lower calorie sandwich options on the menu and it’s actually good for you. “It’s made with oven roasted turkey, which is a leaner source of protein compared to other deli meats such as corned and roast beef.” What’s more, “the Greek yogurt (found in the tzatziki sauce) provides an excellent source of protein, which helps to preserve lean muscle mass and contains 3g of belly filling fiber,” she adds.
A tip? Ask for a whole wheat wrap or pita to further increase the fiber intake, she says. Choose unsweetened green iced tea as a good replacement for sugary soda.