You know the feeling – desperately craving some fast food, yet trying hard to resist because you know the feeling of guilt that will inevitably follow if you get some. So you silently fight that battle, hoping that the feeling will go away. Sometimes it does, sometimes (most times!) it doesn’t. So you cave in and then of course feel guilty. Fast foods induce guilt in us for the simple reason that we know it’s not something we should indulge in, or at least not often. Yet we don’t really want the alternative – some bland and boring veggie salad/carrot stick/celery stick or whatever. Ugh! But is it possible that the problem is not so much “fast food” in itself, but our idea of what it represents?
The truth is that the idea of what fast foods means has shifted over the last few years. In the past, it is not uncommon to solely define fast foods as fried food. However, with increased attention to healthy eating and living, people are a lot more aware and seek alternatives to the traditional fast foods. Consequently, fast food restaurants have had to adapt their menu to accommodate healthy fast food alternatives that people can eat without guilt or risks towards their health. Before I give you an idea of It healthy fast food options that are available out there, I first want to clearly define what I mean by “healthy fast foods”.
What are healthy fast foods?
Fast foods are typically considered to be those food options that can be made very quickly, are high in saturated fat, sodium (salt) content, sugar, calories and are very bad for your waistline and your heart health. In most cases, that perception is true. Imagine eating one fast food meal and almost breaking even with the recommended daily intake of sodium? Or eating a fast food meal with over 500-800 calories at a go? Of course, you’d feel guilty! That said, 80% of the time, that is what most customers at fast food restaurants are likely to eat – foods that are very high in saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and calories. However, healthy fast foods are the exact opposite of this. They are low in calories, sodium content, fat and sugars, and surprising enough, many of them are actually yummy. And what’s more, you can find them at fast food restaurants.
In the past, the only healthy options you would have if you entered a fast food restaurant would be salads. Those days are, thankfully, over. Below is a list of 12 fast food meals you can grab on the go without additional health risks or the guilt that you’re aiding and abetting poor health.
1. Premium Grilled Chicken and Classic Sandwich
Ideally, a lot of focus is placed on calories, whereas, there’s a need to find a balance between the meal’s nutritional content. The grilled chicken is an option in this regard. You can add lettuce and tomato to this, but no mayo. Mayo usually adds an extra 6 grams and 50 calories you can really do without. To cut down further on the high calories, you can avoid eating the top half of the bun. This saves you from165mg of sodium content, 20 grams of carbohydrates, and up to 100 calories. If this might not fill you up, you can add fruits and walnuts for additional calories.
2. Turkey Breast Sandwich on nine-grain wheat bread
Do you need protein, vitamin-rich veggies, and low carb fast food? This might be the perfect healthy fast food option for you. You can combine turkey, whole grain wheat, veggies, avocado, and mustard to make less than or equal to 360 calories. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Told you. Going healthy doesn’t have to be boring or tasteless.
3. Grilled Chicken Drumsticks, green beans, mashed potatoes, unsweetened iced tea
Getting a healthy meal from KFC is not a myth, and no, it is not a side salad. If you want to lower the fat in this option, you can take the skin off the grilled chicken without losing the taste. You can also dip your fork into the gravy instead of putting the gravy on the mashed potatoes saving you up to 30 calories.
4. Whopper Jr. and a side salad of garden slide salad
This healthy fast food option from Burger King is just 300 calories and for a fast food meal, that ain’t bad at all. The side salad can come with a ranch dressing especially if oils and vinegar is not really your thing. Additionally, you can increase the fill value by adding lettuce to the junior burger instead of the salad.
5. Large chili
This option is from Wendy’s. Although not so standard by any fast food restaurant menu, yet it is a healthy option to go for. In total, it is just 310 calories, 26 grams of protein – which helps you feel full – and 10 grams of fiber. Also note that the 310 calories is without adding cheese or crackers to it. You could add a diet beverage to the equation to make it balanced.
6. Grilled Wahoo Fish Taco
It can be challenging coming up with the perfect order at Barja Fresh especially when you want to avoid the fried tortilla chips. You can eat this option with half an order of rice and beans. Ideally, the Wahoo Fish Taco is about 230 calories, which should rise depending on additional toppings. I tend to limit any topping to the 20-calorie salsa just for more flavors. The beans and rice adds more fiber to the meal and makes you feel fuller.
7. Yogurt and Fruits
Yogurts are an extremely healthy way to snack. Apart from the low calories, they also pack lots of probiotics that are essentials for your digestive system. You can make a 290-calorie snack by combining your yogurt with fruits, and granolas to add a crunchy feel to it. The fiber from the fruits as well as the low sodium content – 180 mg – makes this a healthy fast food option.
8. Hardee’s 1/4-Lb Low Carb Little Thickburger
This is a very low calorie healthy fast food to indulge in. It is only 220 calories. Add to this, it has about 15 grams of protein to make you feel fuller. The meal has about 15 grams of fat, of which 6 grams is saturated. It is a bit on the high side as regards its sodium content – 590 mg – but already this is balanced out by the low calories and good fat it has.
9. In-N-Out Burger’s hamburger with onion, mustard, and ketchup instead of spread
310 calories is not bad for a healthy fast food meal eaten on the go. It has about 42 grams of carbs of which 3 grams is fiber and 10 grams sugar. Of its 10 grams of fat, only four is saturated, with zero trans-fat. Its sodium content is 730 mg though, – almost 32% of daily recommended intake, so be aware. The snack also has 16 grams of protein to hold the tummy longer.
10. McDonald’s Plain Hamburger
This option lacks the usually high carbs identified with hamburgers because of larger buns. McDonald’s plain hamburger is only 240 calories and has only 8 grams of fat in addition to having only 20% of the recommended daily intake of sodium. If interested in a side salad, then the Newman’s Own Low Fat Family Recipe Italian Dressing which has just 70 calories and 2 grams of fat. This is applicable to those who crave the vegetables the plain burgers lack.
11. Power Kale Caesar Salad with Chicken (half salad) with Half-Size Caesar Dressing from Panera Bread
The Panera brand is associated with loads of healthy fast food options, and this is just one of them. They have wonderful salads in both full or half size portions. What you have to be wary of though, are the toppings that can bump the calorie scale higher than outlined here. This meal is just 340 calories, has about 21 grams of very useful protein, and 25 grams of fat – 7.5 grams of which are saturated. It also has about 615 mg of sodium content and 7 grams of carbohydrates.
12. Starbucks’ Protein Bistro Box
Starbucks is not just a place for lattes, coffee, and cappuccinos. You can pick up some yummy healthy fast food meals at Starbucks too whether you are carnivore or vegetarian. To stay within the frame of healthy, avoid the coffee drinks and the bakery aisle as much as you can. It would serve you well to stick with whatever has eggs, veggies, and the occasional cheese. The meal highlighted has 380 calories, 37 grams of Carbohydrates – 5 grams of fiber and 19 grams of sugar – 470 mg of sodium and 19 grams of fat – no trans and just 6 grams of saturated fat, as well as 13 grams of protein.
1. Eat out less frequently when you can and make meals with fresh products
2. Opt for water more often than not when ordering at fast food restaurants.
3. Be very careful of toppings such as cheese, mayo- based sauce, and bacon as they are notorious for their saturated fat and high calorie content.
4. You can add flavors with onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles without the saturated fat that comes with most other options.
5. Fried fish sandwiches are a no-no
6. Instead of fries, opt for baked potato
7. Avoid butter and opt low-fat sour cream or full-fat sour cream instead.
8. You can make your order via a restaurant’s app and see the calorie value being added as you make your choices.
9. Be aware of trans fat, sodium content, saturated fat as well, as caloric value alone don’t tell the whole story.
The assumptions here have been that you will stay within the parameters of the described fast food meals, and that you won’t order additional sides or sugary drinks. If you take these meals with just water, then you can have a very healthy fast food meal without stretching your nutritional value metrics limit or needing to eat something you don’t like. Lastly, this article is merely a guide to encourage healthy eating, it’s not an exhaustive list of available fast food options. The ultimate purpose is to let you know that eating healthy does not have to be boring, and it does not mean you can’t indulge in fast foods. You definitely can, but you should always bear in mind that healthy eating has huge benefits to healthy living. You probably already know that anyway; you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care about your health, would you?