The healthiest fast food: Drive thru choices that won't crash your diet
If you're like us, those new year's resolutions have long since seemed like an unbearable cramping of your lifestyle. Who can save money when there are so many sales? How can one workout after work when it means missing happy hour?
Inevitably our high-minded ideas fall to the wayside.
But if your resolution was a diet, you've got a shot. Eating healthy is important, but on those days when you just can't handle any more quinoa, it's OK to give a little — without the wagon-crashing guilt.
Yes, even on a diet you can indulge in a little drive-thru delight. We've gathered some of the best options from the most popular fast food chains, all with around 400 calories, the amount nutritionists say keeps you satisfied, for when your brain says "healthy" and your stomach says "cheeseburger."
Breakfast might be the best meal of the day to splurge on food — you've got time to work it off and it encourages a more healthful lunch. (At least that's what we tell ourselves.) Plus whether you like savory or sweet, there are plenty of choices that won't ding you on the scale.
Whataburger is truly the calorie-counting breakfast king, with a dozen choices under 400 calories, including a cinnamon roll (390 calories), three kinds of taquitos (egg, 330; egg with cheese, 370; bacon and egg, 380), breakfast on a bun with bacon ranchero (340) and even an meal with a pancake, scrambled eggs and and diet soda or unsweetened iced tea (395).
At Chick-Fil-A, a chicken biscuit is a bit over the target range at 440 calories, but a good substitute could be the chicken minis, which weigh in at only 280. Burger King offers a ham omelet sandwich (270 calories) a three-pack of French toast sticks (300) or an egg & cheese crossan'wich (300).
At Taco Cabana grab the potato and egg breakfast taco (210 cal) or bacon and egg breakfast taco (230). Good McDonald's choices include an fruit and maple oatmeal (290 calories), egg McMuffin (300 cal), sausage McMuffin (370), Southern-style chicken biscuit (410), bacon egg and cheese McGriddles (420), sausage burrito (300) or the hotcakes (350, but go easy on the syrup — one package contains 180 more calories).
When it comes to lunch, chicken usually seems like a better choice than high-fat beef, but depending on the preparation and the condiments, you're good intentions can come back to bite you. And remember: Pass on the fries.
Chick-Fil-A's 8-pack of chicken nuggets are a good choice at 270 calories — you could even get 12 for 400 cal. if you avoid all condiments besides ketchup, mustard, and buffalo sauce. The spicy or chargrilled chicken wrap both run to 410 calories, and the chargrilled chicken sandwich comes in at 300 cal, better than the chargrilled deluxe (410) or regular chicken sandwich (430).
At Whataburger you can grab a grilled chicken sandwich meal (with a small bun, side salad instead of fries, mustard instead of mayo, low-fat vinaigrette dressing and no croutons) for 390 calories, or splurge and get the Whatachick'n meal the same way for 530. At KFC the Snackers range from 210-290 calories and a drumstick value box runs 420 calories, grilled or fried. Even the notorious grilled Double Down is only 480 calories — if you dare.
At McDonald's the McChicken sandwich is only 360 calories, the Southern style crispy chicken sandwich is 400 cal and the premium grilled chicken classic sandwich is 420 cal. You could get the regular chicken nuggets (280 cal for six pieces) or the chicken selects premium strips (400 cal for three pieces), but remember, dipping sauce (besides 15-cal ketchup) runs 60 cal or more per packet. Wendy's 5-piece nuggets (230 cal) might be a better bet.
Yes, this is the reason you're here. The franchise burgers (Whopper, Big Mac) may be out of range but there's always the Whopper Jr. (340 cal) at Burger King, the double cheeseburger (440 cal) at McDonald's, Whataburger's Whataburger Jr. meal (see specifications above) for 370 calories or the Whataburger with cheese (about 400 calories) or a Jack in the Box junior bacon cheeseburger (420 cal).
South of the Border
When it comes to places like Taco Cabana and Taco Bell, the best choice is almost always a taco. Between the two Taco Cabana seems to get more taco per calorie, with an order of three chicken flautas for 300 calories, three street tacos for 290 and two crispy chicken tacos for 320. There are also several other tacos (black bean, chicken fajita, crispy beef) for between 180-200 calories. Just beware of adding guacamole (110 calories) or queso (200 calories).
At Taco Bell, grab a crunchy taco (170 calories), a chicken soft taco (190), a taco supreme (200) or a beef soft taco (210) — you can get a duo and stay safely in the 400 cal range. Elsewhere on the menu there's the bean burrito (370 calories), the chili cheese burrito (380 cal) the MexiMelt (280) the Enchiritos (340-370) and the taquitos (310-320). You can shave 20 calories off many of these options by ordering them "fresco-style" with fresh pico instead of cheese, but did you really come to Taco Bell to not eat cheese?
Frankly, if you want a salad, you should probably be somewhere else. Fast food versions have gotten an (often deserved) reputation for hiding hundreds of hidden calories.
But if fast food is more about expedience than indulgence and you'd rather keep it green, there are some decent options. Burger King's Tendergrill garden salad is only 290 calories with fat-free ranch dressing or 350 calories with light Italian, and at Whataburger you can get a grilled chicken salad with bacon, croutons and fat-free ranch or low-fat vinaigrette dressing for only 370 calories. Yes, bacon is included.
For a spicier choice, ditch the Chipotle burrito bowls (those things can run to over 1000 calories!) and try Taco Cabana's new Cabana Bowls, all with lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream, salsa roja and under 400 calories. Choose fajita (add rice, black beans and either fajita steak or chicken), taco (black beans, shredded cheese, beef or chicken), salad (salsa ranch and fajita steak or chicken) or veggie (black beans and cheese and only 280 calories).
At McDonald's you've got three salad decisions to make: Do you want a premium Caesar salad (starting at 90 calories), a bacon ranch salad (140 cal) or southwest salad (140 cal); will you add grilled chicken (+130 calories) or crispy chicken (+240 cal); and what kind of Newman's Own dressing do you want, southwest (100 calories), Caesar (190 cal) low-fat balsamic vinaigrette (40 cal), Italian (60 cal) or ranch (170)?
Our advice? Go for whatever salad base you want, avoid the crispy chicken and either get no chicken and any dressing OR grilled chicken with balsamic vinaigrette, Italian or Southwestern dressing, which will keep the salads in the 300-400 calorie range.
At Wendy's, a full-size salad can run to over 500 calories even before dressing is included, so stick to the half-size salads. The best bets are the apple chicken pecan (half size 350 cal with roasted pecans and dressing) and the BLT cobb salad (half size 330 calories with dressing). Whatever you do, avoid the Thousand Island dressing, which has by far the most calories, with 160.
Overall, it seems like the best places to get your low-cal cravings met are Whataburger, Taco Cabana, McDonald's (surprise!) and maybe Chick-Fil-A if you can resist those waffle fries (we can't). Hey, the quinoa will be there tomorrow.