Making healthier choices at fast food restaurants

We live busy lives and sometimes, eating fast food happens, but there are ways to choose healthier options at restaurants, limit calories, fat, etc. Simple changes in what you order can make a big difference.


  • Don’t drink your calories

    • Several studies have shown that excess sugar in the diet contributes to increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, increased triglycerides, weight gain and malnutrition.
    • A large 30-ounce soda has 76 grams of added sugar. That’s more added sugar than a healthy adult should consume over a two- to three-day period. According to the American Heart Association, women should consume no more than six teaspoons (or 24 grams) of added sugar a day, and men should consume no more than nine teaspoons (or 36 grams). Even a small 12-ounce soda packs in 39 grams of added sugar.

  • Go easy on the condiments and dressings

    • Mayo – 94 calories per Tbsp
    • Barbecue sauce – 29 calories per Tbsp
    • Ketchup – 19 calories per Tbsp
    • Mustard – 3 calories per Tbsp
    • Ranch dressing – 73 calories per Tbsp

  • Skip the extras. Limit cheese and other high-fat, high-calorie ingredients like bacon. And if there’s an option to add veggies, do so.

    • Slice of cheese – 113 calories
    • Slice of bacon – 43 calories

  • Instead go with lettuce, onion, pickles or tomato

    • Lettuce – 1 calorie in a leaf of iceberg lettuce
    • Onion – 6 calories in one medium slice
    • Pickles – 1 calorie in three pickle “chips”
    • Tomato – 4 calories in one medium slice

  • Don’t upgrade your meal’s size. Because fast food is often inexpensive, it’s easy to want to upgrade or add extras to the meal, but while the price doesn’t add up the calories do.

    • Small McDonald’s fry – 230 calories (with 100 calories from fat)
    • Large McDonald’s fry – 510 calories (with 220 calories from fat)
    • Small McDonald’s Coca-Cola – 150 calories
    • Large McDonald’s Coca-Cola – 290 calories


Eating a burger or sandwich by itself is often plenty filling, and you’ll save money by skipping the “value” meal.

  • Choose fruit and vegetables over fries. Many fast food restaurants offer fruit cups or side salad as a healthy alternative to French fries.
  • If you must have fries, split the size and order without salt. Try splitting an order between the two of you. That way no one gets all the fat, sodium and calories of the oversized serving. And ask if they can make them without the added salt.
  • Buy a baked potato instead of a burger. Some restaurants offer potatoes plain or with all the fixings. Of course, the more toppings like sour cream, cheese, bacon and butter that are added, the less healthy it becomes.
  • Go for the grilled. Poultry without skin is much leaner than the meats most fast-food companies use in their burgers, and it may be less processed. The chicken nuggets that are common in kids’ meals often have just as much fat and sodium as an adult-size burger. Choose a grilled skinless chicken sandwich, split it between your kids (or save half for later). You’ll also save money!
  • Ask for a wheat bun. Some places offer a wheat alternative. It never hurts to ask.
  • Skip the “kid’s meal.” Just get the toy. Just because a meal is marketed toward children doesn’t mean they have to eat it. Often, the toys can be purchased separately.
  • Pass on the “value-size.” When you increase the meal’s size, the size of your fries and drink isn’t the only thing that gets bigger.
  • Drink water, 100 percent juice or low-fat milk. No one ever said that every fast food meal must be eaten with soda. Sodas are loaded with sugars, which have calories you don’t need. Nearly all fast food restaurants offer alternatives — including water!


Check out fast-food restaurants menus to find out what you’re really ordering. If you have fast-food restaurants you frequent, have healthier go-tos and know where the best version of your favorite foods is found.

If you’re craving a crispy chicken sandwich or a hamburger or whatever the case may be, know where you can get the healthiest version of that if you have multiple restaurants to choose from.

  • Chick-fil-A® Chicken Sandwich – 440 calories, 19g fat, 40g carbs, 28g protein
  • McDonald’s Classic Chicken Sandwich – 510 calories, 23g fat, 50g carbs, 25g protein
  • Burger King Original Chicken Sandwich – 660 calories, 40g fat, 48g carbs, 28g protein
  • Hardee’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich – 440 calories, 23g fat, 21g carbs, 41g protein
  • Wendy’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich – 350 calories, 18g fat, 33g carbs, 15g protein
  • KFC Double Crunch Sandwich – 520 calories, 26g fat, 46g carbs, 25g protein

Check online menus before making a decision because some single item sandwiches can have more calories than you need for one meal – and they may not even fill you up.

Fast food can be an okay option when you consciously make good decisions. Be sure to limit how often you are getting fast food, but when you do decide to go the fast-food route, choose healthier options at the restaurant your choose. Remember every restaurant has healthier options and less-than-healthy options. It’s all about doing your research and making wise decisions.

About the Author...
Kristi Larson