What is the Most Nutritious Fast Food When You Need a Quick Meal?
Eating on the go can quickly get dangerous. With fast food, calories add up faster while you're left with less real nourishment. Even if calories aren't your concern, the chemical additives in many fast foods can leave you feeling sluggish and unsatisfied. While it may sound like an oxymoron, healthy fast food can be found when you know what to look for. In this post, you'll learn which fast foods are the safest bet when you want to eat clean and get quality fuel on the go.
Can Fast Food Be Healthy?
A heavy amount of processing and the use of chemical preservatives make national fast food chains possible. Overprocessing, harmful additives, and a high content of sodium and trans fat generally make fast food unhealthy by various standards. However, fast food chains are aware of the clean eating movement, and today more than ever, they offer healthier options on their menus.
Whether or not fast food can be healthy comes down to the restaurants you can find and what you choose to eat from them. For example, a chicken salad from Mcdonald's is a healthy choice when you have no other option but to grab something on the go.
What to Order at Fast Food Restaurants
Many fast food restaurants now display calorie counts for their foods directly on the menu. When scanning a fast food menu, check for leaner proteins like chicken and fish. Look for options with customizable condiments so you can select healthier sauces.
Minimize carbohydrates by skipping French fries and choosing whole grain bread when there's an option. Find meals featuring more vegetables or beans to reduce the "empty calories" often in fast foods and get some nutritional content. For example, a mushroom chicken bowl from Panda Express gives you lean protein with healthy carbs.
The Healthiest Fast Foods
Most fast food restaurants have the ingredients used in menus items listed on their websites. Some fast food menus highlight options designed to be healthier that you can look for, such as reduced-calorie meals and heart-healthy options. Here are some of the healthiest fast foods you'll typically find:
Salads are offered at most fast food restaurants. Opt for a chicken salad to add protein to your meal, and choose low-calorie dressings like balsamic vinegar where possible.
Burritos and Burrito Bowls
You can find protein-rich burritos and burrito bowls at popular Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurant chains like Taco Bell, Chipotle, and Moe's Southwest Grill. Order your meal with veggies like corn or bell peppers if available, and select salsa and guacamole instead of sour cream.
Grilled Chicken Sandwiches and Wraps
Burger King, Chick-Fil-A, Mcdonald's, and other fast food joints offer grilled chicken sandwiches, which are healthier than burgers. Cafe-style venues like Starbucks and Panera serve wraps packed with protein-rich filling options like eggs and grilled chicken.
Deli or Sub Sandwich
Subway or your local deli can make you a sandwich with the ingredients you choose. Select a lean protein like chicken or turkey and pair it with veggies.
Restaurants like Subway, Panera, Wendy's, and Chick-Fil-A have soups on the menu like chicken noodle soup, lentil soup, tomato, broccoli cheddar, and more. Soup tends to include healthier ingredients, like vegetables and proteins. However, the sodium content of soup from fast food restaurants can be quite high, so eat them in moderation.
Fish is a source of healthy fats, including omega-3s, which benefit your brain. Other nutrients in fish include vitamins D and B2, iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, making it a diverse source of nutrients. A fish sandwich is a healthier option at venues like Steak-n-Shake, Dairy Queen, Wendy's, and Burger King.
Starbucks, Mcdonald's, and many other fast food places that serve breakfast have oatmeal on the menu, which you can typically pair with fruit, nuts, and yogurt. While it's not enough for lunch or dinner, you can grab oatmeal for breakfast and know you're getting fiber and nutrients without unhealthy additives and trans fats.
Quick Alternatives to Fast Food
Instead of going through a drive-thru for fast food, another way to get a bite on the go is to pop into the grocery store. Even with no time to prepare food, there are healthy items you can eat.
In the deli section, you can typically find pita bread and hummus and pre-prepared deli foods like potato salad or pasta salad. Many supermarkets have roasted chicken ready in the deli you can pick up and bring home for a sit-down meal. If you're traveling or need snacks for later, grab protein bars, trail mix, and protein shakes from the store.
Tricks to Minimizing Fast Food in Your Diet
If you find yourself relying on fast food too much, there are some ways to kick the habit. Get snacks and prepared meals ahead of time from the store, or make them homemade and freeze them for later. Store granola bars and other healthy snacks in your pantry to grab when you need them. Do meal prepping over the weekend when you have a busy week ahead because it will save you time putting meals together and help you avoid getting take out.
Eating Healthy on the Go
When you're traveling, or you're pinched for time, opting for the most nutritious fast food option is something you'll thank yourself for later. Chicken, fish, veggies, beans, and whole grains are ingredients to look for in the meals you order. Choose grilled meat instead of fried and select your condiments wisely. Even in the short term, making the healthiest choice will leave you with the most energy and the nutrients you need.