The Healthiest Fast-Food Options When You’re On the Road
Whether a family vacation or a road trip is in your future, you’ll probably need to stop along the way for a quick bite to eat. The good news is that healthy fast-food options are popping up around the country. Here’s what to look for when you stop to eat, and the top five meal choices from joints around the country.
Guidelines for Ordering Healthy
Here are five things to keep in mind when stopping on the road to grab a meal:
Calories matter: Make sure meals don’t top around 550 calories each, including side dishes and dessert.
Choose lean protein: Whatever you choose should have at least 15 grams of protein per serving. Protein takes longer to digest, which will keep you fuller longer.
Steer clear of fried fare: Fried food like french fries and fried chicken can weigh you down and even give you some uncomfortable tummy troubles.
Look for veggies: Most Americans don’t get their daily recommended dose of veggies. More fast-food joints do offer veggie-filled meals and sides now, so keep your eyes peeled for them.
Opt for calorie-free drinks: Choose beverages without added sugar, like water, seltzer, plain coffee with a splash of milk, or unsweetened iced tea.
This Northeast chain offers kale-and-quinoa bowls and seasonal salads with locally sourced ingredients, which can help you feel good about what you order when you’re on the road. The calories for most main dishes are within reasonable limits, with a few hitting 700 calories or above. The one drawback is that the website doesn’t provide information on sodium or total fat content. If you do choose to stop at B. Good, opt for the Quinoa Power Bowl, made with kale, sesame carrots, Brussels sprouts, crunchy chickpeas, pepitas, local egg and tomato vinaigrette.
Per serving (Quinoa Power Bowl): Calories 592; Fat 28 g (Saturated 4 g); Carbohydrate 59 g; Protein 22 g
You can find Panera throughout the country, with seasonal menu items popping on the menu. Panera recently removed all artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors and colors from its food. You can find salads, broth bowls, warming soups and flatbreads on the menu. One family-favorite meal is the half order of BBQ Chicken Flatbreads and the half order of Seasonal Green Salad, with an apple on the side.
Per serving (half order BBQ Chicken Flatbread, half order Seasonal Green Salad, an apple): Calories 555; Fat 22 g (Saturated 10 g); Sodium 862 mg; Carbohydrate 74 g; Protein 13 g
Most of the outposts of this West Coast healthier-burger joint are found in Oregon and Washington. You can order all types of burgers, including beef, halibut, chicken, turkey and several vegetarian options. You can also order a kid’s meal (also referred to as a small meal) if you’re trying to be very mindful of portions. A well-balanced meal to order is the Original Burger with a Garden Salad.
Per serving (Original Burger with Garden Salad): Calories 410; Fat 22 g (Saturated 6 g); Sodium 630 mg; Carbohydrate 33 g; Protein 17 g
In addition to this ubiquitous chain’s beverages, many locations offer healthy fare, which you can request to be warmed up. Besides the variety of Bistro Boxes offered (all 470 calories or less) and fruit and yogurt parfaits, you can find sandwiches, panini and salads. A top pick is the Turkey and Havarti Sandwich, which is made from oven-roasted turkey, dill Havarti cheese and lettuce, all stacked on hearty harvest wheat bread slicked with a scallion mayo. To minimize the calories from your beverage, forgo the fancy coffee and go for a plain cup of joe with a splash of milk.
Per serving (Turkey and Havarti Sandwich): Calories 460; Fat 21 g (Saturated 7 g); Sodium 940 mg; Carbohydrate 31 g; Protein 29 g
With a selection of lean protein, vegetables, rice, beans and salsa, you can get a well-balanced meal at Chipotle if you build your bowl or salad smartly. One drawback of Chipotle is the high levels of sodium, especially in the salad dressing and the tomato-based salsa. Instead of them, order a salad with lettuce, chicken, black beans, tomatillo-green chile salsa and cheese. If you choose the cheese, then skip the guac and sour cream, as they each add a few hundred calories.
Per serving (salad with lettuce, chicken, black beans, green-chile salsa and cheese): Calories 425; Fat 15.5 g (Saturated 8 g); Sodium 1015 mg; Carbohydrate 29 g; Protein 46g
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.