The 5 best fast food restaurants for healthy options, according to a dietitian

In a perfect world, we’d all cook most of our meals and know exactly what’s in our food. In reality, this is not feasible for most people. Life happens and sometimes a quick meal on the go is the only way. However, if you don’t want to sacrifice your healthy eating for a meal on the town, there are actually plenty of options available these days to keep you on track.

You may not think that any of the options in a fast food restaurant can be healthy, and it makes sense why you assume that. A recent Boston University study found that fast food menus are even more unhealthy now than they were three decades ago. This is even after laws and regulations have become stricter to make sure healthier options are on the menu. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find nutritious and satisfying options on the go.

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Here are the top five places to visit that can still meet your nutritional needs:

1. Chipotle

Chipotle has so many great options to choose from to customize your meal. Not only do they have a huge variety, but you’ll also get a filling meal. Getting salad bowls is satisfying and highly nutritious when you opt for lots of veggies, some rice, and a protein of your choice. Don’t forget to pack greens and/or beans for extra fiber and nutrition. Finishing with some guacamole is a great way to get healthy fats, too. Just try to turn on the light or avoid the queso salsa, cheeses, and sour cream.

Shyla’s advice: If you take the bowl home, add Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It tastes almost the same and allows you to use much more, without adding too much fat. It’s also a fantastic way to boost your protein even more.

Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant sign
(Electric Egg Ltd. –


CAVA isn’t in every single state yet, but it’s a fast-growing Mediterranean brand that works just like Chipotle. More commonly, customers create their own bowls filled with flavor and veggies, making it another seriously filling and quick choice.

You can choose from a vegetable base (arugula, spinach, romaine, or a mix), rice, lentils, or even RightRice, which is a high-protein, high-fiber alternative to rice. You can choose from a range of animal and plant proteins such as harissa honey chicken or falafel and top it all off with a variety of sauces such as hummus and feta dips, pickled greens, slaw and a bunch of delicious toppings . As for their toppings, I recommend opting for their yogurt dill or lemon tahini options for a lighter addition.

3. Chick-Fil-A

You may or may not be surprised to find the country’s favorite fried chicken sandwich on this list, but Chick-Fil-A has some top-notch healthy options too. Fun fact: they were the first fast food restaurants to offer a menu free of trans fats.

Instead of their deep-fried favors, they offer a grilled chicken sandwich and nuggets to help you scratch the itch while staying on track. On the side, you can choose between a fruit bowl or a crunchy kale bowl, both delicious alternatives.

For breakfast, you can also grab a Greek yogurt parfait with crunchy granola or a grilled egg white sandwich and a side of fruit for a truly enjoyable yet healthy meal.

Chick-Fil-A combo meal of kibble
«Chicken Nugget @ Chick-Fil-A» by Tatiana Mik on Openverse (Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

4. Panera

Panera has grown a lot since it opened in 1987, which isn’t surprising considering they have lots of fresh breads, sandwiches, soups, salads, and bowls of hot cereal. Some of these offerings are healthier than others, but the amount of variety and the ability to customize their existing items is what sets them apart.

Their Mediterranean Chicken Bowl is sure to tick all the boxes when it comes to taste and nutrition, offering veggies, quinoa, cucumber, hummus, olives, and a creamy dressing. If you’re in need of a quick sandwich choice, their delicious turkey, tuna salad, and vegetarian Mediterranean options are all great ways to go. If you’re looking to really up your fiber, consider the Baja bowl. It’s packed with brown rice, quinoa, black beans, tomatoes, avocados, and greens.

Do you stop for breakfast? While a crunchy cinnamon bagel is probably calling your name, it’s probably not wise to get one if you want to stick to your healthy goals. Instead, they have a chicken, egg, and avocado chipotle on ciabatta that is sure to please your taste buds. Their steel-cut oatmeal is also a nice, hot option.

5. Pizza MOD

I’m sure you weren’t expecting a pizza place to be on this list, but sometimes you just want a pizza.

MOD offers thin, cauliflower crusts along with a huge variety of proteins like chicken and ground beef, and veggies like onions, broccoli, and spinach. Adding these foods can help pack the nutrition into your pie and optimize your pizza craving, keeping you feeling fuller longer and your blood sugar more under control.

They also offer various different salads, with the ability to make your own with just about any topping you would put on your pizza. With more options to enjoy than a thick crust with cheese and heavy meats, the MOD pizza is a strong option to squash the pizza craving the smart way.

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