Fast food and healthy meals go together like mayo and Root Beer, which is to say, they don’t go together at all. It’s no secret that fast food isn’t healthy, there are certainly relatively healthy dishes to be had, but fast food does big decadent bacon cheeseburgers a lot better than it does good, well-rounded sensible meals. But that doesn’t mean healthy meals don’t exist in the fast food space and sometimes, whether you’re eating fast food every day and need a change up or you just didn’t have time to meal prep at home, you’ re going to want to opt for a salad over curly fries and mozzarella sticks.
This is why, just as we did with fast food’s unhealthiest meals, we’re exploring five super popular and healthy menu options, offering our tasting notes, and ranking them to see which is the one most worth your time and money. We’ll list the calories, fat, sodium, protein, and carb content of each meal so you don’t have to go digging yourself but keep this in mind: fast food has a ton of sodium.
So don’t read too deeply into the word “healthy” here. Think of it more as “healthy for fast food.” Okay, let’s dive in, starting with our least favorite of the five dishes.
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Food Rankings From The Last Month
5. Starbucks — Spinach Feta and Egg White Wrap
Calories: 290 Calories
Fats: 8 grams
Sodium: 840 mg
Carbs: 34 g
Vegetarian and remarkably low in calories — what’s not to love right? Look, I won’t question the popularity of Starbucks. The fact that these drive-thru coffee shops dot the landscape more frequently than McDonald’s speaks to the brand’s super wide appeal, but as someone who loves both good coffee and good food I got to say — Starbucks isn’t particularly good at doing either. But the food is especially bad.
The Starbucks Spinach Feta and Egg White Wrap has a spot on many a “healthiest fast food” article on the internet. So it wouldn’t be right not to include this dish… even though I think it’s borderline inedible.
What you get here are egg whites mixed with spinach, feta cheese, and sun-dried tomato cream cheese inside a whole wheat wrap. The spinach stains the palate in the worst way and the combination of egg and feta cheese is somehow simultaneously bland and too salty. Overall, the dominant flavors of this dish are “dirty” and salt. The only saving grace of this wrap is the sundried tomato cream cheese, which introduces a bright and tangy infusion of umami in an otherwise boring dish.
Also, feta, cream cheese, egg whites, and a side of coffee? You’re just asking for stomach trouble there.
The Bottom Line:
Just don’t order it. It tastes like salty dirt and it won’t satisfy you. It’s an eat-to-live sort of sandwich, assuming you’re alone on an island with no hunting tools and all you can eat is this one sandwich. Just order the Turkey, Provolone & Pesto on Ciabatta instead. Sure, it’s nearly double the calories and fat content but at least it’s edible.
Find your nearest Starbucks here.
4. Wendy’s — Apple Pecan Salad
Calories: 450 + 90 (Dresses)
Fats: 25g+3g (Dresses)
Sodium: 1230mg (Fried Chicken) + 190mg (Dresses)
In the fast food space, Wendy’s is the king of salads. Of course that isn’t saying much considering our most recent fast food salad roundup revealed that a lot of fast food spots have dropped salads entirely from their menu. But even pre-covid when everyone from McDonald’s to Burger King had a bunch of salads to choose from, Wendy’s always had some of the most inventive options out there.
The Apple Pecan Salad features a mix of sweet red and sour green apple bites, pecans, cranberries, blue cheese crumbles, and your choice of Wendy’s spicy, homestyle, or grilled chicken over a bed of mixed greens. Being able to choose spicy fried chicken as a topping helps to make this salad one of the more delicious salad experiences out there, but that also knocks up the calorie count significantly. For less sodium, fat, and calories, you’re going to have to choose the grilled option.
The grilled chicken is fine, it’s a bit dry, but that’s remedied by the delicious pomegranate vinaigrette dressing, which adds some sweet and tart notes to the whole dish, complimenting the mix of fruity notes, nuts and salty feta cheese. The weakest part of this salad is lamentably the lettuce, which is a mix of basic greens and romaine lettuce. The lettuce serves as texture only, it doesn’t have much flavor, but that’s fine considering how much of the work is done by the toppings.
The bottom line:
A delicious and relatively healthy fast food salad. But watch that sodium, this dish has more than you’d expect, so if that’s a particular concern for your diet, definitely opt for the grilled chicken and maybe consider using half the dressing.
Find your nearest Wendy’s here.
3. Chick-fil-A — Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Calories: 390 Calories
Fats: 12 g
I know it’s hard to imagine a grilled chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, a chain so famous for fried chicken sandwiches that it likes to claim they invented them, but trust me when I say so many people are sleeping on this grilled chicken sandwich . It’s not just surprisingly good for a healthy food option, it’s a delicious full stop chicken sandwich. Perfectly capable of competing against its fried counterparts.
The chicken here is remarkably marinated, with a delicious lemon and black pepper flavor, the slightest hint of grill-charred notes, and a juicy and tender texture that makes it perfectly edible without the need for sauce. The sandwich is served atop green lettuce with a couple of juicy ripened tomatoes, which gives it a sort of salad vibe. It’s served atop a toasted multigrain bun, which adds an infusion of subtle sweetness to the whole dish.
The Bottom Line:
It’s easy to forget that Chick-fil-A even has grilled chicken sandwiches, but they’re so good that sometimes you might even find yourself ordering this over its fried counterpart whether or not you’re concerned about how many calories you’re consuming .
Find your nearest Chick-fil-A here.
2. Panera — Napa Almond Chicken Salad on Country Rustic Sourdough
As much as I like the simplicity of Chick-fil-A’s grilled chicken sandwich, more is more, and Panera’s Napa Almond Chicken Salad on Country Rustic Sourdough just has more flavor! The sandwich is a mix of thin chicken slices, diced celery, red grapes, toasted almonds, sweet honey and vinegar-based sauce, tomatoes, emerald greens, and salt and pepper on chewy, tangy sourdough.
The chicken is seriously not as great as what Chick-fil-A serves, but the rest of the flavors bring a lot to the table. The greens are a slightly bitter base which counterbalances the soft nutty tones of the almonds, the pepper brightness of the celery, and the occasional burst of sour sweetness brought on by the sliced red grapes. The sauce is a mix of honey and cider vinegar with a slight mustardy tang and the tomatoes add that umami savoriness to the whole thing.
For 90 more calories, you can add avocado to this sandwich which brings a nice rounded buttery character into the mix and makes the sandwich all the more satisfying.
The Bottom Line:
Delicious as is, but I’d strongly suggest adding that avocado. If 90 calories and more fat are too much to add to your meal (it’s a healthy fat!) consider ditching that middle piece of bread.
Find your nearest Panera here.
1. Chipotle — Burrito Bowl (Our Best Tasting Build Modified)
A while back we went on a quest to make the best-tasting Chipotle Burrito Bowl build possible and our end result ended up being three different bowls: ‘best tasting,’ ‘best-tasting keto,’ and the decadent ‘anything goes’ bowl . This is a modified take on our ‘best tasting’ bowl which drops the guacamole and sour cream for better stats, here is the build: Barbacoa, pinto beans, white rice, extra fajitas, tomatillo red salsa, roasted chili corn salsa, cheese and lettuce, and a sprinkle of jalapeño tabasco.
The end result is an incredibly savory and flavorful salad with smokey, earthy and spicy notes and a hint of sweetness. The barbacoa brings clove and oregano notes into the mix which pairs nicely with the cumin-heavy pinto beans which combine to soak into the bed of rice, adding a meaty finish to the whole dish. It’s also incredibly aromatic thanks to the extra fajitas. It’s so good you’ll be blown away that the meal clocks in at least under 100 calories.
There are some modifications you can do to make it even healthier, drop the rice and you’re looking at 480 calories, 17 grams of fat, 40 grams of protein, and 38 grams of carbs, which will leave room to add guacamole back into the recipe.
For an even healthier take on the recipe, be sure to check out our keto bowl build, which clocks in at 735 calories, with 44 grams of fat, 73 grams of protein, and just 16 grams of carbs.
The Bottom Line:
Chipotle makes it incredibly easy to eat healthy without having to sacrifice big and enjoyable flavors, and our custom burrito bowl proves it. Chipotle also has an interactive nutrition calculator so you can test out your own builds to fit into whatever your particular dietary restrictions or goals are. More fast food places should do this!
Find your nearest Chipotle here.