Fast food: Tips for choosing healthier options
These five tips can help you make wise meal choices when going to a fast-food restaurant.By Mayo Clinic Staff
Does following a weight-loss or healthy diet mean you must swear off fast food? Not necessarily.
An occasional stop for fast food can fit into a healthy diet — if you're careful about what you order. Consider these tips.
Keep portion sizes small
If the fast-food restaurant offers several sandwich sizes, pick the smallest. Bypass hamburgers with two or three patties, which can have more than 900 calories.
Instead, choose a regular- or children's-sized hamburger, which has about 250 calories.
Also, order the small serving of french fries instead of the large. This switch alone can save 200 calories or more.
Choose healthier side dishes
Take advantage of the healthy side dishes offered at many fast-food restaurants. For example, instead of french fries choose a side salad with low-fat dressing or a baked potato. Or add a fruit bowl or a fruit and yogurt option to your meal.
Other healthy choices include apple or orange slices, corn on the cob, steamed rice, baked potato chips or a broth-based soup.
Choose an entree salad with vegetables and grilled chicken or shrimp. Choose a dressing you like but be cautious with the amount. Use half the package or keep the salad dressing on the side to control the number of calories from added fat and other unwanted ingredients, such as added salt and sugar.
Watch out for high-calorie salads, such as those with deep-fried shells or those topped with breaded chicken or other fried toppings. Also skip extras, such as cheese and croutons, which quickly increase your calorie count.
Opt for grilled items
Fried and breaded foods, such as crispy chicken sandwiches and breaded fish fillets, are high in fat and calories. Select grilled or roasted entrees — such as chicken breast or lean roast beef.
Watch what you drink
Many beverages are high in calories. For example, a large regular soda, which is 32 ounces (960 milliliters), can have as many as 400 calories. Instead, order diet soda, water, unsweetened iced tea, sparkling water or mineral water.
Also, skip the shakes and other ice cream drinks. A large shake can have more than 650 calories.
Have it your way
Remember, you don't have to settle for what comes with your sandwich or meal — not even at fast-food restaurants. Ask for healthier options and substitutions. And keep your eye on portion size.
May 21, 2021
See more In-depth
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov. Accessed Jan. 7, 2021.
- FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov. Accessed March 15, 2021.
- Duyff RL. Eat smart away from home. In: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 5th ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2017.
- 7 tips for healthy dining out. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/eating-out/7-tips-for-healthy-dining-out. Accessed Jan. 7, 2021.
- Dining out doesn't mean ditch your diet. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/losing-weight/dining-out-doesnt-mean-ditch-your-diet. Accessed Jan. 7, 2021.
- Gordon B. Incorporating MyPlate at fast food restaurants. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/incorporating-myplate-at-fast-food-restaurants. Accessed Jan. 7, 2021.