Health

26 Fast-Food Lunches That Are Actually Healthy

Yes, it’s true! These lunches are great options for those days when you just can’t get around to packing your own — because it definitely happens.

Pret A Manger / Starbucks / CK for BuzzFeed

Before you freak out: Ideally, everyone would be packing their own lunches and eating only whole foods made from the freshest ingredients. But this is the real world.

And sometimes that’s just not realistic and not gonna happen. And if you DO find yourself with fast food as your only option, wouldn’t it be nice to know which food choices you can make that are the healthiest for you? (Fun fact: It might not be the salad!)

Here’s how to think about what “healthy” means for this particular article:

When it comes to fast food, “healthy” basically means food that offers you a decent combination of macronutrients, without going overboard on calories or potentially harmful things (like sugar or sodium, for people who have high blood pressure). The key here is moderation, with ideally some benefits if possible. With all that in mind, here are the parameters for the foods below:

• Low in calories: For lunch, that means about 500 calories or less.
• Protein, to help you build muscles: Each of these meals has at least 10 grams of protein (ideally more!).
• Low in sodium (or at least not HIGH in sodium): We aimed for less than 1,000 milligrams of sodium per meal (which is high already, yes). Unfortunately some of the options are a bit higher than that — for anyone with high blood pressure, these are definitely not ideal.
• Low in sugar (or at least not HIGH in sugar): Each of these meals has less than 20 grams of sugar.
• No trans fat: Trans fats are related to heart disease, so each of these meals comes with 0 grams trans fat.

Another thing: I’m also assuming that you’re not ordering sides or any sugary drinks. If you combine these meals with just water, and don’t add a side of fries or what have you, then you can get a decent lunch without overloading on things you don’t need or that might make you feel kind of gross.

And on a final note: Obviously you should eat whatever you want to eat. This is just a helpful guide to people who are trying to make healthy decisions about their food and would like some help.

1. McDonald’s

OK, so. The key here is to keep your orders small, and make sure not to order a side of fries or soda or apple pie to round out the meal. You won’t be getting any veggies here (beyond what’s on your sandwich), but you will be getting some protein, and keeping your serving sizes in check. Hey — you do what you gotta do. McDonald’s DOES offer a few salads that all come in under 500 calories, but the dressings that go with them bring the sodium totals up well above 1,000 milligrams. It’s really a personal call whether you’d rather eat more veggies and more sodium, or less veggies and less sodium when dining here.

Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich (pictured)
360 calories
32 g protein
6 g fat (1.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
930 mg sodium
43 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 11 g sugars)

Chicken McNuggets (6 piece) With Honey Mustard Sauce (1 package)
340 calories
13 g protein
22 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
655 mg sodium
24 g carbohydrates (2 g fiber, 5 g sugars)

Here are McDonald’s nutrition facts in case you want to check out some other options.

2. Chipotle

Ahhh! For Chipotle it’s really, really hard finding things under 1,000 mg of sodium that also meet the other criteria listed above. That’s why one of these choices is over 1,000, unfortunately (and the other one is pretty close). The American Heart Association recommends that people eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day, so if you choose one of these options, you’ll want to be a lot pickier with the rest of your meals that day. That’s especially important for people who have high blood pressure (too much sodium can exacerbate that).

Burrito Bowl With Steak, Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, Fresh Tomato Salsa, Cheese, and Romaine Lettuce (pictured, but without modifications)
460 calories
46 g protein
15.5 g fat (7 g saturated)
1,150 mg sodium
36 g carbohydrates (15 g fiber, 8 g sugar)

Salad with Romaine Lettuce, Brown Rice, Black Beans, Fajita Veggies, and Roasted Chili-Corn Salsa* (vegetarian)
430 calories
15.5 g protein
10 g fat (0 g saturated, 0 g trans)
895 mg sodium
76 g carbohydrates (19.5 g fiber, 8.5 g sugar)

Find out nutrition facts for your favorite Chipotle dishes here, if you’d like.

3. Subway

It’s easy to eat healthy at Subway as long as you customize your orders. That means choosing more veggies and less spreads, and forgoing cheese in some cases. Oh, and keep your sandwiches at 6 inches or under.

Six-inch Turkey Breast Sub on 9-Grain Wheat with Swiss Cheese, Banana Peppers, Cucumbers, Green Peppers, Lettuce, Spinach, Tomatoes, Avocado, and Vinegar dressing (pictured, but without modifications)
390 calories
23 g protein
14 g fat (4 g saturated, 0 g trans)
720 mg sodium
49 g carbohydrates (8 g fiber, 7 g sugar)

Six-inch Veggie Sub on 9-Grain Wheat with Provolone, Cucumbers, Green Peppers, Lettuce, Red Onions, Spinach, Tomatoes, Avocado, and Olive Oil Blend Dressing* (vegetarian)
380 calories
13 g protein
17 g fat (4.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
410 mg sodium
47 g carbohydrates (8 g fiber, 7 g sugar)

Subway also has a tool that helps you figure out the nutritional value of your favorite toppings.

4. Taco Bell

Taco Bell has some items that keep the serving sizes in check, but the thing you should watch out for is the sodium content. A lot of stuff on the menu unfortunately comes with over 1,000 milligrams of the stuff. The two items we chose below are both just barely under that limit.

Shredded Chicken Burrito (pictured)
400 calories
16 g protein
18 g fat (4.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
960 mg sodium
45 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 3 g sugar)

Cantina Power Burrito — Veggie* (vegetarian)
430 calories
15 g protein
19 g fat (7 g saturated, 0 g trans)
940 mg sodium
52 g carbohydrates (9 g fiber, 5 g sugar)

See Taco Bell’s nutrition info here.

5. Pret a Manger

Pret’s salads are excellent, although if your goal is to stay under 500 calories you’ll have to go very easy on the dressing (or go with the lowest calorie version, the Tahini Yogurt). But if calories aren’t a huge concern, basically any of their salads are healthy and filling options. The new “power lunches” they’ve pulled together are also great and come with a LOT of great veggies and other healthy things. Re the turkey chilli below, 200 calories might not fill you up enough for lunch. In that case, the large is 340 calories with 32 whopping grams of protein. Just know that it also has more sugar, and 1,070 mg of sodium. Worth noting: Soups in general tend to be very high in sodium.

Egg and Veggie Power Lunch* (pictured) (vegetarian)
420 calories
22 g protein
17 g fat (3.5 g saturated)
680 mg sodium
45 g carbohydrates (10 g fiber, 2 g sugar)

Small Turkey Chili
200 calories
19 g protein
4 g fat (1 g saturated)
22 g carbohydrates (7 g fiber, 7 g sugar)
630 mg sodium

See Pret’s full menu here.

6. Burger King

Burger King has some items you can order that fit within the parameters listed above, without needing to make modifications. They even come with a good deal of protein! A few things to look out for: A lot of their burgers come with trans fats (and any amount of trans fats are not good). And the salads are pretty reasonable, although some of them come with a LOT of sodium. The one selected below comes in at 1,080 mg — higher than the 1,000 mg limit.

BK VEGGIE Burger* (pictured) (vegetarian)
390 calories
21 g protein
16 g fat (2.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
900 mg sodium
44 g carbohydrates (5 g fiber, 9 g sugar)

Chicken BLT Garden Fresh Salad with TENDERGRILL and dressing
440 calories
33 g protein
29 g fat (8 g saturated, 0 g trans)
1,080 mg sodium
11 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 5 g sugar)

See all of Burger King’s nutrition facts here.

7. Hardee’s

Hardee’s has a menu with “better for you options,” which is a helpful way to figure out how to manage serving sizes when you’re eating there. Heads up, though: The “Veg’ It” Thickburger (basically the Thickburger sandwich without a meat patty) still has over 1,000 mg of sodium. It’s still a relatively low-calorie option compared to many other things, so we included it on this list.

1/4-Lb Low Carb Little Thickburger (pictured)
220 calories
15 g protein
15 g fat (6 g saturated)
590 mg sodium
6 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar)

Veg’ It — Modified Thickburger Without Mayo* (vegetarian)
470 calories
11 g protein
24 g fat (6 g saturated)
1,130 mg sodium
56 g carbohydrates (3 g protein, 14 g sugar)

See all the nutrition info for Hardee’s here.

8. Jimmy John’s

When it comes to eating healthy at Jimmy John’s, you’ll have the best options when you customize the sandwich orders. Here are some sandwiches we came up with.

Big John (roast beef) Sub on French Bread, Without Mayo, With Lettuce, Tomato, Onions, Cucumbers, and Avocado Spread (pictured, but without modifications)
378 calories
25 g protein
6 g fat (1 g saturated)
980 mg sodium
61 g carbohydrates (5 g fiber)

Vegetarian Sub on French Bread, With Avocado Spread, Cucumber, Lettuce, Provolone Cheese, Tomato, Onions, and Without Mayo* (vegetarian)
508 calories
21 g fat (10 g saturated)
1,000 mg sodium
63 g carbohydrates

9. Quiznos

If you have high blood pressure or are worried about your sodium intake, it’s going to be a bit difficult to eat healthy at Quiznos — there are very few options that come with less than 1,000 mg of sodium. The salads make good options, although if you order the large for any of them you’ll end up having to choose between going over 500 calories, over 20 grams of sugar, or over 1,000 milligrams of sodium. So deciding which salad is the best option for you is really a personal opinion.

Small Honey Bourbon Chicken Sub (pictured)
360 calories
23 g protein
6 g fat (6 g saturated, 0 g trans)
1,000 mg sodium
51 g carbohydrates (2 g fiber, 13 g sugar)

Small Veggie Guacamole “Classic”* (vegetarian)
450 calories
13 g protein
25 g fat (8 g saturated, 0 g trans)
940 mg sodium
44 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 5 g sugar)

You can see Quizno’s whole nutrition info here.

10. In-N-Out Burger

In-N-Out Burger is pretty simple: You can choose from hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double, and all with or without a bun or a certain spread. “Protein style” is the burger with lettuce instead of a bun, and it lowers the carbohydrates pretty substantially. Here are two simple choices below, but there are a few more combos that work also. Just have water with your burger and pass up the fries and the shake to keep it under 500 calories and 1,000 mg of sodium.

Protein Style Cheeseburger With Onion (pictured)
330 calories
18 g protein
25 g fat (9 g saturated, 0 g trans)
720 mg sodium
11 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar)

Hamburger With Onion and Mustard and Ketchup (instead of spread)
310 calories
16 g protein
10 g fat (4 g saturated, 0 g trans)
730 mg sodium
41 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 10 g sugar)

See all the nutrition facts for In-N-Out Burger here.

11. Chik-Fil-A

Chik-Fil-A’s sandwiches tend to have fairly normal serving sizes, and it’s pretty easy to stay below 500 calories if that’s what you care about. The thing to watch out for is sodium: All the salads (except for the 200-calorie Grilled Market Salad) come with over 1,000 mg. So if you’re looking for something a bit more filling, you will do better by ordering a chicken sandwich or wrap.

Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap (pictured)
340 calories
36 g protein
13 g fat (5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
900 mg sodium
30 g carbohydrates (15 g fiber, 3 g sugar)

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
320 calories
30 g protein
5 g fat (2 g saturated)
800 mg sodium
40 g carbohydrates (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar)]

Calculate your own Chick-Fil-A nutrition here.

12. Starbucks

 

Starbucks has some excellent box options and some healthy wraps, both with meat and also vegetarian, if that’s what you’re looking for. Avoid the sugary coffee drinks and the bakery aisle, and stick with the stuff with cheese and eggs and veggies, and you’ll have a pretty easy time staying within the parameters mentioned above.

Protein Bistro Box* (pictured left) (vegetarian)
380 calories
13 g protein
19 g fat (6 g saturated, 0 g trans)
470 mg sodium
37 g carbohydrates (5 g fiber, 19 g sugar)

Edamame Hummus Wrap* (pictured right) (vegetarian)
490 calories
12 g protein
27 g fat (5 g saturated)
970 mg sodium
47 g carbohydrates (6 g fiber, 6 g sugar)

See the full Starbucks nutrition info here.

13. Panera Bread

Panera has a lot of healthy choices, and we’re just highlighting two of them below. The salads are all pretty great, whether you’re looking at the full size or the half size, although the dressing can sometimes nudge the calories and sugars above the levels we’ve outlined above.

Roasted Turkey and Avocado BLT on Sourdough (whole sandwich) (pictured)
510 calories
37 g protein
19 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
60 g carbohydrates (6 g fiber, 3 g sugar)
960 mg sodium

Power Kale Caesar Salad With Chicken (half salad) With Half-Size Caesar Dressing
340 calories
21 g protein
25 g fat (7.5 g saturated, 0 g trans)
615 mg sodium
7 g carbs (1 g fiber, 1 g sugar)

See the full nutrition info for Panera here.

correction

McDonald’s doesn’t offer a supersize option on the menu. An earlier version of this post said otherwise. Thanks to a commenter for pointing out our mistake!

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

 
  Your Reaction?
  REACT WITH GIF
 

    Contributions

    Now Buzzing