Food & Drink

The Healthiest Options at Popular Chain Restaurants

The Healthiest Options at Popular Chain Restaurants #theeverygirl

Going out to eat can always be a tricky situation when you’re trying to stick to healthier eating habits. Make it a “fast food” chain, and it’s even more confusing. Sure, in an ideal world we would all shop locally organic and cook at home every day— let’s be honest though, real life isn’t like that. Whether you are at the airport, are on the road, or your smaller town doesn’t have many options, sometimes your only choice is a popular food chain when that hangry hits. But that doesn’t mean you’re relegated to french fries and nutrient-devoid meals.

Learning how to navigate a chain restaurant menu is a practiced skill that I’m going to help you ace. Here are my top three choices at some popular chain restaurants, what to avoid, and my special tips to help you walk out of that restaurant feeling and looking good.

Starbucks

Spinach Feta and Egg White Wrap

19g of protein, 33g of carbs, and nutrient-dense spinach and eggs

Smoked Turkey and Swiss Sandwich

25g protein, 44g carbs, and it comes with carrots and apples. Ironically double the protein than the Protein Bistro Box (only 13g protein and more sugar)

Sous Vide Bites

These egg-bites are like mini-quiches but wheat-free. I recommend the Egg White and Roasted Pepper

Tips for Ordering:

  • Avoid the greek yogurt parfaits. Packed with 25-30g per sugar and only 14-15g of protein, you don’t want to kick off your morning with that much sugar.
  • Beware of flavored espresso drinks and smoothies, as some of these drinks pack more than a day’s worth of sugar in it.
  • Opt for unsweetened coffees and teas instead- you can always ask for half a pump of a flavoring if you really need a sweet fix. 

 

Dunkin Donuts

Egg White Veggie Flatbread

17g of protein and the most veggie-filled item on the menu.

Turkey Sausage Wake Up Wrap

A lower calorie breakfast at 280 calories, with 15g of protein and a low 13g of carbs.

Turkey Sausage Flatbread

Higher in protein at 26g and 32g of carbs, but still not exactly nutrient-dense.

Tips for Ordering:

  • Their flavored coffees are chock full of sugar. Opt for regular coffee, and they also offer almond milk for those avoiding dairy.
  • Avoid the smoothies. The small size of the strawberry has 54g of sugar.
  • Might be obvious, but stay away from the donuts and all baked goods. They are an unfortunate hub of sugar, fats, and carbs.
  • Their DD Smart Menu can be a trap. Don’t trade sugar for no-calorie sweetener and don’t trade in whole milk for skim; those swaps do cut calories, but are far unhealthier for you. 
  • You can always ask for no cheese or double the eggs to add more protein and subtract fats.

 

Chipotle

Burrito Bowl

Make your own with Chicken, Brown Rice, Fajita Veggies, Fresh Tomato Salsa, Chili Corn Salsa, Lettuce

Corn Tacos

Make your own with Chicken or Steak, Fajita Veggies, Fresh Tomato Salsa, Chili Corn Salsa, Lettuce

Tips for Ordering:

  • Avoid chips, sour cream, cheese, and burritos as they are all extremely high in the carbs and non nutrient-dense fats.
  • Opt for a burrito bowl over a salad. The brown rice will be more satiating and whole grains are nutritionally beneficial. Ask for one scoop rather than their usual two. 
  • Guacamole is a great add-on for healthy fats, but is calorically heavy. So depending on your hunger, get it! 
  • Tacos will actually be your lowest carb and calorie meal here if you stick with lean protein and veggie toppings.

 

McDonalds

Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

37g of protein with 44g of carbs, this will be the healthiest sandwich you’ll find here

Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad

37g of protein with 27g of carbs, this salad actually packs some solid nutrients with baby spinach, kale, black beans, corn, tomatoes, and carrots. Avoid the tortilla chips.

Egg White Delight McMuffin

17g of protein in healthy egg whites with lower fat Canadian bacon. You can opt to forgo the cheese.

Tips for Ordering:

  • Avoid the obvious burgers, fried items, and heavy breakfast sandwiches. They are full of sodium, unhealthy fats, and have enough calories for two meals. 
  • The seemingly healthy yogurt parfaits are packed with sugar, so stay away from them as well.
  • McDonalds offers sides of apple slices, cuties clementines, and side salads. Add one of those to boost your meal.

 

Panera Bread

Turkey Sausage, Egg White, and Spinach Power Breakfast Sandwich

Protein and veggies on a smaller serving of bread made with sprouted grains.

Roasted Beet Quinoa + Citrus Salad

Amazing assortment of nutritious veggies, grains, and greens. Add a lean protein like grilled chicken to boost the nutritional content.

Superfruit Smoothie with Greek Yogurt

Normally I’d avoid smoothies, but this one is lower in sugar with 26g of sugar, 14g of protein, 28g of carbs; but most importantly, it’s packed with fruits like apple, blackberry, elderberry, and pomegranate. 

Tips for Ordering:

  • Avoid baked goods. None of those have much nutritional value, and you’ll be hungry again pretty quickly since they have very little protein. 
  • Avoid the soups and (most) smoothies.
  • Panera is awesome for customizing your meals. Add protein to salads, extra veggies, and opt for an apple as the choice in sides with your meal. 
  • Ask for salad dressings on the side, so you can control how much you put in. 

 

Au Bon Pain

2 Egg, Sausage, and Cheddar on a Skinny Wheat Bagel

28g of protein to kick off your day and only 23g of carb for a sandwich is great. 

Chicken Cobb with Avocado

Higher in fats but lower in carbs, great for a day where you aren’t as active. 38g of protein is amazing too.

Petit Plates: Mediterranean Power Pack

Comes with hummus, cucumber, grapes, and nuts, this is the perfect airport snack.

Tips for Ordering:

  • Avoid baked goods and sandwiches—they all pack a heavy whammy of sodium and carbs. 
  • Au Bon Pain has the grab-n-go fridges, but you can also get your meal made to order; if you order a salad, you can load up on more veggies than it ordinarily comes with.

 

Chick-fil-A

Grilled Nuggets

25g of protein with 2g of carbs and 3.5g of fat, this is the best snack or small meal.

Grilled Market Salad

The most well-rounded meal here with 25g of protein and veggies like cabbage, carrots, apples, and berries. Opt for the chili lime dressing over the avocado lime ranch.

Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap

37g of protein, red cabbage, carrots, lettuce, and grilled chicken are bundled in a flax-flour wrap. Opt for honey mustard or chili lime dressing rather than the avocado lime ranch.

Tips for Ordering:

  • Stay away from sauces like buffalo (high sodium) and Polynesian (13g of sugar in one packet)
  • Chick-fil-A isn’t the most nutrient-dense place, so add a fruit cup to make sure to get your vitamins.

 

PotBelly

The Skinnys: Grilled Chicken and Cheddar Sandwich 

38g of protein, 55g of carbs, and low on sugar (4g)

The Powerhouse Salad

Chicken, hummus, tomato, avocado, egg, and cucumber for 31g protein and 19g of carb; An awesome blend of nutrients and healthy fats for a fulfilling salad.

Sous Vide Bites

These egg-bites are like mini-quiches but wheat-free. I recommend the Egg White and Roasted Pepper

Tips for Ordering:

  • Avoid the soups. Some contain more than a day’s worth of sodium, and they tend to not be very satiating.
  • The strawberry banana smoothie has 94g of sugar, so it’s more like a milkshake than a healthy smoothie. 
  • Opt for full-fat dressings. Your body needs fat to properly absorb the nutrients from the veggies, so fat-free dressings don’t do you much good; plus, they usually are full of sugar. 
  • If ordering a regular sandwich, remove one half of the bread and eat as an open-faced tartine.
  • If ordering one of “The Skinnys,” ask for the regular serving of protein, since they usually cut 1/3 of the traditional serving for The Skinny.

 

Jason’s Deli

Super Slaw Salmon Salad

Superfoods like quinoa and kale are packed in with a veggie medley and wild-sockeye Salmon for a punch of vitamins and Omega-3’s, and 31g of protein

Mediterranean Wrap

23g of turkey protein wrapped up with healthy fats of roasted red pepper hummus and olives, along with fresh greens and veggies. Pick the steamed veggies or fruit as your side.

Zucchini Grillini

Your best meatless option on here with 6 different veggies and 18g of protein. While higher in carbs at 57g, you’re getting in a good chunk of your veggie intake for the day.

Tips for Ordering:

  • Avoid the pastas and spuds (potatoes)—they can pack in a day’s worth of carbs and calories in one sitting
  • Their soups and Muffaletas don’t offer much nutritional value for the calories, sodium, and non-beneficial fat it’ll cost you.
  • They offer some great smart choices built into the menu, but another smart choice is to build your own salad or sandwich. Prioritize proteins like salmon, chicken and turkey, add lots of veggies, and go easy on the creamy spreads/dressings. Opt for oil + vinegars instead.
  • They also offer sides of steamed veggies, hummus, quinoa + kale super slaw, and fruit; you can build your whole meal off of these great sides!

Credits

Minna Lee #theeverygirl

Minna Lee

Nutrition Coach