Nutrition & Strength Coach

How to Make Healthy Food Choices at Fast Food Restaurants Without Spending a Ton of Money

How to Make Healthy Food Choices at Fast Food Restaurants Without Spending a Ton of Money

Where do you stand on fast food in terms of it being a healthy option or including it in an otherwise healthy diet? Most people assume that fast food and healthy living are like oil and water, unable to blend. The basis for this assumption could be the glorification of unprocessed, whole food sources. Most nutrition and fitness professionals, myself included, advise eating fewer processed and/or convenience foods. Avoiding these foods typically leads to a reduction in calories consumed and a higher intake of nutrient-dense foods, leading to better health and body composition.

The problem with the assumption that fast food or restaurants have no business being in a healthy diet is that nutrition is rarely black and white. Life gets in the way, things come up, we travel, we’re sometimes lazy, and sometimes want to celebrate or socialize. These are all reasons or scenarios where convenience foods make sense and almost inevitably happen for most.

To further my point, a large percentage (98% of Americans) of people can answer with confidence that they’ll never use heroin. If you reverse those numbers, you may have an accurate 2% representation of people that will never use convenience foods in their diet. It’s just going to happen. So, while I don’t see the need to educate you on making better heroin choices (nor am I qualified), I do see a need to educate you on making better food choices when you’re in a pinch.

Analyzing a Fast Food Menu, Customizing Menu Items, and Finding Comparable Options

Learning how to read nutrition labels and research foods in advance is the best piece of advice I can give on making better fast food choices. Similar to a shopping list, knowing what you’re going to order beforehand reduces the risk of making poor food choices or impulse orders. Additionally, doing your research may allow you to make modifications or changes to a menu item to make it an even better option. In the video below, for example, I talk about how making several tweaks to a salad a Chick Fil A greatly reduces the calorie content. And finally, you may find that the healthy option isn’t that much better than a tastier alternative. More on that in the next section.

In the video below, for example, I talk about how making several tweaks to a salad a Chick Fil A greatly reduces the calorie content. And finally, you may find that the healthy option isn’t that much better than a tastier alternative. More on that in the next two sections.


How McDonald’s McDoubles Outperform Wendy’s Apple Pecan Salad

With Americans being more health conscious than ever before, fast food restaurants have made massive efforts to clean up their menus and add items like salads. Going with a salad is usually a good decision, but you should always check out the nutrition facts before ordering. In the case of the salad in the video below, for example, you’ll see that the calories and macronutrients may be less favorable than two McDoubles from McDonald’s. Seriously, check it out below.

In terms of your fitness goals, calories and macronutrients are the ultimate determinants of success. Simply put, they matter! More than food quality, more than micronutrient composition, more than processed vs unprocessed, more than just about anything. While those things are important and shouldn’t be overlooked, there’s no way around the energy balance equation – or calories in vs calories out.


Don’t Be Fooled by the Marketing of Healthy Menu Options

As you can see by the two videos above, making better choices at fast food restaurants doesn’t have to be ordering salads. If you don’t like salad, don’t just throw in the towel. You have other options. One final point I’d like to drive home is that healthy options on a menu doesn’t always make sense in terms of calories and macronutrients OR financially. Most healthy options are going to cost more than most other menu items. And while it might be justified occasionally, you’re probably better off going with a regular menu item. Again, you can see that doing your research ahead of time is gold.


If you’re interested in learning more about nutrition for fitness and healthy living, I’ve put together a free eBook on the topic. It covers everything from calculating your metabolic rate, calorie and macronutrient needs, diet strategies, as well as food guides and recipes. You can learn more about Nutrition Made Easy 2.0 here or enter your info below to download your copy.