Road trips can be a fun, inexpensive way to get away, but between the long hours sitting down and the gas-station fare, staying on track with your healthy eating regime may seem like a daunting task. Thankfully, fast-food outlets have come a long way since the days when a fried chicken sandwich would be deemed your best bet. Yes, there is such thing as healthy fast food.
When I know I’ll be on the road over a mealtime, I always program my Scion iM GPS to map out where my options to eat are. It definitely helps keep me calm to have a game plan right in front of me where I know I can stop to eat and stretch my legs.
And once you get there, you may need some help making decisions. Sometimes dishes that sound like super healthy fast food diet-fare (like meal size salads with low-fat dressing) can be loaded with sodium, calories or fat.
In contrast, sometimes calories are not the most important consideration when looking for healthy fast food. Even if a small order of fries is only a few hundred calories, it’s important to ask yourself how satisfied you’ll feel after those fries and if you’ll simply need to stop again a half hour later for another meal.
Our advice? Focus on finding the most satisfying meals at your fast-food staples that pack a good dose of protein (and ideally fibre), plus the least amount of sodium possible. This may take a little bit of special ordering, but small changes can make a big difference.
Healthy Fast Food Picks
Lunch or Dinner: Chicken Grill Sandwich
Held together with a multi-grain bun, this sandwich is a winner for your on-the-go lifestyle as healthy fast food. After eliminating the Tangy Herb Sauce from the original recipe, you’re left with a high protein, low fat meal.
Stats (without sauce): Calories: 300 kcal, Protein: 32 grams, Carbohydrate: 34 grams, Fibre: 2 grams, Sodium: 840 mg, Fat: 4 grams
Side Dish or Snack: Wendy’s Small Rich and Meaty Chili
High in fibre and protein, this meal will keep you satisfied for lunch or dinner. Be sure to order the small size and skip out on the cheese and crackers which will skyrocket your sodium intake for the day.
Nutrition (without additional toppings): Calories: 170 kcal, Protein: 15 grams, Carbohydrate: 16 grams, Fibre: 4 grams, Sodium: 780 mg, Fat: 5 grams
Breakfast: Egg McMuffin Sandwich
A relatively low-calorie breakfast with a fair big of protein from the egg. Eliminating the bacon lets you cut the fat in half and lose 266 mg of excess sodium.
Stats without bacon: Calories: 216 kcal, Protein: 10.64 grams, Carbohydrate: 29.74 grams, Fibre: 2 grams, Sodium: 454 mg, Fat: 5.46 g
Lunch or Dinner: Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich
By sticking to our mantra of not just looking at calories, but to focus on the balance between calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat and sodium, the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich satisfies the criteria. If we were to order this, we’d skip out on the mayo completely, and maybe ask them to double up on the lettuce and tomato.
Stats without mayo: Calories: 300 kcal, Protein: 27 grams, Carbohydrates: 41 grams, Fibre: 3 grams, Sodium: 730 mg, Fat: 3.5 grams
Snack or Side: Apple Slices
You can’t go wrong with some fibre rich apple!
Stats: Calories: 40 kcal, Protein: 0 grams, Carbohydrates: 10 grams, Sodium: 5 grams, Fat: 0 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Grilled Chicken Drumsticks
Believe it or not, you do not have to revert to a side salad to find healthy fast food at KFC. By removing the skin on your chicken, you can trim about 220 calories, 15.9 grams of fat and 308 mg of sodium. Holy, smokes! Bring it on, Colonel!
Stats without skin for 2 drumsticks: Calories: 164 kcal, Protein: 24.04 grams, Carbohydrates: 0 grams, Fibre: 0 grams, Sodium: 80 mg, Fat: 6.78 g
Side or Snack: Green Beans
An easy meal of protein and vegetables sounds pretty healthy fast food to me!
Calories: 25 kcal, Protein: 1 gram, Carbohydrates: 4 grams, Fibre: 2 grams, Sodium: 260 mg, Fat: 0 grams
Breakfast: Egg & Cheese Muffin (without sausageImage: Burger King
The english muffin breakfast sandwiches are definitely your best bet for getting a bit of protein in your first meal of the day and avoiding the fat load from the croissants. Trust me, I love a good croissant, but preferably from a patisserie, not a fast-food joint. Yes, it’s still a fairly high sodium meal, but you can eliminating the sausage to trim away nearly 200 calories and 300 mg of sodium!
Stats without sausage: Calories: 260 kcal, Protein: 13 grams, Carbohydrates: 27 grams, Sodium: 830 mg, Total fat: 11 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Garden Grilled Chicken Salad (with 1 Tbsp of Lite Balsamic Dressing and no cheese)
While it is a pretty high sodium salad, we like it for packing a massive whopper of protein that will help keep you feeling fuller longer. You can help cut that salt a bit by leaving off the cheese and sticking to a single tablespoon of it to prevent the sodium from creeping up any further.
Stats with 2 tbsp Lite Balsamic Dressing: Calories: 300 kcal, Protein: 33 grams, Carbohydrates: 18 grams, Sodium: 720 mg, Fat: 11 g
Snack or Side: Motts Natural Apple Sauce
No sugar added, fruity and always a good choice.
Stats: Calories: 50 kcal, Protein: 0 grams, Carbohydrates: 13 grams, Sodium: 0 mg, Fat: 0 g
Breakfast: Power Almond Quinoa Oatmeal
A blend of steel-cut oats and quinoa, this oatmeal checks off all the boxes on our long list of healthy fast food credentials! It’s low-cal, low sodium, low fat, high protein and high fibre. It’s sure to keep you fueled for your trip ahead.
Stats: Calories: 300 kcal, Protein: 8 grams, Carbohydrates: 52 grams, Fat: 6 grams, Sodium: 220 mg, Fibre: 9 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Clean Pairings Menu
When dining for lunch and dinner at Panera Bread, we think that their “Clean Pairings Menu” is definitely the best healthy fast food. By choosing a duo of soup, salad or sandwiches over their full sized options, you’re getting a more suitable portion size for your meal, while also fitting in some variety in terms of tastes, textures and nutrients.
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Almonds
Image: Panera bread
We love the mix of whole grain quinoa with crunchy almonds and lots of colourful vegetables.
Stats for Clean Pairing Portion: Calories: 230 kcal, Protein: 10 grams, Carbohydrates: 15 grams, Fat: 18 grams, Sodium: 350 mg, Fibre: 4 grams
Low Fat Vegetarian Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto
Image: Panera bread
Light, flavourful and packed with fibre-rich veggies.
Stats for Clean Pairing Portion: Calories: 80 kcal, Protein: 2 grams, Carbohydrates: 13 grams, Fat: 2 grams, Sodium: 750 mg, Fibre: 3 grams
Side or Snack: Honey Almond Greek Yogurt Parfait
Image: Panera bread
Packed with protein, energizing carbs and some healthy fats from the nuts. A perfect healthy fast food combo.
Stats: Calories: 180 kcal, Protein: 14 grams, Carbohydrates: 25 grams, Sodium: 55 mg, Fibre: 1 gram
Breakfast: AM Grilled Taco with Egg & Cheese (no bacon)
Believe it or not, there are a lot of decent options at TB if you make a few substitutions. We like the grilled Taco without bacon and a side of hot sauce for extra low-cal flavour!
Stats: Calories: 170 kcal, Protein: 7 grams, Carbohydrates: 17 grams, Fat: 9 grams, Trans Fat: 0 grams ,Sodium: 370 mg
Lunch and Dinner: Fresco Steak Burrito Supreme
A solid dose of protein for just 300 calories makes this our go-to choice at Taco Bell.
Stats: Calories: 310 kcal, Protein: 15 grams, Carbohydrates: 43 grams, Fat: 9 grams, Trans Fat: 0 grams ,Sodium: 660 mg
Side or Snack: Black Beans
The combination of fibre and protein in beans make it a great pick for a quick snack or side. Great healthy fast food!
Stats: Calories: 80 kcal, Protein: 4 grams, Carbohydrates: 12 grams, Fat: 1.5 grams, Fibre: 5 grams, Sodium: 200 mg
Breakfast: English Muffin Cheese & Egger
Yes, there’s a reoccurring theme here- in general, english muffin breakfast sandwiches are your best bet at most typical fast-food joints. Also, though, A&W is a pioneer in the fast food game by serving eggs from hens fed a vegetarian die without animal by products.
Stats (without ranch dressing): Calories: 330 kcal, Protein: 15 grams, Carbohydrates: 30 grams, Fibre: 1 grams, Sodium: 640 mg, Fat: 17 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Chicken Grill Deluxe (without ranch dressing)
This chicken burger is packed with protein and veggies to keep you sustained throughout the day. If we were to order this burger, we’d customize it by dropping the ranch dressing. This would it cut back the calories, fat and sodium content, and let the flavor of the natural vegetables and seasoned chicken shine through.
Stats (without ranch dressing): Calories: 258 kcal, Protein: 23 grams, Carbohydrates: 28 grams, Fibre: 2 grams, Sodium: 658 mg, Fat: 6.45 grams
Snack or Side: 2% Milk
Milk is always a wholesome choice that packs carbs and protein – and is always very healthy fast food.
Stats: Calories: 130 kcal, Protein: 8 grams, Carbohydrates: 12 grams, Sodium: 120 mg, Fat: 5 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Roasted Turkey Farmhouse Salad (with no bacon, cheese and half of a Light Italian Dressing packette)
Arby’s meals tend to have a lot of sodium, and the only way we’ve been able to get that down is by cutting back on some of the processed add ons. By removing the cheese, bacon and half of the dressing, you can get the salt down to a somewhat more reasonable level.
Stats: Calories: 85 kcal, Protein: 12 grams, Carbohydrates: 8 grams, Sodium: 730 mg, Fat: 1.5 grams
Snack: Roast Beef Slider (without cheese)
So apparently, everything at Arby’s is super high in sodium, but at least this mini slider will deliver some protein and carbs to keep you fueled on your trip.
Stats: Calories: 190 kcal, Protein: 11 grams, Carbohydrates: 21 grams, Sodium: 470 mg, Fat: 7 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Burrito Bowl (Chicken, Fajita Vegetables, Tomatillo Green Chili Salsa, Romaine Lettuce)
Photographer: Charles Schiller
It’s super easy to find healthy fast food at Chipotle since the whole concept is incredibly customizable. While all of the protein picks are pretty lean and around the 200 calorie mark, going with the chicken keeps it a little lighter in calories. If you’re able to keep your sodium down the rest of the day, feel free to add some rice or beans.
Stats: Calories: 220 kcal, Protein: 33 grams, Carbohydrates: 9 grams, Sodium: 735 mg, Fibre: 2.5 grams, Fat: 7.5 grams
Snack or Side: Organic Milk
Again, not the place for snacking at Chipotle. It’s possible to find something small to eat, but most are similar to the burrito bowl. Grabbing a container of milk will provide a small 100 calorie snack with some protein and carbohydrate.
Stats: Calories: 90 kcal, Protein: 7 grams, Carbohydrates: 10 grams, Sodium: 105 mg, Fat: 2 grams
Breakfast: Spinach, Mushroom & Cheese Grilled Egg Pocket
A take on the classic breakfast sandwich, this time, filled with fresh veggies to get your day started on the right track. Relatively low in calories and sodium with an awesome 15 grams of protein, you’ll be sure to stay sustained and feeling comfortable for your long drive.
Stats: Calories: 340 kcal, Protein: 15 grams, Carbohydrates: 28 grams, Sodium: 490 mg, Fat: 18 grams, Fibre: 3 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Metaboost Salad with Chicken and Balsamic Vinegar
Containing all the necessary greens and tasty toppings, this super food Metaboost salad is packed with spinach, field greens, kale, avocado, mango, carrots, edamame, almonds, and goat cheese. Total healthy fast food! In our opinion, the wide variety of toppings contributes a great deal of flavour, so, you could swap the traditional balsamic vinaigrette (which contributes a significant amount of the calories, fat and sodium) with a plain balsamic vinegar. We then recommend using those calories to add a little extra protein with chicken on top!
Stats (with balsamic vinegar and chicken):
Calories: 396 kcal, Protein: 26 grams, Carbohydrates: 26 grams, Sodium: 562 mg, Fat: 11 grams, Fibre: 6 grams
Snack or Side: 2 Hard Boiled Eggs
Eggs are literally mans perfect food, so grab a few of these bad boys for a quick protein boost.
Stats: Calories: 120 kcal, Protein: 12 grams, Carbohydrates: 1 grams, Sodium: 370 mg, Fat: 8 grams, Fibre: 0 grams
Breakfast: Egg White & Cheese Omelette Sandwich with Extra Veggies & Swiss Cheese on 9 Grain Wheat Bread
The great thing about Subway is you really can customize your meal to make it fit your preferences and dietary needs and fit our criteria for healthy fast food. Our go to combination at breakfast is an egg white & cheese omelette sandwich with Swiss cheese (the lowest in sodium), loading up on as many extra low calorie veggies as you would like.
Stats (with egg whites, swiss cheese, green peppers, lettuce, spinach and tomatoes on wheat bread):
Calories: 350 kcal, Protein: 22 grams, Carbohydrates: 46 grams, Sodium:740 mg, Fat: 9 grams, Fibre: 5 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Oven Roasted Chicken Salad (with Double Protein, Avocado, and Vinegar)
We love Subway because of the freedom you get with adding vegetables in your healthy fast food, so load it up! Next time you’re in a hunger crunch, opt for a leaner meat option such as the chicken or turkey, and ask them to double your protein portion. While there is certainly caloric room for full-fat salad dressing, it’s best to go with basic vinegar to keep your sodium in check while adding some healthy fats with added avocado.
Stats (with double chicken, avocado and vinegar):
Calories: 350 kcal, Protein: 28 grams, Carbohydrates: 12 grams, Sodium: 635 mg, Fat: 10 grams, Fibre: 6 grams
Snack or Side: 4” Roast Beef Kids Sandwich (no cheese or sauce, with extra veggies)
Image: Subway Kids
If you need a little pick me up, the kids size sandwich is a perfect balance of protein, carbs and fat in a petite 4” portion. While any of the standard deli meats are fine, the roast beef offered the most amount of protein without the most amount of sodium to make it great healthy fast food. Plus, it comes with a mini pack of apples and a water bottle!
Stats (with lots of veggies, no sauce or cheese): Calories: 190 kcal, Protein: 11 grams, Carbohydrates: 31 grams, Sodium: 460 mg, Fat: 3 grams, Fibre: 3 grams
Breakfast: Egg Biscuit Sandwich (no Ham)
The breakfast selection at DQ is definitely high in salt. The only way we could get the stats under 50% of your needs for the day (yes, in the one meal) was to eliminate the ham from this sandwich. Still, if you’re in a pinch, this is definitely your best bet.
Stats (with no ham): Calories: 330 kcal, Protein: 10 grams, Carbohydrates: 25 grams, Sodium: 780 mg, Fat: 20 grams, Fibre: 1 grams
Lunch or Dinner: 1/4 lb GrillBurger (no mayo or ketchup)
We tend to think of ice cream when we think of DQ, but you can get a fairly healthy lunch or dinner there, too. While normally we would choose the grilled chicken sandwich, the 1/4 lb burger delivered significantly less sodium and a little more protein. Plus, it’s more fun to eat a burger!
Stats (no mayo): Calories: 420 kcal, Protein: 20 grams, Carbohydrates: 39 grams, Sodium: 410 mg, Fat: 20 grams, Fibre: 2 grams
Side or Snack: Child’s Size Chocolate Dipped Cone
You’re at DQ. You kind of need to get some sort of ice cream and a children’s size dipped cone is definitely your best bet. It will help to satisfy your sweet tooth in a small mindful portion.
Stats: Calories: 220 kcal, Protein: 4 grams, Carbohydrates: 30 grams, Sodium: 75 mg, Fat: 9 grams, Fibre: 0 grams
Breakfast: Multigrain Flatbread with Turkey Sausage, Egg White and Cheese
Tim Hortons is basically ingrained in every Canadian’s morning routine, so we couldn’t leave it out of our healthy fast food round up. While it’s still a bit higher in sodium, we like the fibre and protein in this morning flatbread.
Stats: Calories: 280 kcal, Protein: 20 grams, Carbohydrates: 27 grams, Fibre: 4 grams, Sodium: 860 mg, Fat: 11 grams
Lunch or Dinner: Tuscan Chicken Panini (Whole Wheat bread, no cheese or sauce)
Image: Sean’s Adventures in Flavortown
A protein-rich sandwich guaranteed to keep you sustained throughout the entire day. It is already pretty high in sodium, so we suggest leaving off the cheese and creamy sauce.
Stats: Calories: 298 kcal, Protein: 23.4 grams, Carbohydrates: 44 grams, Fibre: 4.9 grams, Sodium: 904 mg, Fat: 3.1 grams
Snack or Side: Latte
Image: Simply Frugal
You can’t go to Timmy’s and not get a coffee. If you go with a latte, you’ll be getting a little extra protein in there too.
Stats: Calories: 80 kcal, Protein: 8 grams, Carbohydrates: 12 grams, Fibre: 0 grams, Sodium: 120 mg, Fat: 0.2 grams
Breakfast: Reduced Fat Turkey Style Bacon, Cheddar, Egg-White Breakfast Sandwich
While the Greek yogurt and the oatmeal are both lower sodium choices, we like this egg white breakfast sandwich as healthy fast food for its extra protein.
Stats: Calories: 230 kcal, Protein: 13 grams, Carbohydrates: 28 grams, Total Fat: 6 grams, Fibre: 2 grams, Sodium: 540 mg
Lunch or Dinner: Protein Bistro Box
With a hard boiled egg, fruit, peanut butter, cheese and a multigrain muesli bread, this is our go-to box for a more filling meal or snack.
Stats: Calories: 360 kcal, Protein: 14 grams, Carbohydrates: 37 grams, Total Fat: 18 grams Fibre: 5 grams, Sodium: 520 mg
Side or Snack: Tall 2% Latte
You’ve gotta have a coffee drink when you visit Starbucks, and sticking to a latte without sugar is your best bet. And feel free to go for 2% instead of skim, which will provide you with a little more satiety factor.
Stats: Calories: 150 kcal, Protein: 10 grams, Carbohydrates: 14 grams, Total Fat: 6 grams, Fibre: 0 grams, Sodium: 125 mg
There are a lot of things to stress over when planning a road trip, but now, hopefully, finding healthy fast food isn’t one of them! Just remember to print this handy list, highlight your top picks and use that GPS to track down your go-to eateries. To find more information on my favourite car for getting me around, check out Scion’s website here.
What are your favourite healthy fast food picks? Looking for more road-trip tips? Stay tuned for Part Two of my on-the-road series where I will be sharing my ultimate healthy tips and tricks when you’re on the road.
Research from Abbey’s Kitchen Nutrition Student Martina Luketich
Disclaimer: This post was developed in paid partnership with Scion iM, however, as always, all opinions are genuine.
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.