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15 of the healthiest fast-food menu items

Heading to McDonald’s for a healthy lunch might sound foolish.

But it’s not impossible.

We checked out the lunch and breakfast fare at dozens of on-the-go restaurants — from Chik-Fil-A to Wendy’s to Starbucks — to find some of the healthiest items they offer.

The foods we picked all pack less than 500 calories, are fairly low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and include 15 or more grams of protein to keep you feeling full. Our main caveat with most of these items, however, is that they pack a lot of salt, so you’d probably want to watch your sodium intake on the day you consume them.

Here are the sandwiches, salads, bowls and burgers to order when seeking a lighter option:

© Provided by Business Insider

Chipotle — Chicken Burrito Bowl with brown rice & pinto beans, no cheese or sour cream: 500 calories

Chipotle has lots of fresh, healthier options. In general, nix the cheese and sour cream (an occasional dollop of guac is fine, since it’s packed with healthy fats), and go for deconstructed alternatives to their burritos, like this one, which has:

500 calories — not too low, not too high 

42 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

13.5 g of fat — a little on the high side

57 g of carbs — roughly one-third of your recommended daily allowance

805 mg of sodium — a little less than half your recommended daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Starbucks — Spinach and Feta Wrap: 290 calories

While the yummy pastries at Starbucks are sure to catch your eye mid-afternoon, sugary muffins and scones can leave you hangry. Their hot breakfast items, like this wrap, are likely a healthier, more filling meal, with:

290 calories — pretty low as far as lunch goes; pair with a high-protein side like plain Greek yogurt

19 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

10 g of fat — not too low, not too high

33 g of carbs — pretty high; replace sugary or carb-heavy snacks with protein-rich ones

830 mg of sodium — just under half your daily allowance

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In-N-Out — Cheeseburger with onion, ketchup, and mustard, no spread: 480 calories

You don’t have to turn to the secret menu (we’re lookin’ at you, Protein-Style fans) to get a lighter option at In-N-Out. Swap the special sauce for some ketchup and mustard to slash some fat and calories, and opt for a regular burger instead of a Double-Double.

480 calories — not too high, not too low

22 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

27 g of fat — on the high side (a little less than half your daily allowance)

41 g of carbs — roughly 14% of your recommended daily allowance

1080 mg of sodium — close to half your recommended daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Chick-fil-A — Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap: 340 calories

The “home of the original chicken sandwich” spiced up its menu last year, adding a smattering of healthy fare like this option, which has: 

350 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

37 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

14 g of fat — not too low, not too high

29 g of carbs — on the low side

960 mg of sodium — about half your recommended daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Wendy’s — Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad, full size: 480 calories

Not all of Wendy’s salads are healthy (the Spicy Caesar Chicken Salad, for example, packs 790 calories and 43 grams of fat), but a couple are winners in most areas, including this “Mediterranean” chicken salad. The drawback to this salad, however, is that it’s very high in sodium.

480 calories — on the low side

43 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

16 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

42 g of carbs — pretty high and about a third comes from sugar

1200 mg of sodium — more than half your daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Shake Shack — Single Hamburger or Chicken Dog: 360 or 300 calories

While they’re known for their towering Shack Stacks and crispy fries, this chain has lighter options too. Notably, their vegetarian ‘Shroom Burger isn’t one of them. The hamburger (without cheese) has:

360 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

26 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

17 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

25 g of carbs — pretty low

460 mg of sodium — pretty low

The Chicken Dog has:

300 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go

26 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

11 g of fat —not too high, not too low

32 g of carbs — not too high, not too low

970 mg of sodium — a little under half your daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

McDonald’s — Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich: 380 calories

While I wasn’t very impressed by the taste of the Artisan Grilled Chicken, it’s definitely one of the healthier choices at McDonald’s, since the meat is grilled rather than fried. Here’s how the sandwich stacks up:

380 calories — pretty low for a lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

37 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

7 g of fat — not too low, not too high

44 g of carbs — roughly 14% of your daily allowance

1100 mg of sodium — about half your daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Taco Bell — Chicken Burrito Supreme, “Fresco Style”: 340 calories

No longer solely the land of Chalupas and Crunchwrap Supremes, Taco Bell has expanded its healthier offerings with the “Fresco” menu, which essentially swaps the sour cream and cheese in popular items for salsa. Here’s how the Fresco Burrito with chicken shapes up:

340 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

19 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

8 g of fat — not too low, not too high

49 g of carbs — roughly 16% of your recommended daily allowance

1060 mg of sodium — close to half your recommended daily allowance 

© Provided by Business Insider

Panera — Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken: 340 calories

Panera has plenty of yummy nutritious items, at least for lunch. The only bone we have to pick with this salad is that, because of the dressing and fruit, it contains a hefty amount of sugar at 20 grams. Otherwise, here’s how it stacks up:

430 calories — not too high, not too low

25 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

13 g of fat — a moderate amount

31 g of carbs — a moderate amount

280 mg of sodium — low, especially compared to the other items on this list

© Provided by Business Insider

McDonald’s — Egg McMuffin: 300 calories

The fruit and yogurt parfait isn’t the only healthy morning item that McDonald’s offers. Avoiding the meat is an easy way to lighten up their traditional all-day breakfast fare. An Egg McMuffin has:

300 calories — on the lower side if you’re eating it for lunch

18 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

12 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

30 g of carbs — fairly low

730 mg of sodium — about a third of your recommended daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Dunkin’ Donuts — Egg White Flatbread: 280 calories

For a chain that specializes in deep-fried dough, Dunkin’ Donuts has quite a few healthy breakfast options, like their Egg White Flatbread, which has:

330 calories — pretty low as far as lunch goes; pair with a side salad, some fruit, or a yogurt

18 g of protein — a good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

14 g of fat — not too high, not too low

33 g of carbs — roughly 11% of your recommended daily allowance

570 mg of sodium — about a quarter of your daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Papa John’s — Garden Fresh Pizza, two medium slices: 400 calories

One of the least healthy things about most pizza-chain fare is the high sodium content, which some research suggests may be bad for your heart. If you’re a pizza fan, keep an eye your salt intake the rest of the day after you’ve indulged in a few slices. The Garden Fresh pie has:

400 calories — on the lower side

16 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

14 g of fat — not too low, not too high

54 g of carbs — pretty high; replace sugary or carb-heavy snacks with protein-rich ones in your other meals

960 mg of sodium — just under half your daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Pizza Hut — Garden Party Thin Crust Pizza, two medium slices: 460 calories

As part of its recent attempt to overhaul its brand, Pizza Hut began offering several options with more fresh veggies and popular toppings like Sriracha. But like other pizza chains, most offerings are high in sodium and carbs. The Garden Party pizza has:

460 calories — not too high, not too low

18 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

18 g of fat — on the higher side, but not a deal-breaker

60 g of carbs — pretty high; watch your other snacks

900 mg of sodium — a little under half your daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Burger King — BK Veggie Burger, no mayo: 310 calories

Many vegetarians were excited when Burger King announced its veggie option. Overall at this restaurant, you should follow same rules we highlighted for ordering at McDonald’s: Avoid mayo and fried options and go for sandwiches instead of meal packages. Here’s the BK Veggie lowdown:

310 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

22 g of protein — a hefty amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

7 g of fat — not too low, not too high

42 g of carbs — roughly 14% of your daily allowance

990 mg of sodium — close to half your daily allowance

© Provided by Business Insider

Subway — 6-inch Turkey Breast Sub, no cheese, add avocado: 340 calories

“Eating fresh” is pretty easy at this chain, where you can get lean meats or just fresh veggies on whole-wheat bread with a variety of low-calorie, low-fat dressings. Turkey and avocado, my personal favorite, has:

340 calories — pretty low as far as lunch items go; you might want to pair this with a yogurt, a small salad, or some fresh fruit

18 g of protein — a pretty good amount to strengthen muscles and fill you up

9 g of fat — not too low, not too high

49 g of carbs — roughly 16% of your daily allowance

670 mg of sodium — not bad; much lower than competing items at Chipotle or Taco Bell

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