By: Adam Lapetina
Main Photo Credit: Laura Murray/Thrillist
You might've seen a headline like this before. The subsequent list was probably filled with dressing-less salads and veggie burgers wrapped in lettuce and it probably made you go, "Welp, guess I'm not eating healthy at those places anytime soon." DO NOT DESPAIR. We aren't having any of that, because people should know how to be relatively healthy at these places and still come away from the experience feeling full. That's your right, dammit!
To that end, we've compiled this list of the (more-or-less) healthiest entrée and the healthiest side to accompany that entrée at a selection of national fast-food chains, based on calories and fat content, and -- in the case there's a close race between two items -- other factors like carbs and sodium levels.
Before we begin, let's lay down some ground rules. No "junior" or "mini" items were considered, nor were any breakfast items -- we're sticking to normal lunch and dinner fare here. If the healthiest entrée option at any given chain is a salad, the accompanying side cannot also be a salad. Absolutely no apple slices. And finally, any serving of chicken nuggets under eight pieces was not considered, because four nuggets does not a meal make.
Two Fresco Soft Tacos with shredded chicken: 280 calories, 7g of fat, 39% daily value of sodium
Black beans & rice: 180 calories, 4g of fat, 18% daily value of sodium
The very foundation of Taco Bell's Fresco menu is reduced calories -- it concentrates on replacing heavier sauces with its pico de gallo, a move that pays off well when combined with a soft taco and shredded chicken: two of its lower-calorie ingredients. Beans and rice are great together, but you can also just get the black beans if you're trying to avoid starch overload.
Corn dog: 230 calories, 15g of fat, 24% daily value of sodium
Small Natural-Cut Fries: 280 calories, 13g of fat, 12% daily value of sodium
Many of Sonic's menu items are region-specific, but not its corn dog, which is relatively low in sodium and arguably constitutes a full meal when paired with its... small natural-cut fries. Yeah. Sonic doesn't have any salads.
Credit: Flickr/Hideya HAMANO
Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich w/o mayo: 350 calories, 9g of fat, 25% daily value of sodium
Value-sized onion rings: 150 calories, 70 from fat, 8g of fat, 17% daily value of sodium
Go for the Tendergrill Chicken Sandwich without the mayo, and while other places would recommend you order the apple slices as a side, we know that's not going to satisfy anyone except people looking to avoid doctors. Go for the value-sized onion rings, which are comparable to its Satisfries but with fewer calories.
Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich: 390 calories, 7g of fat, 41% daily value of sodium
Garden side salad with low fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing: 145 calories, 6g of fat, 15% daily value of sodium
Going charbroiled is the key at Carl's Jr. and Hardee's -- stay away from the aptly named Thickburgers and even their turkey burgers, which have a tendency to go heavy on the condiments.
8-count Grilled Chicken Nuggets: 140 calories, 3g of fat, 22% daily value of sodium
Side salad: 80 calories, 4.5g of fat, 4% daily value of sodium
If the chicken isn't breaded at Chick-fil-A, is it still Chick-fil-A chicken? Well, yeah, technically! These grilled nuggets are the lowest-calorie entrée on its menu, and -- of course -- a side salad is its healthiest side. You won't even miss the pickles.
Kentucky Grilled Chicken Whole Wing & Drumstick: 170 calories, 8.5g of fat, 23% daily value of sodium
Green beans: 25 calories, 0g of fat, 10% daily value of sodium
It should come as no surprise by now (both in life and in this article) that grilled chicken is healthier than the fried stuff, and ordering only a couple pieces can definitely help on that front, too, since KFC lets you order that way. Green beans have the added benefit of actually being green, which is something most fast-food lettuce can't even boast.
Three-piece chicken tenders: 260 calories, 9g of fat, 46% daily value of sodium
Chili: 190 calories, 6g of fat, 27% daily value of sodium
Surprisingly, A&W's three-piece chicken tenders are the lowest-calorie entrée on its menu (better, even, than its salads, but still high in sodium), and its chili, while also high in sodium, still beats out a side salad in the calorie and fat content departments, which are not real departments, but rather figurative concepts.
Credit: Flickr/Joel Kramer
Chopped Farmhouse Salad with roast turkey and light Italian dressing: 250 calories, 14g of fat, 33% daily value of sodium
Two Potato Cakes: 230 calories,14g of fat, 19% daily value of sodium
So, what can you expect from a chain that refers to sides as "friends of meat"? Well, it turns out the salad options at Arby's aren't half bad, with lean meats like roast turkey and a light dressing making it an actually filling option. As for accompaniments, it has two Potato Cakes! Which are kinda like the meats of the vegetable world, if you are weird and want to think about things that way
Jack in the Box
Four-piece grilled chicken strips: 250 calories, 7g of fat, 45% daily value of sodium
Side salad with low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing: 48 calories, 2g of fat, 18% daily value of sodium
The cat's out of the box: grilled chicken strips are a more diet-friendly alternative to Jack's normal fried ones, and a side salad with dressing will only set you back 48 calories, which you can probably burn by looking up where you can actually find a Jack in the Box.
Garden Fresco salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing: 245 calories, 11g of fat, 23% daily value of sodium
Dinner roll: 110 calories, 2g of fat, 7.1% daily value of sodium
Yeah, no ButterBurgers for you, unfortunately. Culver's actually does quite well with its greens, though, but you didn't really expect it not to top its Garden Fresco salad with Wisconsin cheddar, did you?
Three-piece blackened tenders: 170 calories, 2g of fat, 23% daily value of sodium
Regular green beans: 40 calories, 1.5g of fat, 17% daily value of sodium
Just like its close competitor KFC, Popeyes offers blackened (grilled) chicken tenders and green beans for the more health-conscious of its patrons. Its green beans may have a few more calories, but its chicken has less fat than the Colonel's on average. And thus the rivalry continues. (Make sure you get the green beans without gravy.)
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