The frugal shopper in me usually carries over to restaurants. But as I’ve grown up, eating healthy has also become a priority, and often these two things seem to clash. When I need to eat quickly, I don’t want to blow my budget on an overpriced salad — but I also don’t want to get stuck eating a fatty, salty, nutrition-free option. So I set out to find a stock of healthy fast food items from the dollar menu at the major chains, so that I can always swing through a drive-through and know I’m getting a deal for both my wallet and my stomach.
Criteria for a “healthy” option means no more than 30% of calories from fat, relatively high in protein to be filling, and 800mg of sodium or less (which is 35% of an RDA of 2300mg).
Here is a list of healthy fast food items for under $3 at the major fast-food chains:
- Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait ($1): 160 calories, 4g protein, 2g fat, 85mg sodium
- Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap ($1.49): 260 cal, 18g protein, 9g fat, 800mg sodium
- Cheeseburger ($1): 300 cal, 15g protein, 12g fat, 750mg sodium
Special mention: the McChicken Sandwich ($1) makes the cut if you get it without mayo!
- Sour Cream and Chive Potato ($1): 320 cal, 8g protein, 4g fat, 50mg sodium
My favorite item of all time, a Small Chili ($1-1.39), just barely misses the list due to having 830mg sodium, but is still a relatively healthy option, high in protein (14g) and low in calories (190) and fat (6g).
- Chicken Soft Taco ($0.89): 200 cal, 10g protein, 9g fat, 630g sodium
- Pintos and Cheese ($1): 160 cal, 9g protein, 6g fat, 670mg sodium
I must have eaten 20 Bean and Cheese burritos while I was pregnant before I realized they have almost 1200mg of sodium!
- Whopper Jr. – hold the mayo! ($1): 290 cal, 16g protein, 12g fat, 500mg sodium
Jack in the Box:
- Grilled Chicken Pita Snack ($2): 310 cal, 17g protein, 13g fat, 640mg sodium
- Hamburger ($0.79): 280 cal, 14g protein, 12g fat, 580mg sodium
While subway has a number of healthier options and is quite reasonably priced, frequently having a special sandwich available for $2.50 in 6″ size, check to make sure the special is one of their Fresh Fit choices and hold the heavy sauces or oils when adding condiments. Subway often has a rotating soup option for around $1.99, and most soups qualify in my “healthy” category except for their beef chili and clam chowder. All others come in under 300 calories and 800mg sodium.
- Though it may come in at slightly more than $3, you can also check out the kids’ menu options at most fast food restaurants, which will help with portion control, and substitute fruit and milk for fries and soft drinks.
- It’s always a good idea to hold the mayo or special sauce. You can replace with ketchup and mustard for flavor with less fat.
- Always watch out when adding a drink, as the calories and sugar in sodas and sweetened teas can blow your “healthy” meal to shreds! Consider unsweetened tea with a splash of lemon, or the best bargain of all: good old fashioned water!
For deeper nutritional analysis, check out this comparison of the options at WebMD.
What is your go-to fast food option?