Sometimes, you just can’t avoid fast food. You may be on a road trip, someplace that’s short on mom and pop shops, or trying to please others by going to their restaurant of choice. Fast food spots offer convenience, low prices, and, with some knowledge, a healthy meal. Here are some of the best cheap and healthy fast food options we found and five popular spots.
Burger King’s Whopper Jr., No Mayo
(less than $3)
No one ever talks about it, but the mayonnaise in Burger King’s burgers really increases the calories of your entire meal. So, if you’re looking for a light snack that’s full of protein and will fill you up until you can get somewhere with a decent salad, try the Whopper Jr. with no mayo (260 calories instead of 300+ calories).
The Jr. part means you’re simply eating less, 314 calories instead of the 657 calories in a regular Whopper. The burger and bun will tide you over until the next meal and you’ll even get some fiber and vitamins from the lettuce, tomato, and onions.
(less than $3)
“The original burger starts with a 100% pure beef burger seasoned with just a pinch of salt and pepper. Then, the McDonald’s burger is topped with a tangy pickle, chopped onions, ketchup and mustard,” states the McDonald’s website. It’s also one of the cheapest items on the menu.
McDonald’s menus vary, so if you’re looking for something low calorie (about 250 calories) that will show up pretty much everywhere, go for the simple Hamburger. Often a McDonald’s will offer sales on the burger — like a two-for-one deal — hoping you’ll buy fries and a soda with it. But, if you skip those items, the burger(s) end up being pretty cheap and healthy (ish) fast food.
Wendy’s Baked Potato
(less than $3)
“Originally, we launched the baked potato in 1983 along with our salad bar, to provide a healthy option to sell alongside our hamburgers” Lori Estrada, Wendy’s VP of culinary innovation for over 16 years told Thrillist in 2017. “In the mid-to-late ’80s, almost everyone in the industry was playing around with healthy options in their menus, so Wendy’s was actually probably a little ahead of the game with the potato.”
What held true then holds true today. Sure, you can jazz up a baked potato with all sorts of fatty, delicious things. At Wendy’s, you have the option of decorating your spud with cheese, bacon, sour cream, broccoli, and chives. But to really get the nutrients and health benefits, try a plain baked potato with a bit of butter and salt.
For less than $3, you get all the energy-rich carbohydrates you want, plus eating the potato skin offers a dose of fiber! Unlike with a wrap or burger, you’ll unfortunately have to stop driving, sit down, and eat this meal with a fork.
Jack In The Box’s Chicken Fajita Pita
(less than $5)
At fast-food restaurants, the key is to stick to grilled foods instead of fried ones. And, if you can swing it, swap out that bun for something less starchy.
At Jack In The Box, you can get the Chicken Fajita Pita and fill up while not getting dragged into a food coma afterward. Stick to getting the single item instead of a combo meal so you don’t end up with more fried food that will offset the low-calorie benefits of the pita sandwich. This one lands you at 330 calories, 9g total fat, 4.5g saturated fat, 35g carbohydrate, 27g protein, 4g sugar, and 790mg sodium.
KFC’s Corn on the Cob Side
Yes, we know that almost everything at KFC is fried — that’s why the initials stand for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Walking into one of these restaurants might seem like torture and, well, it sort of is. But if you must do it, go for the corn on the cob.
This side dish costs a dollar and is dripping with butter. Use a napkin, try to soak up as much of it as possible, and then enjoy your corn. For flavor, sprinkle some salt on the cob. This isn’t the ideal healthy meal by far, but it’s still way better than four pieces of fried chicken dripping with grease and oil that you can’t wipe off!