Drive-Thru Nutrition

Food That’s Fast and Healthy

Having spent a week on a road trip, I learned one thing along the way: Fast food is unavoidable, given time and budget constraints.  You can’t beat a drive-thru for convenience and speed of service, although a bellyache later can quickly remind you of the excess calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium you just put into your body.

While a super-sized value meal can give you a day’s worth of calories in one meal, you can exit the drive-thru with a healthier meal.  Because sometimes there is nothing better than a hot French fries or a juicy burger, it’s important to learn how to make good choices.


It might cost a few dimes more to guzzle down a large soda instead of a small one, but your waistline will be paying the real price.  Soda, diet or regular, isn’t a healthy choice since it provides no nutrition at all. Soda is often filled with calories, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other ingredients that fill you up without giving your body any benefits.  One way to make a fast food meal healthier is to opt for a drink other than soda.  Of course water is a great choice, hydrating your body and aiding in digestion. Unsweetened tea is virtually calorie-free if you want something other than water. Juice (100% fruit juice, not “fruit drinks”) and low-fat milk are two alternatives that cut add nutrition to the calories you drink, making them healthier choices than soda and other sweet beverages.

Fruits and Vegetables

Like you would at any other meal, try to include at least one serving of fruits or vegetables with your order.  And no, French fries do NOT count as a healthy vegetable!  Load your burger with extra tomatoes, or enjoy a side of fresh fruit instead of fries or chips.  If you are having a sandwich, load up on lettuce, peppers, even cucumbers. If they offer it, opt for a baked potato (nix the high-calorie fixin’s like cheese and sour cream) instead of fries.   Most fast food chains now offer delicious side and entrée salads. Including these with your meal is a great way to add lots of vitamins for few calories.  Just make sure not to smother your greens with cheese, eggs, bacon, fat-filled dressing, or fried toppings, such as chicken and croutons.

Portion Control

One of the biggest problems people face when eating fast food is out-of-control portions. You don’t have to get the value meal with the big burger, bigger fries and even bigger drink.  Instead, try a child-sized meal.  You still get the burger, fries, and drink, but consume about half of the fat of the full-sized version.  Ordering small is automatic portion control—you won’t be tempted to overeat. If a kiddie-sized meal with a toy on the side isn’t for you, split an order of fries with a friend.  You’ll still enjoy that salty crunch without consuming all of the calories of a full order.


The “extras” can add on the calories and fat. A tablespoon of mayo will add on an extra 57 calories.  Make that another 106 calories for a single slice of cheese! Instead of smothering your burger with sauces, opt for mustard (about 10 calories).  Forgo the sour cream and three kinds of cheese on your taco, and add flavor with low-calorie salsa.   Go easy on the ranch dressing and salt shaker.  These little substitutions can really add up! Your taste buds will be happy (and so will your waistline).    Don’t be fooled by healthier sounding meats, either.  While breaded chicken or fish may seem healthier than a beefy burger, these sandwiches often have just as many, if not more, calories than your average burger since they’re fried.  Try grilled versions of your favorite sandwiches instead, or opt for the low-cal veggie burger, which is becoming more widely available these days.

Fast Food Breakfast

A healthy breakfast is the best way to start your day. But while hitting the drive-thru on the way to work may be convenient, it might put you at a calorie overload early in the day.  Making healthy, nutritional choices comes into play again.  Instead of a breakfast sandwich (English muffin with eggs, bacon, and cheese), order a bowl of fresh fruit, a fruit and yogurt parfait, oatmeal, or plain eggs. That way, you’ll be starting off the day with energy—not too many calories.

Comparisons of Fast Food

See how many calories and fat grams you can save just by trying different menu options at some of your favorite fast food restaurants. (All nutritional information was found on each restaurant’s website.)



Think Again

Better Choice

You Save


Beef ‘n Cheddar
440 calories
21 grams fat

Junior Roast Beef
270 calories
9 grams fat

170 calories
12 grams fat

Burger King

Original Whopper
700 calories
39 grams fat

310 calories
12 grams fat

390 calories
27 grams fat


Double Thickburger
1240 calories
90 grams fat

850 calories
57 grams fat

390 calories
33 grams fat


Big Mac
560 calories
30 grams fat

260 calories
9 grams fat

300 calories
21 grams fat


SuperSonic Cheeseburger
839 calories
55 grams fat

Jr. Burger
353 calories
21 grams fat

486 calories
34 grams fat


Big Bacon Classic
580 calories
29 grams fat

Jr. Hamburger
280 calories
9 grams fat

300 calories
20 grams fat