Person Holding Two Hamburgers

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In a perfect world, we would all cook most of our own meals and know exactly what’s in our food. In reality, that isn’t feasible for most people. Life happens, and sometimes a quick meal on the go is the only way. However, if you don’t want to sacrifice your healthy eating streak for a meal out on the town, there are actually lots of options available these days to keep you on the right track.

You might not think any of the options at a fast food joint could be healthy, and it makes sense why you’d assume that. A recent study from Boston University found that fast food menus are even more unhealthy now than they were three decades ago. This is even after laws and regulations have gotten stricter about making sure healthier options are on the menu. Still, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find nutritious and satisfying options while you’re out and about.

Here are the top five places to visit that can still meet your nutritious needs:

1. Chipotle

Chipotle has so many great options to choose from to customize your meal. Not only do they have great variety, but you’ll get a hearty meal too. Getting salad bowls are satisfying and highly nutritious when you opt for lots of greens, some rice, and a protein of your choice. Don’t forget to pack on the veggies and/or beans for fiber and extra nutrition. Finishing with some guacamole is a great way to get healthy fats in as well. Just try to go light on or avoid the queso dip, cheeses, and sour cream.

Shyla’s pro tip: If you’re taking your bowl home, add Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It tastes almost the same and allows you to use far more, without adding too much fat. It’s also a fantastic way to boost protein even more.

Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant sign
(© Electric Egg Ltd. –


CAVA isn’t in every single state yet, but it’s a rapidly growing Mediterranean brand that functions exactly like Chipotle. Most popularly, customers create their own bowls packed with flavor and veggies, making it another really satiating and quick choice.

You can choose from a base of greens (arugula, spinach, romaine, or a mix), rice, lentils or even RightRice, which is a high-protein and fiber alternative to rice. You can choose from an array of animal and plant proteins like harissa honey chicken or falafel, and top everything off with a variety of dips like hummus and feta dips, pickled vegetables, slaws, and a bunch of delicious dressings. As far as their dressings go, I recommend opting for their yogurt dill or lemon tahini options for a lighter addition.

3. Chick-Fil-A

You may or may not be surprised to find the country’s favorite fast fried chicken sandwich spot on this list, but Chick-Fil-A has some top tier healthy options as well. Fun fact: they were the first fast food place to offer a menu free of trans fats.

Instead of their fried favors, they offer a grilled chicken sandwich as well as nuggets to help you scratch the itch while staying on track. On the side, you can choose from a fruit cup or a kale crunch bowl, both of which can be delicious alternatives.

For breakfast, you can even grab a Greek yogurt parfait with crunchy granola or an Egg/Egg white grilled sandwich with a side of fruit for an actually enjoyable-yet-healthy meal.

Chick-Fil-A nuggets combo meal
“Chicken Nugget @ Chick-Fil-A” by Tatiana Mik on Openverse (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

4. Panera

Panera has grown a lot since it opened in 1987, which is no surprise considering they have a lot of fresh breads, sandwiches, soups, salads, and warm grain bowls. Some of these offerings are healthier than others, but the amount of variety and ability to customize their existing items is what sets them apart.

Their Mediterranean Bowl with chicken is sure to check off all the boxes as far as taste and nutrition goes, offering greens, quinoa, cucumbers, hummus, olives, and a creamy dressing. If you need a quick sandwich choice, their deli turkey, tuna salad, and Mediterranean veggie options are all great ways to go. If you’re looking to really boost your fiber, consider the Baja bowl. It’s packed with brown rice, quinoa, black beans, tomatoes, avocado, and greens.

Stopping in for breakfast? While a cinnamon crunch bagel is probably calling your name, it’s probably not wise to get that if you want to stick to your healthy goals. Instead, they have a chipotle chicken, egg, and avocado on ciabatta that is sure to please your tastebuds. Their steel cut oatmeal is also a nice and warm option.

5. MOD Pizza

I’m sure you didn’t expect a pizza spot to be on this list, but sometimes you just want a pizza.

MOD offers thin and cauliflower crusts along with a huge variety of proteins like chicken and ground beef, and vegetables like onions, broccoli, and spinach. Adding these foods can help pack the nutrition onto your pie and optimize your pizza craving, keeping you feeling fuller for longer and your blood sugar more in check.

They also offer various different salads, with the option of building your own as well with basically any topping that you’d put on your pizza. With more options to enjoy other than just a thick crust with cheese and heavy meats, MOD pizza is a strong option to crush the pizza craving smartly.

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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1 Comment

  1. Martin Cohen says:

    In and out’s protein style replaces the hamburger bun with a lettuce wrap. I get it this way with just lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions.