Healthy Options at Fast Food and Fast Casual Restaurants

carbs to avoid, student diet plan, college diet, freshman 15

In a perfect world we’d grow our vegetables in our backyard, can our own pickles, and cook all our food ourselves.

But! We. Are. BUSY!

Sometimes all you have time to do is get something from a fast food or fast casual place.

And, on top of that, food you buy out tastes pretty darn good!

AND you can count on fast food and fast casual restaurants for consistency, and typically providing nutrition information, if you’re interested in that.

Here are my top fave items at popular restaurants – these options align with my views on a lower carbohydrate approach to eating (which, as I read the science, is healthier and more filling!).


Some of My Favorite Quick Spots

Panda Express

  • Get a quart of beef & broccoli or another protein & vegetable stir-fry options

This meal is sans rice! There are already extra carbs in the breading of the protein and veggies.

I would typically eat this making the 30-minute walk from 1 location to another at one of my previous counseling jobs. It’s convenient to eat on-the-go, really filing, and DElicious.



  • Grilled nuggets

  • The ice cream in a cup is also surprisingly low calorie – and soooo good!

Zak and I stop at Chick-fil-A every time we get! We also have these awesome calendars (you can get in December/ January), which come with a rewards card. Every month you get a new free food – it can be a free 6-count nuggets, free small drink, etc.



  • See my full list here

  • BUT my typical drink go-to is a latte with 1 pump sugar-free cinnamon dolce syrup and 1 pump vanilla syrup

  • You can also get this latte without espresso if you need something mid-day that you don’t want to keep you awake. This is called a “steamer”. Get it with the low sugar syrup!

I know everyone is all about the cutesy, boho coffee shops, but honestly I love Starbucks for its consistency, and many of them are really clean, and have internet and a bathroom. There’s nothing I hate more than setting up my computer etc. and then realizing there’s no free wifi!



  • Salad with steak, tomato salsa, cheese, extra fajita vegetables (ask for extra), and guacamole if I want to pay a little extra!

When I worked at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, this was one of two chain restaurants (the other one was Sbarro) that was available for lunch. I pretty much ate here EVERY day for at least a year. I called it the “Chipotle” diet!



  • Meatballs with a side of sautéed vegetables

This was the other location close to where I worked at Columbia. I would typically get this lunch whenever I didn’t want to eat what I had bought for lunch. Meatballs are $1 each – which makes a pretty filling and cheap lunch!



  • Cobb salad

  • Broccoli cheddar soup

You can’t go wrong with a cobb salad! Cobb salads are usually made with eggs, bacon, sometimes chicken, non-starchy veggies, and blue cheese. So many flavors, and really filling!

And yes you read that right! The broccoli cheddar soup is super filling, and is low in extra carbs and sugar. You will probably be surprised at how full this keeps you!



  • Cobb salad as is!

Again with the Cobbs I know! But a cobb salad is such a good one to fall back on – anywhere you go!


General Recommendations


  • 1 roll sushi with rice + 1+ roll(s) sashimi 

Did you know! You can also get cucumber or seaweed only wrapped sushi at many places?! The best ever. Also at Bondi Sushi in NYC you can get cauliflower rice sushi!



  • Base of greens or zoodles + protein + non-starchy toppings

Find out what “starchy foods” are in this blog post!


  • Burrito bowl with lettuce, cheese, protein, and fajita veggies

  • Fajitas with protein & veggies - stick with 1 tortilla

American Fast Food

  • Burger with the bun OR the fries

  • Chicken fingers

  • Mozzarella sticks


  • Grilled protein (e.g. chicken or beef) with Mediterranean salad (chopped tomatoes & cucumbers)

What other fast food chains aren’t on here that you go to frequently? Let me know and I’ll try my best to review them!

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