Healthy Fast Food: 15 Best Bets on the Value Menu
What can you get for a buck or two that won't do in your diet?
Got a buck? That's all you need to buy something on the dollar menu at
fast-food chains across the U.S. If you have $3, you have enough to buy a
couple of food items AND a diet soda or iced tea.
On the occasion when I pull into a fast-food drive-thru, I've got to admit
that the value menu tends to draw my eye (I blame this on the six financially
challenged years I spent putting myself through college). The trick is to know
which items on the fast-food value menu won't cost you your health while
they're saving you money.
Some fast-food value menus have a few items with some actual nutritional
value, while others may just have one best bet. What do I mean when I say
"nutritional value?" I'm looking for something with some protein and fiber, and perhaps
some key nutrients like iron, B-12, calcium, or vitamin C. Then there's the
flip side. I'm also looking to see if the item has too much of the stuff we
don't want at all (like trans fat) and the stuff we
don't want too much of if we can help it (calories, saturated fat, sodium, and
As a quick-and-dirty of way of assessing nutritional value, I've calculated
grams of protein per dollar for the "best bets" listed below. But keep
in mind that if a dish includes cheese, it also has nutrients like calcium in
addition to protein, and if it has meat (like beef or chicken) it's
contributing nutrients like iron and B-12 along with protein.
Are we asking the impossible to find healthy choices on fast-food dollar
menus? It does seem to take at least $3 to buy the most healthy fast-food items
-- like grilled or barbecued chicken sandwiches on whole-grain buns, roasted
turkey sandwiches, grilled chicken salads, and veggie burgers. But for those
times when you're hungry, in a hurry, and your wallet is almost empty, consider
the following choices.
- Whopper Jr. without mayo ($1). Grams of protein per dollar: 16.
Nutritional information: 290 calories, 16 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate (2 g
fiber), 12 g fat (4.5 g saturated, 0.5 g trans), 35 mg cholesterol, 500 mg
sodium. Calories from fat: 37%. (Vitamin and mineral data not available.)
JACK IN THE BOX
- Grilled Chicken Pita Snack ($1.99). Grams of protein per dollar:
8.5. Nutritional information: 310 calories, 17 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate (3
g fiber), 13 g fat (3 g saturated, 0 g trans), 50 mg cholesterol, 640 mg
sodium. Calories from fat: 38%. Vitamin and mineral data not available.)
- Regular hamburger (79 cents). Grams of protein per dollar: 17.5.
Nutritional information: 280 calories, 14 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate (1 g
fiber), 12 g fat (4.5 g saturated fat, 0.5 g trans), 30 mg cholesterol, 580 mg
sodium. Calories from fat: 39%.
- 2 regular beef tacos (99 cents). Grams of protein per dollar: 10.
Nutritional information 320 calories, 10 g protein, 30 g carbohydrate (4 g
fiber), 16 g fat (6 g saturated fat, 2 g trans), 30 mg cholesterol, 540 mg
sodium. Calories from fat: 45%.