Healthier fast food options from Tim Hortons, Starbucks and more for when you’re on the go

Healthier fast food options from Tim Hortons, Starbucks and more for when you’re on the go

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Like it or not, fast food can be a convenient solution for a quick meal (or snack) on-the-go.Martin Dimitrov/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Usually, my recommendations for healthy eating include planning meals in advance, cooking most of your food and relying less on highly processed items.

That’s all good until busy, hectic lifestyles get in the way of putting a healthy home-prepared meal on the table. Like it or not, fast food can be a convenient solution for a quick meal (or snack) on the go.

While fast food tends to get a bad rap for being high in unhealthy fats, salt and sugar (often true), it is possible to place a healthier order at many quick-service restaurants.

Here are better-for-you options at four popular chains, plus less healthy menu items to pass on. (To help you make a healthier fast food choice, check out a restaurant’s online nutrition information in advance.)

Tim Hortons

If you want to avoid the excess cholesterol-raising saturated fat (12 to 19 g) and sodium (900 to 1300 mg) that’s typically found in fast food breakfast sandwiches, there are a few better options at Tims.

The 12 Grain Bagel with peanut butter and a medium latte provides 555 calories, 25 g protein, 8 g fibre, plus a decent amount of calcium. Tim Hortons’ website doesn’t disclose menu item ingredients so I can’t tell you if this bagel is 100 per-cent whole grain.

If it’s a breakfast sandwich you crave, skip the processed meat. The Egg & Cheese Breakfast Sandwich has 5 g of saturated fat and 500 mg of sodium, considerably less than one made with bacon and/or sausage.

Don’t be fooled by the “grilled” Farmer’s Breakfast Wrap. Thanks to the egg omelette with sausage, processed cheese and crispy hash browns, it still serves up 12 g of saturated fat and 940 mg of sodium.

For perspective, a 2,000 calorie diet should contain no more than 22 g of saturated fat (10 per cent of daily calories). Canadians are recommended to consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day or, if you have high blood pressure, no more than 2,000 mg.

Starbucks

If you’re here for a caffeine fix, your best bet is a brewed coffee, black or with a splash of milk (dairy or non-dairy). Or sip on a latte or cappuccino. A Grande (16 ounce) non-fat Caffè Latte, for example, serves up 130 calories, 13 g of protein, no added sugar and 400 mg of bone-friendly calcium.

Pass on the sugar-laden espresso drinks. Starbucks’ Grande White Chocolate Mocha, a brew of steamed milk, white chocolate sauce, sweetened whip cream and espresso, delivers 430 calories, 18 g of fat (including 12 g of saturated fat) and 53 g of sugar, of which 35 g is added sugar (nearly nine teaspoons worth).

You can customize your order to be less sweet by asking for fewer pumps of syrup and skipping the whipped cream.

Freshii

Here you’ll find meal-sized salads and hearty bowls that deliver on whole grains, leafy greens, other vegetables and satiating protein.

A good pick is the Oaxaca Bowl, a combination of brown rice, kale, steak, avocado, beet slaw, black beans, corn, salsa, crispy wontons, served with a spicy yogurt sauce. It serves up 660 calories, 20 g of protein, 13 g of fibre and 640 mg of sodium. Not too bad.

Consider subbing the red meat for chicken, tofu or two hard-boiled eggs, all of which have less sodium than the steak. If you want fewer calories, order the dressing on the side (so you can use less) and skip the crispy wontons.

When it comes to sodium, bowls and salads aren’t always the healthiest option. Freshii’s Greek Salad, for example, delivers 1350 mg of sodium; the Teriyaki Twist Bowl has 1220 mg. Nearly a full day’s sodium requirement (1500 mg) for someone aged 19 to 50.

Chipotle

At this Mexican grill you can “build your own” own burrito, burrito bowl, tacos or salad to suit your macro and calorie needs.

A Burrito Bowl with chicken (regular portion, about 3 ounces), “light” (one half-cup) brown rice, black beans, no cheese, veggies, salsa and guacamole came in at 690 calories, 45 g of protein and 1135 mg of sodium. To trim calories, you can select guacamole (230 calories) “on the side” and use only what you need.

The chain also offers Lifestyle Bowls tailored to special dietary patterns including keto, high protein and plant-based.

Not all “build your own” Chipotle meals, though, result in a calorie-conscious meal. Ditto for Lifestyle Bowls.

According to Chipotle’s nutrition calculator, a burrito with chicken, “light” brown rice, black beans, no cheese, veggies, guacamole and fresh salsa clocks in at 1010 calories, 53 g of protein and 2285 mg of sodium.

Had I selected double chicken, cheese and a double tortilla wrap, that burrito would supply 1620 calories, 99 g of protein and 3385 mg of sodium. Ouch.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Chipotle’s nutrition calculator does not provide sodium counts. This version has been updated to remove that statement, and to include the sodium content of three Chipotle food orders.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD