The Dietitian’s Guide to the Healthiest Fast Food Options at 14 of America’s Favorite Chain Restaurants

Photo: Getty Images/Westend61
You know how it goes: some weeks you've meal-prepped a week's worth of meals. And some weeks, well, you feel accomplished for nuking yourself a TV dinner. When life gets busy and you find yourself staring into an empty fridge, being in-the-know about the healthiest fast food options available to your can save your week. Below, we rounded up 14 of the healthiest things to order from fast food chains like Chipotle, IHOP, Cheesecake Factory, and more.

Dietitians give the healthiest fast food options at America's favorite chain restaurants

olive garden healthy options woman serving pasta with vegetables on white table
Photo: Getty Images/ Piet de Kersgeiter-Eye Em

Olive garden

Executive chef and registered dietitian Jessica Swift, RD previously told Well+Good that the name of the game at Olive Garden is taking half of the chain's very generous pasta portion home with you. "I would also suggest taking advantage of the vegetable side dishes, like asparagus with minced onions, instead of just focusing on the pasta," she said.

Order: herb-grilled salmon, chicken Giardino, minestrone soup

A dietitian's go-to pasta variety:

P.F. chang's

Everyone's favorite Chinese chain has a ton of veggies on the menu, so healthy eating is really NBD. Registered dietitian Chelsey Amer, RD, does have a few favorites, however.

Order: ginger chicken with broccolimiso glazed salmon, stir-fry eggplant, Buddha’s feast


“Your starting point should be either a bowl or salad,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, host of Well+Good's You Versus FoodAfter that, just add brown rice, your choice of protein, and veggies. Add some guac on top and you're set.

California Pizza Kitchen

CPK is definitely riding the wellness wave by offering alt-pizza crusts and zucchini noodles. Here's what registered dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, would order.

Order: cedar plank salmon, zucchini pasta shrimp scampi,  California beggie pizza, roasted veggie salad with grilled chicken, roasted garlic chicken and seasonal vegetables

panera healthy options
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Panera Bread

Amer tells Well+Good that Panera's grain bowls are pretty much the best option to fulfill your lunch and dinner needs.

Order: baja grain bowl with chicken, turkey chili, Mediterranean grain bowl with chicken, Modern Greek salad with quinoa

Cheesecake Factory

“The main thing to keep in mind with The Cheesecake Factory that most of the meal portions on their main menu are really big, which is fine if you’re sharing with someone, but ultimately too many calories to be healthy to eat all in one sitting,” integrative and functional dietitian Nour Zibdeh, MS, RDN, CLT, previously told Well+Good. “That said, there are some healthy picks on the menu, but the key is knowing what you’re going to order before you go. Otherwise, you could get overwhelmed in the moment and order something that isn’t exactly healthy.”

Order: Evelyn’s favorite pasta, shrimp with angel hairCajun Jambalaya pasta, Almond-Crusted Salmon Salad, Cobb Salad, Skinnylicious Grilled Salmon


If you find yourself at Wendy's for dinner, registered dietitian Erica Ingraham, RD, says you have more options than you might think.

Order: sour cream and chive baked potato, Berry Burst chicken salad (with no chicken), Southwest avocado chicken salad, avocado BLT chicken sandwich

healthiest smoothies at jamba juice
Photo: Getty Images/fotostorm


Juices and smoothies can hide a lot of sugar, but registered dietitian Carrie Dennett, RD, says that it's totally possible to hack the menu for a blend that starts your day off right.

Order: vanilla blue sky, smooth talkin’ mango smoothie, PB & banana protein

Here's what a dietitian thinks of green juice:


A Subway sandwich ("$5 FOOT LONG!") is a quick fix for a rumbling stomach. Here are the sammies registered dietitian Kim Melton, RD, would pick for her lunch or dinner.

Order: veggie delite chopped salad, veggie delite sandwich, tuna chopped salad, classic tuna sub or wrap

Panda Express

While you should probably skip the chow mein at Panda Express, Melton says that there are plenty of dishes that fit the bill of a healthy meal.

Order: broccoli and beef, grilled teriyaki chicken, eggplant tofu, combined sides of brown steamed rice and super greens,string bean chicken breast

best sweetgreen salads
Photo: Getty Images/Vladimir Vladimirov


Healthy lunch spot Sweetgreen whips up $15 salads, so you're going to want to make sure you get all the bang for your nutritional buck. Registered dietitian Karen Collins, RD, has a few picks.

Order: Guacamole greens, kale Caesar, shroomami bowl, spicy Thai bowl, curry chickpea bowl


“Overall, Denny’s does have good healthy options, although you have to be a bit clever if you’re vegan,”  Jenna Gorham, RD, previously told Well+Good.  “A lot of their meals are high in sodium, so that something to be aware of."

Order: fit fare veggie sizzlin’ skillet, fit fare loaded veggie omelette, fit fare wild Alaska salmon, fit fare sirloin steak


Oh, International House of Pancakes—you are so near and dear to my heart. Zibdeh says that the chain's pancakes aren't as healthy for your body as they are for your soul. But luckily, there are menu options for ya.

Order: house salad, spinach & mushroom omelette, grilled chicken and veggie salad,  grilled chicken and veggie saladcage-free egg white veggie omelette


Collins says the salads at Chopt can be ordered vegan, keto, Mediterranean, and more.

Order: kale Caesar, Mexican Caesar, kebab cobb salad with falafel,  Mediterranean bowl

Don't want to order in? This dish takes less than 6 minutes to make, and these are the healthiest things you can buy in the freezer aisle

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