When I think of healthy, low-calorie items at fast food joints, I immediately think of salad. That’s it. That’s the only menu item that’s low calorie in the fast food world. Right?
If you think like I do, then you’ll be surprised to learn that this is not the case.
Listen, I’m not exactly the type of person who eats healthy at fast food places. So, this experiment was particularly weird for me. You could call it a practice in portion control rather than a diet, as most of what I was eating was chicken nuggets amounting in the single-digits. Bummer, I know. But I was surprised to find that chicken nuggets were the lowest-calorie meal item (i.e. not a side, drink or breakfast food, except in the case of Dunkin’ Donuts because…doughnuts) at many fast food joints across town.
Before we go on, let me just clarify these are not necessarily the healthiest options in terms of getting your daily amount of leafy greens. Instead, these items are the lowest-calorie menu items and probably should not be consumed all the time, but just sometimes. You know what they say, “everything in moderation.” Not that I always adhere to that, but, anyway — to the food!
Chick-fil-A: 4-piece grilled nuggets (70 calories)
I don’t think I know anyone who gets grilled chicken nuggets from Chick-fil-A, but today I became one of those people. And you know what, those nuggets are surprisingly tasty. They’re juicy and have some sort of marinade on them. When dipped in zesty buffalo sauce (the lowest-calorie sauce on the menu, coming in at 30 calories), they’re spicy and delicious. But, you honestly don’t even need the sauce because the nuggets are so flavorful on their own. I would 100 percent order these again. Umm, what, did I just become a grilled nugget person?
Wendy’s: 4-piece chicken nuggets (170 calories)
After Chick-fil-A’s surprisingly good grilled nuggets, I was not moved by Wendy’s regular chicken nuggets. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but they’re definitely not stellar. The barbecue sauce is the lowest-calorie sauce Wendy’s offers at 45 calories, and it was a pretty run-of-the-mill sauce. But, as far as low-calorie foods go, this is not that bad. I could get used to it.
McDonald’s: 4-piece chicken nuggets (180 calories)
I’ve been keeping it real with you so far, so here’s some more realness for you: I’m actually nervous about eating McDonald’s nuggets. One of my best friends told me back in high school that the fast food giant’s nuggets were made with all sorts of yucky things, and I absolutely believed her. Now whether what she said was true or not, I don’t know, but either way I haven’t had them in at least seven years. So eating these nuggets was almost like a reawakening for me, especially in realizing that these are so low in calories. Honestly, I missed these nuggets. That batter is just so good. The zesty buffalo sauce is Mickey D’s lowest-calorie sauce, and it tastes almost identical to Chick-fil-A’s, which begs the question who created this generic buffalo sauce that so many fast food places use? That sounds like a question for a different article.
Taco Bell: Soft taco with shredded chicken Fresco-style and a crunchy taco with seasoned beef Fresco-style (140 calories each)
Let’s be real: no one goes to Taco Bell and orders just one taco, no matter how healthy you are. I obviously had to order two different tacos, one with shredded chicken and one with seasoned beef (beef’s first appearance in this whole article, in case you had been in total chicken bliss and hadn’t noticed). At T-Bell, you can get tacos and burritos “Fresco-style,” an off-menu term that means they come with lettuce and pico de gallo, no cheese and no sour cream. This is a solid choice if you want something that won’t weigh you down or if you have a dairy intolerance. And let me tell you, that chicken taco is so good. The shredded chicken is tender and seasoned well, and the pico and lettuce adds a fresh note. I'd recommend this 10/10 and would definitely order it again. As for the beef taco, eh. Not as good, as I didn't think the pico complemented the seasoned beef. I ended up giving the rest to my boyfriend, who seemed to disagree with me, saying that he really loves pico. Granted, he eats like he’s still in the military, so take that as you will.
Dunkin’ Donuts: French cruller (220 calories)
I can definitely see why this doughnut is low-calorie because it’s super airy. It’s tasty, but not very filling, so I think it would almost be worth it to splurge and get some munchkins, too. Or, order the brownie batter-filled doughnut that’s being offered for Valentine’s Day. If you’re going to splurge, make it count, right?
Overall, the low-calorie options were not terrible. If you eat like me, they might not be filling though. Of course, if you’re interested in the health content of your food, then I would order a salad or something that’s not fast food. But, if counting calories is your main concern, then it seems like four- or six-piece chicken nuggets are often your best bet.
Of all of the options on this list, my top picks are the chicken taco from Taco Bell and the grilled nuggets from Chick-fil-A. Grilled chicken nuggets might honestly be the new black. You know, if the new black was low-calorie and came from Chick-fil-A.