The COVID-19 pandemic meant a global shut down like we have never seen before. Everyone has been forced to stay at home, work and schools have moved into the online sphere, and all places that could attract or hold even a small crowd of people have been shut down until further notice. One of the significant factors that came with the quarantines/lockdowns is that going out to restaurants is no longer an option and for a long time, even getting takeaways was out of the question because of the potential risk factors. I’m not one who gets fast food and take-outs often, but even I can’t deny that there is just something so satisfying and amazing about not having to cook and getting a hot, fresh pizza or some Chinese food delivered right to your door. I’m sure that I haven’t been the only one to miss takeaways since lockdown came into effect. It may not be the healthiest choice, but in a busy life where nothing sleeps, and sometimes you just do not have the time to cook or even go grocery shopping, it is useful to have UberEats (or another food delivery app) ready as plan B.
Now thankfully, food deliveries seem to be up and running again so you can happily order those delicious treats or favourite, calorie-filled dishes. The only problem with fast food is that they generally, across the globe, don’t have the best reputation for being healthy or nutritious. Instead, they are famous for serving dishes that are high in fat, carbohydrates and their salt levels are off the charts. It may be convenient (and cheap), but it’s not the way to go if you’re watching what you eat. If you haven’t noticed from the chain of health-related blog posts I’ve been churning out, I’m on a newly reformed health mission, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to give up burgers, pizzas and Chinese food because come on. Those things are too good to delete from your life permanently. So I thought, seeing as deliveries are happening again and all our junk food favourites are reopening their doors, why not look at a way to have your cake and eat it too? Yes, most fast food may be hideously unhealthy (I mean one large pizza with fun toppings can quickly add up to an entire day’s worth of calories without taking any other meals into account). Still, surely there are some options on the menu that aren’t too bad?
Thankfully, there are a few options at your favourite fast-food restaurants that aren’t too high in calories and can still satisfy your urge to eat from that particular place. So, whether you’re on a health-kick like me, or looking to make some healthier lifestyle changes, or simply don’t want to eat thousands of calories in one take away meal, here is a list of low-cal options from a few different fast food joints. The healthiest fast food option is no fast food at all, but if you still want to enjoy the treat without blowing your cal-count out of the water, this list has some of the best options.
P.S. The restaurants I have looked at are famous chains that have a presence in South Africa. Some of them may be all over the world, but the menu item may be unique to this country. Please just take that into consideration when you see the menu item or size (I know that sizes vary around the world). Also, please note that the meals I have listed don’t include sides, drinks or extra sauces.
The King of fast food in so many ways. That bright red and yellow sign is so famous that I’ve found a McDonald’s in ancient alleyways in Europe, let alone major cities. Now you might think that with its reputation, getting anything from McDonald’s is bound to be an entire day’s worth of calories. However, there are a few things you can get that aren’t too heavy-hitting, and it’s not just a salad option. If you like to stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, fear not because there are two options available. An Egg McMuffin is about 239 calories, and a Breakfast wrap is even less – only 112 calories.
However, if you’re looking to eat some more traditional McDonald’s dishes, you don’t have to worry about starving for the rest of the day. A hamburger (without extra sides or sauces) is about 256 calories, and a cheeseburger sits a little higher at 305. 6 chicken McNuggets come to 241 cals (for those who won’t eat McD’s without some of those nuggets), and a crispy chicken salad is only 265 cals. Fries, unfortunately, are never great when you look at their nutritional value, but I thought, just for fun, I’d add in the option so you can decide whether you want them or not. A small Mcfries is the highest cal-hitter of everything I’ve listed, coming to 340 calories. How cruel is it that such a little thing (that is so delicious) is the most evil.
Fried chicken doesn’t exactly sound like the healthiest option, but buried beneath those chicken buckets are some low-cal options that will satisfy your cravings without messing up your day or leave you feeling like you have just eaten yourself to obesity. An A.M. Snacker is only 246 calories, and a snack burger comes to only 234 calories.
Now I tried to find options that were more food than salad. However, after pouring through the as much nutritional information I could find, salads still seemed to be coming up as the lower options (which makes sense because the base ingredients for most salads have almost no calories). A KFC salad has about 334 cals, and a green salad is as little as 125 cals. Now if you’re like me and can’t resist getting a more unhealthy option (like pops because those are to die for), small pops are only 175 cals, and small chips are roughly 216 cals (so both of those added together are still less than 400 cals). Now you at least know that you can get an unhealthy option that isn’t too extreme, and thank goodness for that because if I had to give up small pops forever, I’d be morbidly depressed.
Who doesn’t love Nando’s? I mean I’d buy from them just for their incredibly witty and satirical ads, but their chicken really does sell itself. Nando’s may seem like a healthier option than KFC if you’re looking for chicken, but unfortunately, all the delicious sauces that make it so delicious aren’t free.
Plain-ish chicken strips are your best choice, sitting at only 176 cals. A ¼ chicken leg/thigh (plain) is just over 200, and 3 lemon and herb thighs are 289 calories. The best side you could order is probably the roast veggies (because the numbers for chips are never inspiring) and they are only 144 cals. If you’re looking for a bit more of a meal than just chicken, I found two options that weren’t so bad. The grilled chicken salad is a little less than 200 calories, and a chicken wrap is about 383 calories. It may not be much better than KFC numbers-wise, but at least this chicken isn’t fried.
Just for variation, I thought I’d try to give you some burger options that weren’t just from McDonald’s. Surprisingly, the numbers for Burger King products weren’t as bad as I initially thought. A plain hamburger is only 240 calories, and a cheeseburger is 40 more than that. Not too bad for burgers, right? The other options I found had chicken as the protein. I know it may seem like chicken seems to be featuring a lot, but it is the leanest protein and has the lowest calories compared to all others, so it’s no wonder that the chicken-based dishes are lower in cals than the rest.
– A tender grill chicken burger = 344 calories
– 6 chicken nuggets = 260 calories
– 2 crispy chicken tenders = 270 calories
– Garden chicken salad (grilled) = 350 calories
So if you don’t quite feel like a burger from McDonald’s, you still have plenty of choices from Burger King (and not all of them are chicken).
Chinese take-outs (general)
I absolutely adore Chinese food. Ask my family, ask my boyfriend, it is probably my favourite ‘fast food’ option (unless I have a significant craving for pizza). In fact, I love it so much that it’s my birthday tradition for us all to get Chinese food from this one restaurant on my birthday night. Thankfully for me and my adoration for this cuisine, Chinese food can actually be relatively healthy if you make the right ordering choices. Rice-based dishes are much healthier than noodle-based dishes. If you pick ones that are predominantly vegetable and protein (chicken, of course, being the best choice), then your calorie count should be relatively low. For example, my favourite dish is chicken chop suey. One whole tray, all the rice included is only 392 calories, and I’m sure you can agree that an entire tray of chop suey is a very filling meal.
Vegetarian options, unless you choose fried meals, are even lower than the veg, rice and chicken combo. A Buddha’s delight is roughly 300 cals per dish. If you prefer soups, you’re in luck because these broth-based soups are naturally a healthy choice, depending on what you have in them. Wonton soup, in my opinion, is the most delicious because it is the perfect mix of broth and veggies plus it has pork dumplings inside, and those are little pockets of heaven. A whole bowl of this soup is only 250 calories. So you see, just because you’re getting Chinese takeaways, doesn’t mean there aren’t healthy options. Just remember that rice and veggie-based dishes are the way to go and try to avoid fried dishes – we all love dumplings and spring rolls, but they aren’t exactly diet-friendly.
If none of those menu items quite tickle your fancy, I have two more for you. A Steers chicken burger (surprise surprise it’s chicken again) is only 280 calories. I looked at the meatier options but the numbers honestly just made me sad, so I’m not going to mention them. Now pizzas are the most unhealthy option out there because one large pizza, without any fun toppings, is almost the same number of calories that an adult should consume in a day. I know – what a horrific thought. However, pizzas are just so delicious that sometimes it’s worth it to gorge on all of that cheesy goodness. If you can’t resist that combo of pizza dough, cheese and toppings but still want to be careful with what you’re eating, a small Debonairs real deal veg pizza is about 317 calories. I know a little, vegetable pizza doesn’t have quite the same thing as a large pizza with all the trimmings, but it’s better than nothing right?
And so there you have it! I know that this post was extraordinarily calorie-orientated and it may not have been fun to think about how much we actually eat when it comes to fast food, but considering I’m on a health kick and have been doing lots of research on this, I thought it could be fun. Now please don’t take this post too seriously!! Eating a big burger with fries and a shake and all the extra trimmings, or a big pizza covered in your favourite toppings isn’t a sin, and it won’t ruin any of your health plans. The key to anything in life is moderation, and even my fitness-obsessed dad treats himself to a pizza every now and then. Fast food is not the enemy, so long as it’s not your first choice whenever you’re hungry. This blog post is really just a fun resource for you in case you are on a health mission like me and are watching your calorie intake but don’t want to give up some of your favourite fast-food feasts. As always, thank you all so much for reading today’s blog post – if you enjoyed it, please don’t forget to hit that little like button and subscribe so that you don’t miss out on future blog posts. I also promise that not all my future blog posts will be health-orientated. Still, it is a topic of interest, so I can’t resist writing about things in this niche every now and then. Other than that, I hope you all have a delightful day and that this post hasn’t made you feel too upset about your favourite takeaway meals.
Lots of Love
Blondey on a Mission xxx