The 11 Most Underrated Items to Order at McDonald’s

Updated: Jan. 11, 2019

Are the Golden Arches are calling your name? Skip the famous Big Mac and chow down on these guilt-free, dietician-approved orders.

LONDON - DEC 13: McDonalds logo on blue sky background on Dec 13, 2014, London, UK. It is the world's largest fast food chain, over 31,000 restaurants worldwide, serve 58 million customers each day.

Fast and furious

Despite knowing all the ways fast food is bad for us, more than one-third of Americans are still eating it every day, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics. Our nationally beloved McDonald’s is the number two restaurant (and still number one at the drive-through). To the chain’s credit, it has made some strides toward better options. It nixed its “Super Size” combo options, vowed to curb antibiotic use in its beef, and, it’s been reported that the chain may be bringing a vegan burger to the United States.

While nutrition experts will never endorse a daily drive-through run, they understand that sometimes you run out of time or other options. And that’s OK. It happens to all of us, dieticians included. Turns out, you can comb the menu and find a few diamonds in the rough. We asked the pros what to order when you don’t want to completely destroy your nutritional goals, and they gave us the following picks.

Courtesy McDonald's

A hamburger

Yup, the Golden Arches’ standard isn’t all that naughty on its own. It’s got 250 calories and eight grams fat, only three of which are saturated, so that’s still less than 20 percent of your of recommended daily allowance (RDA), says dietitian Amy Shapiro, RD, owner of Real Nutrition NYC. And with 13 grams of soon-to-be antibiotic-free protein, this burger will tide you over until you’re less hangry and desperate. Find out what the 10 best-selling McDonald’s items of all time are.

Egg White Delight McMuffin
Courtesy McDonald's

Egg White Delight McMuffin

Breakfast is still the least popular drive-through meal, but the options have gotten a lot better. This yolkless wonder totals less than 300 calories, and you get a bit of extra protein from Canadian bacon. You also save on sodium compared to the original Egg McMuffin. Learn why the Egg McMuffin was almost rejected from the McDonald’s menu.

Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
Courtesy McDonald's

Fruit & Maple Oatmeal

Speaking of breakfast, McDonald’s got some flak over its oatmeal when it first debuted—critics said it was a sugary treat disguised as a well-rounded breakfast—but it’s only slightly more than 300 calories a bowl and provides whole grains, fiber, and protein, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.

Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken
Courtesy McDonald's

The Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad

This one is all about the extras, says Shapiro. Lose the cheese and fried tortilla strips and you can still enjoy a low-calorie, high-protein, veggie-filled meal. If you skip the dressing, your meal has only 260 calories and five grams of fat (and honestly, with those numbers you could probably splurge on a drizzle of dressing). Meanwhile, 33 grams of protein will keep you full for a solid few hours. But first, memorize these things you should know before ordering a McDonald’s salad.

Fruit 'N Yogurt Parfait
Courtesy McDonald's

Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait

The fruit and yogurt parfait makes a good breakfast or snack, Taub-Dix says. It’s made with low-fat yogurt, and while it’s a bit high in sugar (22 grams), some of that is from fresh fruit, and the whole parfait totals only 150 calories. Plus, you’re getting 10 percent of your daily value for calcium.

McCafe Iced Latte

A McCafé Iced Latte

Leah Kaufman, RD, owner of Leah Kaufman Nutrition, is a fan of this cool caffeinated beverage. A small has only 120 calories and clocks in six grams of protein. And you can feel extra good about drinking it now that McDonald’s has pledged to source the coffee beans for its brew sustainably.

Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Veggies are rare on a fast food menu outside of salads, but this pick sneaks in lettuce and Roma tomatoes, says Shapiro. You can lower the calories on this 380-calorie sandwich even further by eating it open-faced. But with only six grams of fat and 36 grams of protein, you can enjoy the top bun without guilt if you want (though you might want to skip the sauce to keep sodium in check). For more creative options, try these McDonald’s “secret menu” hacks you never thought to try.

Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream Cone
Courtesy McDonald's

Ice cream cone

Dessert is always an option—and luckily, this cool, sweet, creamy treat won’t break the calorie bank, says Shapiro. With only 200 calories and five grams of fat, a plain vanilla cone is a good way to conquer your sweet tooth without sacrificing your waistline. That is, if the machine is working—here’s why the McDonald’s ice cream machine always seems to be broken.

Apple Slices
Courtesy McDonald's

Apple slices

Yes, McDonalds has fruit. Kaufman likes to use the prebagged, precut apple slices as an alternative side to French fries—doing so saves you at least 215 calories, and you’ll still get to crunch on something. They’re also good for a quick, fiber-filled snack.

Chicken McNugget Happy Meal
Courtesy McDonald's

A Happy Meal

“Kid-size portions could also be the right size for some adults who might be looking to satisfy a fast food craving without overdoing it entirely,” says Taub-Dix. The Happy Meal itself comes with fries, but she likes the four-piece chicken nuggets (180 calories, ten grams protein) with a side salad. Check out these other 12 things you never knew about McNuggets.

McAloo Tikki

Bonus: A Vegan Burger

The internet is buzzing about the recent introduction of a vegan burger—originally developed for McDonald’s India—to the United States. The McAloo Tikki, which is currently only available in the restaurant at the chain’s Chicago headquarters, features a patty made from potatoes and peas, which is topped with red onions, tomato slices, and egg-free tomato mayo. Taub-Dix isn’t surprised that fast food restaurants want to jump on the “plant-based” bandwagon but adds, “five grams of saturated fat in a veggie burger doesn’t seem great to me.” You won’t want to miss these other 75 mind-blowing facts about McDonald’s.