14 Foods Nutritionists Order at Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A, and Panera

Updated: Apr. 15, 2021

Fast food is not ideal nutrition, obviously, but if you must grab a quick bite on the go, here's how you can avoid diet disaster.

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At Panera: Turkey chili

Panera uses no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, or colors. They even have a “No No List” of some 80 ingredients such as monosodium glutamate (MSG – What is it?), sucralose, and BHT. One of their more healthful entrees, and a nutritionist favorite, is the spicy Turkey Chili, a nutritious and filling choice for lunch. With a large bowl containing only 260 calories, you can warm up guilt-free with a healthy punch of 16 grams of fiber and 17 grams of protein. Beans are known to be nutrition powerhouses, packed with complex carbohydrates, iron, B vitamins and fiber. They’ve also been shown to lower blood pressure. Find out the eight most unhealthy meals you can order at restaurants.

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At Panera: soups and salads

Panera soups can be tasty and healthful, as long as you avoid the calorie bombs (we’re looking at you, New England Clam Chowder and Broccoli Cheddar). My absolute favorite lunch at Panera is half a Thai Chicken Salad with a cup of Low-fat Vegetarian Garden Soup with Pesto. These two tasty dishes add up to fewer than 400 calories, with 9 grams of fiber and 15 grams of protein. Pesto stirred into the soup adds an earthy, herbal, elegant flavor, and the spicy peanut dressing with edamame for the salad is to die for. Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, owner of nutritionstarringyou.com, likes to order a “You Pick 2” with garden vegetable or black bean soup, half a salad with dressing on the side and an apple. “That’s 4 to 5 servings of fruits and veggies in one meal for around 400 calories,” she says. Natalie Rizzo, MS, RDN, of nutritionalanatalie.com, opts for the seasonal salad. “I love that it changes with the seasons, so you know the food is at the peak of freshness,” she says. “Right now, it’s beet and citrus and in the summer, it’s watermelon. If you always choose the seasonal salad, you can’t go wrong.”

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At Panera: Wonton Bowl

The Asian-inspired Thai Garden Chicken Wonton Bowl at Panera delivers loads of veggies such as broccoli, spinach, and Napa cabbage, in a delicious broth, for fewer than 300 calories. The ginger-chicken wontons pack 23 grams of protein. Ginger, a known immune-booster, packs extra nutrition into this warm savory lunch. Find out the healthiest things to eat at 25 fast-food restaurants.

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At Panera: Roasted Turkey and Caramelized Kale Panini

Need something more filling? Check out Panera’s Roasted Turkey and Caramelized Kale Panini. A whole sandwich clocks in at fewer than 600 calories and 28 grams of protein. Roasted red pepper provide a sweet caramelized flavor to the kale, and 80% of your daily vitamin C needs. Paired with a fresh apple, you’ll feel full until dinner time.

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At Chick-fil-A: Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Fruit

To its credit, this franchise has banned high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and dyes, and has pledged to source only antibiotic-free and cage-free ingredients over the next several years. For healthiest options, skip the breaded and fried version of their famous chicken sandwich, and order grilled breast on a multi-grain bun. Substitute the large fruit bowl for the fried potatoes for a combined 355 calories, with a whopping 29 grams of satisfying protein and 7 grams of filling fiber. Don’t be fooled by these popular “healthy” fast-food options.

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At Chick-fil-A: Grilled Chicken Nuggets with Kale Salad

Dietitian Kristen Smith, founder of 360FamilyNutrition, recommends ordering portion-controlled grilled protein options such as the 6-piece grilled nuggets and a salad made with dark leafy greens such as the Kale Super Food salad. The combo makes a a balanced meal without contributing a significant amount of fat or carbohydrates.

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At Chick-fil-A: Grilled Chicken Wrap with Superfood Salad

A smart way to eat the famous Chick-fil-A chicken is in the Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap, which is lower in overall calories and fat but bursting with fiber (15 grams)! Pair it with a superfood side salad containing nourishing broccolini, kale, dried cherries and roasted nuts, and you’ll be satisfied for hours. Find out nine foods nutritionists never order at fast-food restaurants.

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At Starbucks: Oatmeal

Think beyond those tempting pastries and scones and sugar-filled bevvies, because Starbucks offers several healthy options to jumpstart your morning or tide you over till lunch hour. For example, the Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal is an excellent fiber-packed meal. It’s topped with fresh blueberries, dried cranberries, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and agave syrup, and delivers 5 grams of protein, in addition to fiber. As a bonus, this vegetarian option contains 10 percent of your daily requirement for iron.

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At Starbucks: Turkey Bacon & Egg White Sandwich

The savory Reduced-fat Turkey Bacon and Cage-free Egg-white Breakfast Sandwich is also a solid bet. Your taste buds will love the creamy reduced-fat white cheddar cheese, and your bones will love getting 15 percent of their daily dose of calcium. It’s fewer than 250 calories and yet packed with 16 grams of filling fiber to keep you going strong for hours. Want something sweet or salty? Here are some healthy choices you can make to fight your cravings.

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At Starbucks: Spinach Feta Egg White Wrap

Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD of HungryHobby.net is obsessed with Starbucks’ Spinach, Feta, Cage-Free Egg White Breakfast Wrap. “If they every take it off the menu, my go-to breakfast is gone,” she says. Indeed, this savory morning meal gets you going with 19 grams of protein for fewer than 300 calories. High-protein breakfasts have been linked with improved immunity.

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At Starbucks: Chicken Flatbread

For lunch at Starbucks, the Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbread sandwich makes a filling lunch packed with 24 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber—all for about 500 calories. Loaded with antioxidants such as are quercetin, rutin, and anthocyanins, artichokes make this sandwich nutritionally amazing and also quite yummy. You will love the tang of the sun-dried tomato pesto spread, which adds 70 percent of your daily dose of vitamin C, boosting your immunity. Here are the five healthiest things you can order at McDonald’s.

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At Starbucks: Coffee & Espresso

Since coffee reigns supreme at Starbucks, it’s important to know how to order your favorites without blowing your calorie budget. If you’re a fan of rich, bold coffee, an Americano is a perfect choice. Hot or iced, this simple yet elegant espresso drink contains only 10 calories in a 12-ounce tall size. As if you need extra motivation to drink coffee, it’s nice to know that coffee is rich in niacin, riboflavin, potassium, and magnesium.

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At Starbucks: a healthier latte

Tricking out your coffee adds calories. Yet, a simple latte prepared with almond milk clocks in at less than 100 calories, and 45 percent of your daily requirement for calcium. Almond milk is a lower calorie, lower carb choice now available at Starbucks. The healthy fats and extra vitamin E in almond milk protect against heart disease. Substituting sugar-free syrup for flavoring saves 120 calories and about 20 grams of sugar. Skipping the whipped cream saves about 80 calories. Customize your drink for optimal nutrition without excess calories from sugar and fat. Check out these other healthier choices at chain restaurants.

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At Starbucks: green tea and Greek yogurt

Need a quick afternoon snack for a pick-me-up? Best bets at Starbucks include shaken Iced Green Tea for a refreshing cold drink with zero calories. The little caffeine boost with antioxidants in the green tea matched up with one of the Greek yogurt and fruit parfaits is just what you need to get through the afternoon. And, with 14 to 15 grams of protein and fewer than 250 calories, it’s a winning choice. Next, check out these 25 tips to make healthy choices at any restaurant.

Jennifer Bowers, PhD, RDN