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Healthy Choices at McDonald’s

Hey!  I decided to make a new series here at Kate Moving Forward called “Healthy Choices at….” my goal is to explore what are the healthiest food choices you can make while at a restaurant like McDonald’s.  It’s easy to walk in and be so overwhelmed or confused so you order an old standby and slip back into bad habits.

Disclaimer: I recognize that Fast Food is what it is—lots of sodium, processed food, probably GMOs, animals raised in factory farms—my point is NOT to laud fast food as the healthiest choice, but to help you discover some of the healthiest fast food options out there. No one’s feeding America fast food at gun point, so lets all be honest here and admit to eating fast food at some point or another. For a belly laugh watch this video by Jim Gaffigan on McDonalds—lighten up and read on!

Now on to a little quiz….

Healthy Choices at McDonald’s Quiz

It’s main dish time!  What would be the least healthy choice of these three options?

1. 5 piece chicken selects

2. Quarter Pounder with cheese

3. Filet-O-Fish sandwich


If you answered the quarter pounder with cheese or the fish sandwhich you would be WRONG!!  The correct answer is the chicken selects and these have definitely fooled before.  Just because something has chicken in it don’t assume it is a healthy choice. The chicken selects weigh in at 640 calories and 38 grams of fat; the quarter pounder is not too much better with 520 calories and 26 grams of fat; and the filet-o-fish comes in with 380 calories and 18 grams of fat so definitely the best choice of the three.

How much sodium does a medium order of McDonald’s fries contain?

1.  160 mg

2. 270 mg

3. 350 mg


The answer may surprise you—it actually has 270 mg of sodium.  Was that higher or lower than you thought?  I definitely assumed it was higher! I guess that is only if you sprinkle extra salt on it. Most dietary guidelines suggest getting less than 2300 mg of salt a day.

Dessert time! If you’re looking to splurge should you have:

1. A 8 oz McFlurry with M&Ms

2. A 12 oz chocolate shake

3. A hot fudge sundae


Based on calories alone the hot fudge sundae is your best choice containing 330 calories compared to 430 in the McFlurry and 570 in the chocolate shake. And that’s the smallest size shake so buyer beware—those pack a TON of calories. Another winning combo if you’re looking for something sweet is a small vanilla cone (170 calories) paired with a chocolate chip cookie (160 calories) for another 330 calorie treat!

Breakfast time!  Which of these classic breakfasts from McDonalds has the lowest calories?

1. Egg McMuffin

2. Hotcakes without syrup or butter

3. Sausage McGriddle


And the winner is the classic Egg McMuffin! It has only 300 calories, 12 grams of fat, and packs 18 grams of protein…not too shabby for the fast food drive through.  The Hotcakes are 350 (but seriously who eats dry hotcakes?) and the McGriddle is 420 calories.  Other healthy choices for breakfast are Fruit & Maple Oatmeal (eliminate brown sugar and save 30 calories) at 290, 2 scrambled eggs at 170 (plus15 grams of protein), or a plain bagel at 260.

My Healthy Choices at McDonald’s

If I walked into a McDonalds tomorrow and had to order a meal this is what I’d order:

Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich—400 calories and 9 grams of fat make it a winner.  The sodium is high (820 mg) but it’s hard to avoid that in fast food. I would avoid Mayo and ask for a pack of barbecue sauce (50 calories).


Apple Slices—15 calories and a serving of fruit. Kudos to McDonalds for making this healthy option available! Plus you don’t have to deal with finding a dressing like you would for a salad.

Water—0 calories refreshment! I would probably drink water and forgo all soda, including diet.

Small vanilla cone—yeah at 170  calories and making pretty good choices otherwise, I would treat myself!

Total calorie count: 585. Total Fat: 13.5 grams.

My calorie budget is 1600 a day so this could definitely be included as part of an overall balanced diet. By planning ahead I KNOW I won’t go crazy in McDonalds and order an old standby or something masquerading as healthy food!  All of the information I found was available at McDonalds store or easily accesible online. McDonalds often has the reputation for the worst fast food chain as far as healthy choices, but I’m impressed by some of the changes they’ve been making and the level of information they put out to the consumer—it is ultimately up to you to choose what goes in your body!! 

What is your go-to healthy choice at McDonalds?

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  1. I never eat fast food… but the cone is really only 170 cals?! You may have just created a monster. LOL!

  2. OOOO FUN, a quiz! 😉

    I have never in my entire life eaten fast food. I always bring something with me when I know I am going to be out during a meal! My fast food is stopping in at Whole Foods or some other grocery store and getting some food from the salad bar! HOWEVER my friends LOVE McDonalds and think it’s the only place on the face of the planet that serves food! I always tell them the healthier options to order but of course… They order that with a side of fries, LOL!

    1. That is SO interesting that you’ve never eaten fast food. I’m honest to goodness impressed or shocked, I don’t know–some kind of combination of the two. I however have never been to a Whole Foods which I know is also somewhat shocking and depressing at the same time. haha!

  3. Appreciate the info. For me calories are not the issue, but fat. I have enjoyed reading Eat This Don’t Eat That. Are you familiar with this book? Keep talking.

    1. Yeah, I try to keep an eye on both and the sodium too since Nate has heart issues on his side of the family. I do really like the Eat This Not That books. I always look at them near the check out lines at stores! lol! It’s amazing sometimes what we think is healthy is in reality really, really bad for us. I really appreciate this move by restaurants and consumers towards more openness about food nutrition and helping people make smarter choices.

  4. This was VERY interesting. Fast food typically doesn’t agree with my stomach, but this is good to know what would be better for me!

  5. Why does everyone think it’s the calories and fat grams that are important? That is not what adds up to healthy or unhealthy. You need to look at the nutritional value. In which case in question # 1 you would know that the only thing of any value in any of these 3 items is the onion on the double cheese burger. Everything else is garbage no matter how many calories it has. It’s more important the type of fat than the amt. of fat.

    1. I definitely agree that fast food is NOT generally a healthy choice, see my disclaimer at the top, for the full breakdown of the philosophy of this series. 🙂

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