BF Basics: Fast Food

Ok, so a look into every post-op’s crystal ball, because
sooner or later this is GOING to happen to you.
You’re on vacation. Or on business travel. Or somewhere
where you don’t have ready access to the foods you lovingly prepare (from
recipes from Bariatric Foodie) and for whatever reason you don’t have emergency
snacks either. All there is to choose from is an endless strip of fast food
joints. And you…need to eat.
What do you do???
Now I could be one of those post-op types that says “do not
go to the fast food!” and throw old hags in your path admonishing “beware the
golden arch!” but that’s not realistic. Especially if you live in the U.S. fast
food restaurants are a part of our reality and eventually most of us will end
up inside one and need to make some good decisions.

I’m here to help! Because believe it or not, there ARE decent decisions to be
made in most fast food chains. Remember, they are out to make money. And they
recognize that more and more people are about healthy options. So my guess is
that you’ll see more weight-loss friend (not necessary WLS-friendly) options in
the future.
Before we get into my picks from some of America’s most
popular fast food chains, keep the following in mind:
  • You should NOT use these decent fast food choices to justify eating
    fast food too much. That’s just wrong.
  • Most fast food chains have their nutrition facts displayed
    somewhere or on a leaflet. I think they have to by law. If you don’t see it,
    ask the cashier for it and peruse it BEFORE making your selections.
  • We have really little stomachs. If you choose to let your
    family eat at any of these places and to ride it out with a beverage for
    yourself, chances are you are not going to die.  
  • Lastly, this guide is only MY suggestions. You may have others and I encourage you to share them! But bottom line: there is virtually NO situation after surgery that is insurmountable if you have a strategy. 

Yes, I know they are evil. I read Fast Food Nation. But damn
if I did not love a McD’s fry hands down back inna day! Nowadays I have a “three
fry rule.” The divas, if they choose to get fries, are allowed to give me
three. That’s it! Here’s what I usually order for myself when I go to McDonald’s.
Breakfast: I am not a big McD’s breakfast fan. It is
noteworthy that their Egg McMuffin is about 300 calories and seems the best
choice on the menu. But whenever I go for breakfast and I get the same thing I
list for a snack which is…
Snacktime: I usually get a sugar-free vanilla iced latte
(yes, even in the winter) with non-fat milk. Lattes read as a snack in my pouch
for some reason and if I start drinking sweet for some reason I can’t do salty,
making it easier to resist the devilishly delicious fries. Anyhoo, a medium one
(which is what I get) will set you back 160
calories, 0g fat (if you ask for nonfat milk), 21g carbs, 8g protein.
Lunch/Dinner: I LOVE the McDonald’s Southwest Salad. It
comes with mixed field greens, tomatoes, black beans, corn, shredded cheese,
either grilled or crispy chicken (I get the grilled of course) and a lime wedge.
TIP: Ask for it without the crispy tortilla strips they usually add to the top
and use the lime wedge instead of dressing. This nifty little salad will run
you 290 calories, 8g fat, 28g carbs (this is factoring in the tortilla strips
you are asking to be left off though), 7g fiber and 27g protei
Ok raise your hand if, as a post-op, you have marveled at
the joy of Wendy’s chili!
It’s good isn’t it??? And just perfect for those days when
you just don’t feel like cooking. A small chili (which seems to be the norm) is
210 calories, 6g fat, 21g carbs, 6g
fiber and 17g protein. A great choice!
Here’s what else I like:
Breakfast: Nothing. Does Wendy’s even have a breakfast menu?
I don’t recall ever eating breakfast there and their website doesn’t have a
breakfast section!
Snacktime: I am a dork, but I like their little side salad
with a packet of low-fat dressing for a snack. That + a few of the divas
chicken nuggets gets me over the hump.
Lunch: Wendy’s has a few good salads but guess what else?
They have HALF-SALADS!!! God bless you, Wendy’s. I love both the Apple Chicken
Pecan half-salad, which clocks in at 340
calories, 18g fat (much of that from the nuts), 29g carbs, 4g fiber and 19g
The other one I’ve tried is Berry-Almond Chicken half-salad which
is 280 calories, 12g fat, 24g carbs, 4g
fiber and 21g protein
Enhhh. Much as I love Taco Bell (and I will ‘fess up and say
I have tried the Dorito Taco), it’s always going to be a place where you have
to make manual adjustments. If you don’t want to take in all the carbs of a
tortilla, I highly recommend simply removing them. Their salads aren’t worth
the calories and fat.
Since there’s no real breakfast menu to speak of, let’s talk
basic meal choices. I like both the chicken and steak fresco tacos. Both come in at 150 calories each. The
chicken has 3.5g fat, 18g carbs, 2g
fiber and 11g protein
. The steak has 4g
fat, 19g carbs, 2g fiber and 9g protein
If you are in the soft food phase, may I also point you
toward the pintos ‘n cheese. To me, the fat sort of negates most of its benefit
(although depending on your surgery type this may or may not be problematic)
BUT if you are stuck there, it’s an option!!! An order has 180 calories, 7g fat, 7g carbs, 1g fiber and 2g protein.
I feel like I should duck and run on this one for all the
controversy surrounding this place lately. I will not be discussing it (NOTE: I
will also not be publishing comments that discuss it as this is a FOOD blog!).
That’s the beauty of the Foodie-world. Our politics are in the stats.
Everything else is up to the individual.

That being said, there are some real landmines at CFA. Some of their shakes are
equivalent to a fully mature post-op’s full day’s caloric budget! But there are
still a few good options.
Breakfast: Stick with some coffee. Decaf if you have to. It
suppresses the appetite until you can get to something better. They also have milk. That works as well. 
Snacktime: Neither option has much protein so if you’re new
out, it’s probably best to keep driving until you reach a 7-Eleven and get
yourself a Muscle Milk! For those of us who can make up the protein elsewhere,
their fruit cup is a nice little snack at 70 calories, 0g fat, 17g carbs (fruit
sugar) and 1g protein
. They also have a side salad which is 70 calories 2.5g
fat, 5g carbs, 5g protein
(it comes with shredded cheese which is where the fat
and protein come from).
Lunch/Dinner: Your best bet here is a salad. All their chargrilled
salads are great. I am partial to the Southwest Chargrilled which is 250 calories, 9g fat, 19g carbs, 6g fiber
and 26g protein
(EDITED TO ADD: I got a good Foodie recommendation from someone whose pouch is NOT the size of Texas. My girl Heather said she gets the grilled nuggets, a fruit cup and a Diet Lemonade – not sure when she drinks it but that’s not my business – for 180 cals, 17g protein. Thanks Heather!)

I’m going to stop there. I know there are more fast food
restaurants out there and if you’d like my picks for them, leave the name of
the restaurant in the comments! For what it’s worth, here are a few places that
get an absolute F:

  • Burger King: they have a salad. Kinda. The next
    least objectionable thing to do is get a Whopper, Jr. and remove the bun. Work
    on that, BK!
  • Arby’s: I had to stop there once on the way back
    from Pittsburgh and ended up picking the roast beef out of a roast beef
    sandwich that I then tossed because it had that gooey fake tasting cheese crap
    on it. Yuck!
  • Popeye’s: Some of you will argue me down on the
    red beans/rice. The few times I have allowed myself to go there (and I avoid it
    because I DO like the food, not because I don’t) I got them to give me red beans
    but no rice. Enhhh…they could do better. I know there are SOME healthy eaters
    in New Orleans, dangit!!!
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken: yes, yes, I know they
    have Kentucky GRILLED chicken now. And I’ve gotten sick every time I’ve eaten
    it. It is either too greasy or too dry. Other than that, what are our choices? 

I hope you find this helpful for that fateful day when you
find yourself in the fast food quadrant. When there, remember the immortal
words of Albus Dumbledore. “There will come a time when we must all decide
between what is right and what is easy.” Make the RIGHT choices, Foodies!


  1. For McDonald's breakfast, I prefer a sausage burrito. Same calories as an egg mcmuffin and I do better with tortillas then buns/english muffins.

    For lunches at MCD's, any of the snack wraps. The grilled chicken ones are 300 calories or less ish, and the angus ones are around 390. A little high, but not terrible.

    Arby's has some of their marketwise sandwiches as wraps, and as far as I can tell, they're similar to a flatout wrap. They're more pricey, but when I'm on a road trip and I'm faced with the choice of either Arby's, BK or Hardee's — its gonna be an Arby's turkey in a wrap.

  2. Interesting…it's been a while since that fateful Arby's trip. Maybe I will commit to not despising them so much. Since there aren't many in Baltimore I don't find myself near them much.

  3. I always see the McD's breakfast wraps but my blood sugar is a bit tenuous in the morning so I almost always have protein shake stuff with me. If I am stuck (and I was once!) at a McD's I do the latte which for some reason defy's my blood sugar's "rules."

  4. I must say I am really jealous of your McDonald's lattes. I try and try and TRY to get them to make them sugar free and non-fat but they DON'T. DO. IT. One time they didnt even put coffee in it–I'm not kidding. I got the (supposedly) sugar-free caramel and it came out looking like cream-colored milk. I wanted to go back but my husband was driving and he honestly would rather die than go back and complain, lol. Other times I get it and its sugar free but way too creamy to be non-fat, or one sip tells me I'm about to get sick from the sugar. I dont know if I need to actually go inside and order and explain that I MUST have it sugar free and non-fat due to health reasons, or what. I just wish they'd get it right. I love an iced latte and they are so much cheaper than Starbucks (and closer to my house, lol). I love your other suggestions, and thank you for doing the legwork on the nutrition stats. I love having a smartphone so that I can look things like that up on the fly, too. One time I was at Costco and their chicken ceasar salad in the snack bar looked really good, but upon looking up the nutrition on it I took my greek yogurt and hummus and high-tailed it outta there, lol!

  5. Ok, I don't want you to take my chuckles the wrong way. But seriously??? They tried to pass caramel milk off as an iced latte? That's just reprehensible! My McD's knows me fairly well (the school is always doing events there and whatnot) and they have THE friendliest staff. They remember me from Ye Olden Days so they try to take care of me when I make special requests. But yeah…your McD's experience is my 'Bux experience up until a year or so ago. Hadda watch them like a HAWK!

  6. CFA has grilled chicken nuggets on the kids menu now! Pure grilled chicken breast and no breading. I get a six piece and a side salad – it's a great FF choice.

  7. You may want to look into Taco Bell's new Cantina menu. I had the Cantina Bowl with chicken last night. No idea on the stats, but that sucker was GOOD! It's sorta a take-off on Chipotle's burrito bowls. I loved it and ate the whole thing sadly.

  8. I looked. Cantina bowl = 560 cals, 22g fat, 64g carbs, 9g fiber and 26g protein. If that's more than one meal, it's not bad. But I like my carb:protein ratio a liiiiiittle bit more in balance. Just to keep me on the right side of things!

  9. Eeek! Yeah that's a lot of carbs. And to be honest, it wasn't THAT much food for an almost 3 year postop to divide into 2 meals. So yeah….it was awesome but I may have to rethink that one.

    I wonder if they'd leave the rice out and double the beans?!? That's probably the biggest carb factor.

  10. CHIPOLTLE!! I get a basic bowl (no lettuce) and double the chicken, add in the black beans, add in cheese, and have the sour cream on the side. I wind up getting served enough for 2 1/2 meals, but at least I'm getting good digestible food

  11. Hey…you can ask. 🙂

  12. Sarah, I love Burrito Bowls! I get mine without rice, double beans, chicken and the rest of it. I have guac on the side and I split mine with the youngest Diva. I am not a big fan of leftovers. I always seem to prowl them when I'm not supposed to.

  13. I travel for a living and I am always in airport. It is amazing how far they have come in their selection in the airport. I can stop at a CIBO Express And find cheese and hard boiled eggs and salad. AU BON PAIN also has a nice selection of soups if you are careful about which you choose. Often you i can get beef stew or chicken stew. I know it is not the same as eating the foods we carefully make for ourselves, but for me it is a way of life in a job that is 100% travel.

  14. I travel for a living and I am always in airport. It is amazing how far they have come in their selection in the airport. I can stop at a CIBO Express And find cheese and hard boiled eggs and salad. AU BON PAIN also has a nice selection of soups if you are careful about which you choose. Often you i can get beef stew or chicken stew. I know it is not the same as eating the foods we carefully make for ourselves, but for me it is a way of life in a job that is 100% travel.

  15. I have good luck with the chicken and green beans from Panda Express. No rice. If you get the Panda Bowl, it's just the entree over rice or veggies, and it's enough for two meals for me.

  16. I try to do Veggie Burgers grilled if they have them or burger protein style(wrapped in lettuce)( In and Out and Carl's Jr offer them). Subway a quarter of a sandwich on flat bread, make it a meal with milk and apples but I usually can only do the sandwich. or El Pollo Loco kids menu of 2 chicken legs and either mashed potatoes or beans and milk or fountain drink is they have SF lemonade.

  17. Starbucks bistro boxes have been a lifesaver for me while traveling on business. The protein box and the chicken and hummus box have some pretty acceptable (for me ) food choices. Starbucks is everywhere, and it has been really easy to grab and go, especially in airports!

  18. I have found that if I am travelling and need to eat I can easily find a Panera or a Subway or some place of the like that serves (IMO) real food instead of resorting to McDs or BK. Even Dunkin Donuts works for me in a pinch, their wake-up wrap is one of my go-to breakfasts when I can't eat before driving into work.

  19. Amen for posting this! So many "forums" and "people" will preach about the evils of fast food. Yes, if you are eating a burger and fries, it is not healthy…but we can make good choices there! I have 2 little children and sometimes McDonald's wins. I will either get a salad with grilled chicken and no dressing or one of the bistro chicken sandwiches (in Canada), and I don't eat the bun. When in doubt, almost anywhere we end up, I order a grilled chicken sandwich, throw out the bun, scrap off most of the mayo (yes, I do leave a little) and eat the chicken, tomato and lettuce. Thank you for posting the realities of our world and putting it in perspective!

  20. Hi Ally,

    I think my larger point is that it isn't resorting. There are healthy choices at these places and folks may not know it. I listed the restaurants I listed because they all have a bad rep in people's minds but they've been working on healthier choices!

    I can find something I can adapt almost anywhere. But if I happen upon a McD's or a Wendy's or the like, it's good to know there is something there that won't ruin my plan!

  21. when i would go to taco bell during the mushy phase i would get the pintos n cheese also and have them add a scoop of beef (or you can do chicken) that way i had extra protein. When i go to McDs i just get a piece of grilled chicken (instead of a sandwich you can order just a piece of the grilled chicken)

  22. This is pretty old, obviously, but Arby's is much better if you don't get something with cheese. They're advertising sliders now, which would make a good portion for me and my pouch now, but it has a bunch of nasty swiss cheese on it. A regular Roast Beef sandwich doesn't have the cheese, and is mighty tasty.

  23. When I go to McDonalds I get a side salad, then ask for a grilled chicken breast on top. I either get a Paul Newman’s Low Fat Italian or Low Fat Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing packet…It’s a great choice!

  24. When I go to Friendlys, I get a hamburger patty or turkey patty in a lettuce wrap with onion and tomato. Very good and a good choice!

  25. McDonald’s side salad with grilled chicken breast is a good choice with Paul Newman’s Low Fat Italian or Balsamic Dressing…. Great choice actually!

  26. I have got a bean and cheese burrito from taco bell I mainly eat the beans and cheese and only have of the shell… but if I could eat the whole thing I think I read it’s 290 calories