Low-Carb and Keto Diet Fast Food Menu Choices: How to Eat Successfully at Restaurants
For those on a low-carb or ketogenic diet, there is almost always something you can eat at any fast food joint or restaurant. plan ahead. Before entering a restaurant, check the menu and nutritional information online at home or with your smartphone. It’s always good to know the safe options before you’re tempted by menu items you shouldn’t have on a low-carb diet.
To make it easier to find a quick keto-friendly option, I’ve compiled a list of several restaurants and fast food joints and the items I’ve found to be the lowest carb (and most emotionally satisfying) choices. These aren’t all perfect options, but if you have no other choice due to time or location constraints, they’ll suffice in a pinch.
It’s a big help that fast food restaurants have to publish nutritional information. It’s getting easier to follow the keto plan every day. The carb number I list is approximate and is NET grams.
In general, there is usually a salad option everywhere. Just remove the bun at burger joints, and many places offer lettuce wraps instead. Chicken should not be breaded.
As a side note, it helps to have a knife and fork handy in the car or in your purse. Big, juicy burgers wrapped in tiny chunks of lettuce end up on the table—or in your lap. Small, flimsy fast-food plastic items also make eating difficult. Pull out your own sturdy paraphernalia and enjoy!
Now for food choices… here are some pretty obvious general rules to follow:
- Skip the bun or wrap
- Skip the pasta, potatoes or rice
- Salads – no croutons. Stick to low-sugar dressing options – Caesar, Blue Cheese, Ranch, Chipotle. Look at the name, which can give you a clue, things like “honey” in the honey dijon or “sweet” in the dressing name – these aren’t usually good choices. Check the ingredient for items with a higher carbohydrate content.
- Chicken – Choose grilled or sautéed. Stay away from breaded chicken.
MC Donalds – Opt for any burger (zero g) or grilled chicken (2 g) without the bun and topped with cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, onion, etc. No ketchup. Add a side salad (3g). The Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken or the Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken is 9g.
Burger King – Same burger info as McDonald’s: Burger (zero g) without a bun and topped with cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, onions, etc. No ketchup. The tender grill chicken sandwich without the bun is 3g. BEWARE – you might think the veggie burger is light, but it’s 19g of carbs, so that’s about a full day of carbs on keto. Add a side salad (3g). The Tendergrill Chicken Garden Salad is 8g with no dressing or croutons. The tender crunchy chicken salad is not an option. Don’t try.
BONUS – dessert!?! – the fresh apple fries are not fried and have 5g net carbohydrates WITHOUT caramel sauce.
Subway – You should probably skip subway if you can. The buns and wraps are all high in carbs. I guess you could just have them toss the ingredients in a bun-less package, but that doesn’t sound appealing. I don’t have any information on what the carb count would be for each bun without a bun, but you can probably figure it out – chicken or pepperoni is fine, but is chicken with “sweet onions” fine? No idea. Stick with the salads, but realize you only get iceberg lettuce (4g).
Carl’s Junior and Hardees – This chain offers “lettuce wraps” – your burger wrapped in a large piece of lettuce for an easy low-carb meal. (Like I said, I’ve tried it and I’m not thrilled. I prefer to carry my own fork instead.) Bunless options – Six dollar burger (7g), 1/2 Dickburger (5g), charbroiled chicken club sandwich (7g/10g for Hardees). Grilled chicken salad without croutons is 10 g. Side salad is 3g.
Jimmy Johns – The Unwich – a lettuce-wrapped sandwich – hits the spot here. Meat is fine, just make sure the ingredients aren’t high in carbs.
Wendy’s – Again, you can get your burger in a lettuce wrap or box. Each burger comes with toppings. Mayo has corn syrup and is 1g. The chicken grill fillet is 1 g. It can be ordered as a Chicken Club Sandwich or the Ultimate Chicken Grill Sandwich. Best Salads: Chicken Caesar (7g), blt Chicken Salad with grilled chicken. Side salads aer 6g or 2g for Caesar.
Pizza Hut and other pizzerias – It is possible to get used to eating crustless pizza. You have to eat twice as much, but if there’s a party or dinner you can’t avoid at a pizza joint, just shove off the cheesy toppings and eat the big messy pile of cheese and toppings. A side salad is a nice addition. Otherwise, just opt to make pizza with a low-carb crust at home.
Mongolian grilling – YES SIR! Fill your bowl with chicken, shrimp, sliced onion, and mushrooms, then top with Asian black bean sauce. I know beans have carbs, but that sauce label says 1 gram of carbs per ounce (each sauce is simply labeled). Add some garlic and wait for the grill to do its job. It goes without saying that you skip the appetizers, tortillas and rice. Ask the waiters not to bring them to the table.
Italian restaurants – These require a bit of cunning, but they can be conquered! Ideas: How about Chicken Marsala at an Italian eatery? Make sure it doesn’t come with pasta. Substitute broccoli or another keto-friendly side dish — or a large salad. Chicken piccata is also an option.
Mexican and Chinese restaurants are the hardest, because every low-carb option isn’t a reason to go to the restaurant at all. At a Mexican restaurant, I usually grab a large burrito with no beans and spread out the fluffy tortilla like a plate. Eat the inside ingredients and toss the tortilla.
If you NEED to go to a Chinese buffet (I attended a funeral dinner at one) You can find options, but they probably won’t be your favorite General Tso dishes. What about the selection of salad bars? eggs? the insides of spring rolls, and I even ate just the insides of crab rangoons. Unfortunately, these ideas leave quite a pile of discarded shells and fried outer pieces on your plate, making it seem like you’re actually wasting food.
wings everywhere – Standard buffalo sauce is usually fine, as is garlic parmesan
convenience stores can also be a good option! 7-11 has packs of hard boiled eggs, cheese boards, slim jims, almonds, and pork rinds. Pork rinds have a barbecue flavor and are ZERO carbs.
Remember, whatever you choose, keep bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, fries, and tortillas. And watch out for the possibility of cornstarch, breadcrumbs, and other fillers. With the right planning and a good attitude, you can find healthy keto and low-carb options when eating out and stick to your successful keto diet plan.
Thanks to Katherine Palmer