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Make Healthy Fast Food Choices for Less than $5

When given the choice, cooking meals yourself will always be healthier and less expensive than eating fast food burgers. But oh, how tasty—and cheap—those burgers are. So if you must drive through for dinner, here are five fast tips for saving money and eating better at the same time. Plus, get four fast food meal ideas that costless than $5. We’re not saying you can call the meals healthy, but hey, you probably already knew that.

1. Skip the soda; bring water instead. Not only do fountain drinks up the cost of your meal by $1-2, regular sodas are loaded with evil empty carbs. Also, fast food menus are loaded with sodium. Chasing your meal with plenty of water can help your body expel some of the unneeded salt more quickly.

2. Doubt the dollar menu. The advent of $1 menu items at numerous fast food chains has kept the restaurant chains’ business brisk and their customers’ waistlines tight. With some exceptions, like a single hamburger with no mayo, the stuff they sell for a buck is usually pretty bad for you.

3. Fear the fries. A Big Mac isn’t exactly a health food, but at least there’s some protein buried under the mountain of fattening special sauce. Fries, on the other hand, have lots of fat and no redeeming nutritional value.

4. Bring your own side: As an alternative to fries, onion rings, or a loaded baked potato, keep a stash of low fat granola bars, apples, unsalted almonds, or another healthy snack item in your car and eat it with your fast food sandwich.

5. Hold the sauce: Sauces and dressings can turn fairly nutrition salads and sandwiches into fatty calorie bombs. Skip dipping sauces for foods like chicken tenders, and opt for the healthiest salad dressing options available. Better yet, take the salad home and douse it with your own dressing of choice.

By bringing water instead of buying a soda, there are plenty of ways to eat nutritionally “acceptable” meals at fast food joints for less than $5.

Meal 1 (Wendy’s): Ultimate grilled chicken sandwich ($4;, 320 cal., 7g fat, 24g protein, 36g carbs) and side garden salad with light honey dijon dressing ($1; 130 cal., 5g fat, 2g protein, 24g carbs).

Meal 2 (Subway): Six inch turkey breast sub, with oil and vinegar ($4; 254 calories, 3.5g fat, 16g protein, 39g carbs).

Meal 3 (McDonald’s): McDonald’s hamburger ($1; 260 calories, 9g fat, 13g protein, 33g carbs) and fruit and Yogurt parfait with granola ($2; 160 calories, 2g fat, 4g protein, 31g carbs).

Meal 4 (Burger King): Whopper Jr., no mayo, no cheese ($1; 290 calories, 13g fat, 17g protein, 31g carbs) and garden salad ($1; 90 calories, 5g fat, 5g protein, 7g carbs).

Do you eat on the run cheaply but nutritiously? What are your tricks?

Published or updated on September 10, 2008

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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  1. Maggien says:

    Whenever I go to McD’s, I usually get a McDouble (same as a double cheese burger with only 1 slice of cheese) and Apple Dippers- both on the dollar menu, both somewhat healthy.

  2. Matthew says:

    why is there not anything about mcdonalds

  3. SavingDiva says:

    I’m glad to see that you don’t have a long list of the different types of salads each restaurant carries. My rule of thumb is to drink water and eat the smallest burger possible. It gives me a chance to eat at a fast food restaurant, but not feel too guilty :)

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