Fast Food for Around 500 Calories

By Jennifer Yoon, RDN/LDN, Breastfeeding Educator, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair



When fast food first came upon the culinary landscape, it was an occasional treat or part of a weekend night out. Now, with busy working families running around to activities, meals out have become far more frequent, and problematic. Since most people need around 1,500-2,000 calories per day, and most meals out add up to more than 1,000 calories, it’s not hard to figure out why Americans are putting on extra weight. I advise families who feel they must utilize fast food more than once a week to choose wisely, using a calorie goal of around 500. Here are some helpful tips for choosing well.

First, it must be said, you can have French fries, or you can have a burger, but unless you order a small burger (kids’ size, no cheese), and small fries, you can’t have both. French fries are very high in fat and, therefore, high in calories. A small order of McDonald’s fries is 230 kcal, medium is 340, and large is 510. The calorie levels of French fries at other fast food restaurants are similar. It is best to forego the fries if you hope to keep your calories around 500.

Choosing wisely also means avoiding foods that are breaded and fried. The Crispy Chicken sandwich at McDonald’s has 510 calories, which is comparable in calories to the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Though the perception seems to be Chick-Fil-A is healthier, their Chicken Sandwich is 500 calories also. Their 4-piece chicken strips are 470. The Grilled Chicken sandwich is 350 at McDonald’s and 310 at Chick-Fil-A. Couple that with a side salad for 160 calories or a fruit cup for 45 calories, rather than fries, and you’ve saved around 500 calories.

Chipotle is a popular choice for busy families. Because the tortilla alone is 320 calories, a bowl or salad is the way to go. From there, the final calorie count has everything to do with what you add in. Vegetarian Sofritas are the lowest calorie protein choice at 145, followed by Barbacoa at 165, and chicken at 180. Rice adds around 200 calories to the bowl, and beans add 120, therefore choosing one or the other may be necessary. If you have some calories left, cheese or  sour cream may be added for around 100calories apiece, or guacamole for  170. Salsa is low in calories and may be added freely. Be careful about ordering chips for 570 calories, or share them with the whole family.

Subway is a frequent recommendation. Many of their sandwiches are under 500 calories as advertised. However this is for a 6-inch sub, not foot-long. The veggie sub has the fewest calories at 230. The Spicy Italian and Meatball subs are 480 calories. Condiments add to the calorie count- mustard is calorie free, but all others add 40-100 calories to the sandwich. Mayonnaise, Ranch, and other creamy dressings should be avoided or used sparingly. Choose baked chips for around 120 calories over regular chips which are around 260.

Last but not least, is the Pittsburgh favorite — pizza. To eat less than 500 calories worth of pizza, crust thickness and toppings make a big difference. A slice of medium cheese pizza is 180 for thin crust, 210 for hand-tossed, and 240 for pan. A meat lover’s hand-tossed is 280 calories per slice. Stuffed crust is only available in a large and is 340 calories per slice. And Pizza Hut’s “Big New Yorker” is 550 calories per slice. The main issue with pizza is most people order large pizzas (more calories per slice) and do not stop at one or two slices. High fat meats such as sausage and pepperoni, stuffed crust, and extra cheese all add up fast. Order a medium pizza with thinner crust, a side salad, and serve with fruit for fewer calories and a more balanced meal.

There are, of course, many more food places to cover, but the general guidelines remain the same — avoid fried menu items, cut back on bread, choose salad or fruit as a side, and be careful with condiments and add-ons. Drinks add to the calorie total as well — water, diet soda, or unsweetened tea are the best options. Most restaurants must list calories, but if you want to know before you go, check out Please also see my article “Dinner Hacks for Busy Families” here.


*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer’s “Nutrition 4 Kids” column on The PediaBlog here.