By Christine Ruggeri
We've all been there. You're on a road trip or things are just so busy, it sneaks up on you. It's dinnertime. You're hungry and there are limited options.
Thankfully, you can still stay in ketosis even though you're in a pinch and need to settle on something quick and maybe not-so-healthy. Believe it or not, there are plenty of keto fast food restaurants offering menu items that are keto-friendly and won't derail your efforts.
We all know that eating fast food regularly comes with some serious side effects, but it's comforting to know that when there are no other options, you can make it work at these spots.
Related: How the Keto Diet Works
What Is Keto Fast Food?
Keto fast food includes items that are naturally very low in carbs and at least semi-nutritious. Many fast food establishments will have salad options, so that’s always a good starting point. Adding protein to your greens is an excellent way to make the meal for filling, without the need for those french fries or even the bun.
Something to look out for in fast food spots is the condiments. Ketchup and salad dressings contain added carbohydrates, so they should really be avoided. It may sound odd, but it’s a great idea to keep a small container of olive oil or avocado oil with you when you know that stopping at a fast food restaurant is possible.
12 Best Places to Order Keto Fast Food
1. Panera Bread
Panera bread scored a grade "A" in a recent report that focused on antibiotic use in fast food restaurant meats. Over 90 percent of all the meat and poultry sold at Panera are raised without antibiotics. That means that you can order animal proteins without the fear of adverse side effects from antibiotics and other additives.
So if you're in a pinch and can get to a Panera Bread for a quick keto-friendly meal, go for a salad with non-starchy veggies and protein — like the Seasonal Greens salad with added grilled chicken and avocado. Skip the standard salad dressing and request plain olive oil or avocado oil instead.
Chipotle is one of the best casual restaurants because it's one of only two national chains (Panera is the other one) that publicly declared they would serve only non-GMO foods. The food you get at Chipotle is sourced from farms and not factories, and the meats are raised sustainably and humanely.
If you're looking to stay in ketosis and need to find something quick and easy to eat, find a chipotle and order a salad with grass-fed beef and fajita veggies. You can also add a small amount of black or lima beans, which contain about 12–13 net carb grams per half-cup.
This fast food joint is based around made-to-order salads, so it's definitely considered keto-friendly fast food. There are a ton of options that fall within the keto diet guidelines, including their Palm Beach Salad, which is served with avocado, cucumbers, hearts of palm and tomato.
But one of the best things about Chopt is that you can customize your own salad, so opt for those to-go keto foods, like leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, celery, cucumber, fresh herbs, avocado, egg and animal protein. For dressing, choose olive oil, olive oil with lemon juice or fresh squeezed lime.
4. Elevation Burger
When you are looking for keto fast food, Elevation Burger is a great option. Their burgers are made with 100 percent organic grass-fed, free-range beef. They have organic chicken burgers available, too.
When ordering, skip the bun and get the burger wrapped in lettuce instead. You can even add guacamole, tomato and a little bit of cheese.
Need a fast food keto lunch? If your only option is a place like Wendy's, you can make-do by ordering one of their low-carb salads, like the Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad (skipping the unhealthy bacon).
You can also choose the grilled chicken sandwich or single hamburger, but nix the bun. Adding extra greens, tomato and pickles can help to make this more fulfilling.
At Subway, there's a lengthy selection of chopped salads that are keto friendly. Go for the oven roasted chicken, steak and cheese, roast beef or turkey breast salads. To make the salad for filling, load up on non-starchy veggies, like peppers, tomatoes, radishes and cucumber.
While we don't recommend eating McDonald's whenever you have other options, it is possible to eat a keto fast food breakfast when you are in a bind. Go for the steak, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, but skip the biscuit.
If you're looking for lunch or dinner, opt for the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad that's made with a blend of greens and veggies. And use lime juice for your dressing.
8. Carl's Jr.
Another keto fast food option that can work when you're in a bind is Carl's Jr. They've got a Charbroiled Chicken Salad that's made with chicken, tomato, red onion, iceberg lettuce and cheese. Go light on the cheese and skip the croutons to make this keto-friendly. And if plain olive oil isn't available, go very light on the available salad dressing.
You also have the option of ordering a charbroiled burger or chicken sandwich and skipping the bun. To make these dishes more satiating, add hot sauce or pico de gallo for more flavor.
You're stuck at a Chick-fil-A and don't want to throw off your keto diet? Guess what — this fast food spot also has a pretty good looking salad menu.
Go for the Spicy Southwest Salad with grilled chicken on and top. Or the Market Salad is another good option. It comes with berries, which you can eat in smaller amounts occasionally and still stay in ketosis.
Are you hungry and the only place that's around is a Starbucks? No problem. Make your own keto coffee. Go for a "tall" black coffee and add a tablespoon of coconut oil, grass-fed butter or even collagen powder. If you don't have these extra healthy-fats on hand, then enjoy the coffee as is.
When it comes to food, go for the egg and cheese Protein Box. It comes with two cage-free hard boiled eggs that should fill you up a bit. Then eat just a bit of what's left until you feel satisfied. There's also cheese, grapes, apple and peanut butter. Skip the bread and only have a little of the fruit.
11. Taco Bell
They have a "Power Menu" at Taco Bell, which has a few choices of burrito bowls and burritos with veggies. When you're forced to go keto fast food style, your best bet is to customize your own bowl — loading up on lettuce, grilled chicken and guacamole. Then ask for a smaller portion of black beans and cheese. And to top it off, go for the pico de gallo and fresh lime if it's available.
12. Burger King
If you need to find a keto lunch at Burger King, go for the Garden Side Salad and a whopper or chicken sandwich. Skip the bun and add the protein to your salad to make it more filling. And watch out for the dressing — just use what you need if plain olive oil or lemon juice isn't available.
Keto Diet Ordering Tips
You'd hate to come out of ketosis because you're in a bind and only have fast food options. It's going to be okay — you have plenty of choices, believe it or not. Just remember the following keto diet ordering tips:
- Check out the salad menu, but go simple. Skip the options with all the high-carb extras. You can always get a plain garden salad and add a burger right on top to make it more satisfying.
- Skip the bun. And if they'll accommodate, ask for extra lettuce, tomato and pickles instead. You can make your own lettuce wrap with the protein.
- Avoid anything fried or breaded. Go for the grilled proteins and skip the fries.
- Always get the dressing on the side and use just a small amount. If the place has olive oil, lemon juice or lime juice, get that instead.
- Ask to customize. Extra grilled chicken on your salad will make it more filling. Extra veggies instead of beans or cheese will work too. It doesn't hurt to ask for what you want.