The paleo diet is so deeply entrenched in the public consciousness by now, some might think it’s old hat (keto feels a touch more modern). But paleo adherents, like dieters in general, are still legion—and while purists would never dare set foot in a fast food joint, dabblers and casual practitioners continue to be frustrated by the lack of paleo options when it comes to dining out. Luckily for them, Chipotle just announced offerings that are paleo, Whole30, and keto appropriate.
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It’s worth noting that the paleo diet discourages highly processed foods in general, so whether any fast food ever can or should be called paleo is debatable, but for those times when you just can’t resist (or avoid) the drive-through, you can at least attempt to make better choices.
To that end, we’ve covered generally healthy fast food you can buy (and healthier versions of fast food you can make at home) in the past, but here are some paleo fast food options in particular that you can grab while you’re on the go. Note: They’re also all Whole30 compliant—although not all Whole30 options are paleo. (Maybe you should just scrap the whole diet thing and consider intuitive eating…)
Honestly, Chipotle has probably always been the top option when it comes to fast food that’s reasonably healthy and way less processed than is the norm. It’s not difficult to build your own paleo bowl, but they’ve taken all the guesswork out of the equation with their new “Lifestyle Bowls” (does that sound vaguely ominous to anyone else…?) The Paleo Salad Bowl contains “braised and hand-shredded Barbacoa, Fajita Veggies, Green Salsa, and our Hand-Mashed Guacamole on a bed of fresh chopped Romaine Lettuce.” No rice, cheese, or sour cream, of course, but you can always double up on the avocado if you’re feeling decadent.
Now that McDonald’s uses fresh beef for their Quarter Pounders, your best bet is to order one of those without the bun…or cheese…or condiments; you can have it wrapped in lettuce (with tomatoes and onions if you please) or maybe on a side salad, sans dressing. Technically, bacon is an okay addition, even though it’s more processed; perhaps better to call it a slippery slope. A plain grilled chicken breast will also work if you prefer poultry, but nuggets are out thanks to their breading. You can get fresh eggs at McDonalds too—you just have to ask. Allegedly, requesting a “round egg” is the way to go, but you may need to order it as part of a breakfast sandwich (depending on how draconian the particular location you visit); still, you can always ask them to hold the bun.
Know that both the chicken and the egg may be cooked in vegetable oil, which is a paleo no-no—but also maybe not that big a deal once in a while? The smell of the fries will be tempting, but if you want to stick to paleo strictures, you’ll have to resist. Reward yourself with a pack of apple slices from the menu if you wish.
Wendy’s (and Burger King, and Jack in the Box, and Carl’s Jr.)
Pretty much the same things go at any burger chain: salads are safe with nothing but fresh veggies—most, if not all, dressings are likely to contain corn syrup and other verboten ingredients (and the same is often true of even the ketchup and mustard). Burger patties and naked chicken breasts without buns, cheese, or condiments should also be okay, though not always. Many of these chains provide pretty detailed nutritional information online and/or on their menus, so you can be aware of net protein, carbs, etc., and sometimes even find hidden ingredients, which is helpful for anyone who enjoys facing stark reality—and making healthier food choices, of course.
Out of the bunch, Wendy’s has the most interesting salad options, like their Apple Pecan Chicken Salad; obviously you’d have to hold the blue cheese, but check that ingredients list and you’ll see that it’s still not paleo, as the roasted pecans are made with honey and added sugar, and the pomegranate dressing has sugar and soybean oil—even the innocuous-seeming grilled chicken is made with potato starch! And yet, this may be another case where you choose not to let perfect be the enemy of good (or at least good enough). Since white potatoes have been deemed admissible, while you’re at Wendy’s, feel free to have their relatively healthy baked potato, as long as you don’t put dairy on it—although clarified butter is okay, so you may seriously want to consider stashing travel-size packs of ghee in your glove compartment…
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This non-GMO ghee is paleo- and keto-friendly, not to mention great for those who are lactose intolerant, and you can take it with you wherever you go.
In the land of tortillas, cheese, and rice and beans, can a paleo participant find anything to eat? Yes. There may not be as many options as at Chipotle, but you can still order several combos of ingredients that fit the bill in a satisfying way. Take their Power Menu Bowl—you’ll have to replace the rice and beans with extra lettuce, skip the cheese and sour cream (ditto the avocado ranch sauce), but you can add paleo-friendly toppings like sliced jalapenos and extra pico and guac. If you’re feeling like red meat, swap in steak for the chicken. Fire sauce is acceptable for spicing it up.
This one’s easy: grilled nuggets and buffalo sauce. Yes, soybean oil, sugar, molasses, and grape juice concentrate all show up in the ingredients list for the nuggets alone, which means they are not strictly paleo, but they’re as good as you’re gonna get at this (and most other) chains. The buffalo sauce isn’t purely paleo either, but it’s the only one on the menu without corn syrup and soybean oil, so that’s something.
The namesake subs are obviously not paleo (because bread), but if Subway is your best or only option, they do offer several salads, which you can load up with extra veggies from their toppings bar, with oil and vinegar as dressing. You can add various meats like chicken and bacon too, but—to repeat the refrain—they may not be strictly paleo due to their cooking methods.
If you’re actually inside a fast food establishment in the first place, though, you’re probably okay with that. And if not, see some paleo recipes you can make at home.
Related Reading: A Paleo Meal Prep Guide to Keep You on Track All Week
Header image courtesy of Chipotle.