For those who eat low carb or ketogenic diets, there is almost always something they can eat at all fast food restaurants or places. Plan ahead. Before entering a restaurant, check its menu and nutritional information online at home or using your smartphone. It’s always good to know the safe options before you are tempted by menu items that 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 various restaurants and fast food places and those items I’ve found to be the lowest carb (and most emotionally satisfying) options. These aren’t all perfect options, but when you don’t have other options due to time or location constraints, they’ll do it in a pinch.
It helps that fast food places are necessary to post nutritional content. It’s easier to stick to the keto plan every day. The carb count I am listing is approximate and is NET grams.
In general, there is usually some salad option anywhere you are. At burger joints, just remove the bun, and many places offer lettuce wraps instead. The chicken should not be breaded.
As a side note, it helps to have a knife and fork handy in your car or purse. Big, juicy burgers on small pieces of lettuce end up on the table or on your lap. Small and flimsy fast food plastic containers also make feeding difficult. Get out your own sturdy utensils and enjoy!
Now for the food options … here are some pretty obvious rules of thumb to follow:
- Skip the bun or wrap
- Skip the pasta, potato, or rice.
- Salads, without croutons. Stick with the low-sugar dressing options: Caesar, blue cheese, ranch, chipotle. Look at the name that can give you a clue, things like “honey” in the honey dijon or “sweet” in the name of the dressing; these are generally not a good option. Check the ingredient for items that are higher in carbohydrates.
- Chicken – Choose grilled or sautéed. Stay away from any breaded chicken.
McDonald’s – opt for any hamburger (zero g) or grilled chicken (2 g) without the bun and topped with cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, onion, etc. No tomato sauce. Add a salad (3 g). Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad or Grilled Chicken Ranch Bacon Salad are 9g.
Burger King – the same hamburger information as McDonald’s: hamburger (zero g) without the bun and topped with cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, onions, etc. No tomato sauce. The tender grilled chicken sandwich without the bun is 3g. BEWARE: You might think the veggie burger is low, but it has 19g of carbs, making it about a full carb day on keto. Add a salad (3 g). Grilled Tender Chicken Salad is 8g without dressing or croutons. Tender chicken salad is not an option. Do not you dare.
BONUS – dessert!?! – fresh apple fries are not fried and have 5g net carbs WITHOUT caramel sauce.
Underground – You should probably skip the subway if you can. Buns and wraps are high in carbohydrates. I suppose you could have them dump the ingredients in a wrap without bread, but that doesn’t sound appealing. I don’t have information on what the carb count would be for each sub without muffin, but you can probably figure it out – chicken or pepperoni is fine, but is “sweet onion” chicken okay? No idea. Stick with salads, but keep in mind that you will only get iceberg lettuce (4g).
Carl’s Junior and Hardees – This chain offers “lettuce wrappers” – your burger wrapped in a large chunk of lettuce for easy low carb eating. (Like I said, I tried it and I don’t love it. I like to bring my own fork instead.) Bunless Options: Six Dollar Burger (7g), 1/2 Thick Burger (5g), Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich (7g / 10g at Hardees). Grilled chicken salad without croutons is 10 g. The salad is 3 g.
Jimmy John’s – The unwich, a sandwich wrapped in lettuce, fits perfectly here. Meats are fine, just make sure the ingredients aren’t high in carbohydrates.
Wendy’s – Again, you can get your burger in a lettuce wrap or box. Any hamburger with toppings. Mayo has corn syrup and is 1g. The grilled chicken fillet is 1 g. It can be ordered in the club chicken sandwich or the best grilled chicken 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 pizza without a crust. You need to eat twice as much, but if there’s a party or dinner you can’t avoid at a pizza place, just peel off the cheesy toppings and eat the big messy pile of cheese and toppings. A salad is a nice addition. Otherwise, opt to make pizza at home on a low carb base.
Mongolian barbecue – YES! Load up your bowl with chicken, shrimp, onion slices, and mushrooms, then top with the Asian Black Bean Dip. I know beans have carbs, but this sauce label says 1 gram of carbs per ounce (each sauce is clearly labeled). Add some garlic and wait for the rotisserie to do its job. Needless to say, you skip the appetizers, the tortillas, and the rice. Ask the waiters not to bring them to the table.
Italian restaurants – These require a bit of cunning, but can be conquered! Ideas: how about Chicken Marsala in an Italian place? Make sure it doesn’t come with pasta. Substitute for broccoli or some other keto garnish, or a large salad. The chicken piccata is also a possibility.
Mexican and Chinese restaurants are the hardest, because any low carb option is not the reason to go to the restaurant in the first place. At a Mexican restaurant, I tend to get a large beanless burrito and spread the tortilla smooth like a plate. Eat the internal ingredients and stir the tortilla.
If you MUST 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. What about the salad bar options? eggs? the inside of the egg rolls, and I even ate the inside of just crab Rangoons. Unfortunately, these ideas leave a lot of discarded shells and fried outer pieces on your plate and make it look like you’re really wasting food.
Wings anywhere – Standard buffalo sauce is usually fine, as well as garlic and Parmesan.
Convenience stores It can also be a good option! 7-11 has packets of hard-boiled eggs, cheese slices, slim jims, almonds, and pork rinds. The pork rinds have a barbecue flavor and are ZERO carbs.
Remember, whatever you choose, hold the bread, potatoes, rice, noodles, French fries, and tortillas. And watch out for the possibility of cornstarch, breadcrumbs, and other fillings. With proper planning and a good attitude, you can find healthy low-carb and ketogenic options when dining out and follow your successful ketogenic diet plan.