Here's Exactly What Registered Dietitians Order When They Go to McDonald's

Fast food is a big part of our culture. It's easy and quick, and you know exactly what to expect when you drive up. Fortunately, there are also some orders that get dietitians' stamps of approval.

But first, experts want to emphasize that the frequency of trips matters, and registered dietitians and nutritionists don't recommend being a McDonald's regular.

"I generally do not recommend frequenting McDonald’s due to the high levels of unhealthy fats, sodium, sugar and other additives present in most of their menu items," says Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for Consumer Health Digest.

But with that caveat out of the way, McDonald's happens, and one registered dietitian says an occasional trip to the Golden Arches doesn't have to be off the table.

"It’s not an everyday food for me, but it’s definitely a food I will enjoy once in a while," says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD, a registered dietitian. "There’s a comfort and reliability about McDonald's that feeds into the social and emotional aspect of eating."

Experts say that having a game plan can help you make a more nutritious choice.

"Having strategies for making nutritious choices at drive-thrus like McDonald's is essential for those looking to maintain a balanced diet," says Trista Best, RD, LD, MPH, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements. "Strategies might include researching menu items in advance, opting for grilled over fried items, choosing smaller portion sizes and avoiding sugary beverages."

Best says these strategies can help you make choices with health in mind while still having a convenient fast-food meal. Or, you can ask a dietitian. That's what we did.

Related: The Starbucks Beverage Dietitians Suggest You Steer Clear Of When Ordering

What To Order at McDonald's, According to Dietitians

An Egg McMuffin

Most experts we spoke with recommended an Egg McMuffin."The Egg McMuffin, in particular, is under 500 calories and provides you with 17 grams of protein," says Nia Rennix RD, MA, MSc, a dietitian, nutritionist and founder of The Rennix Weigh.

Another dietitian agrees. "Coming in at 310 calories, [the Egg McMuffin is] one of the lower-calorie options on McDonald’s current menu," says Brittany Werner, MS, RDN from the nutritional program Working Against Gravity. "More importantly, the balance of macronutrients is on point, with 13 grams of fat, 30 grams of carbs and 17 grams of protein in each sandwich."

Oatmeal with fruit

Not into eggs? Rennix says oatmeal with fruit (320 calories) is another good option.

A Happy Meal

Prepare to feel a little nostalgic. Experts agree that a Happy Meal is a good way to make your McDonald's trip a little healthier. But what should you choose? They're split between the burgers or McNuggets.

"At McDonald's, you can order a Happy Meal and get a regular cheeseburger with apple slices and a container of milk. That will get you about 23 grams of protein for less than 500 calories," says Emily Tills, MS RDN CDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Nourished with Emily, LLC.

Sauceda also doesn't have beef with ordering a burger during a one-in-a-while McDonald's trip. "I think the plain cheeseburgers are underrated," Sauceda says. "They are simple [and] hit the spot." Plus, when she has fries with her burger, she ditches the buns to balance out the carbs and protein.

Werner adds that cheeseburgers offer nutrients, explaining: "This classic menu item has 300 calories and a fairly balanced macro profile with 13 grams of fat, 32 grams of carbs and 15 grams of protein." Plus, you can save 50 calories by ordering a plain hamburger instead.

However, some pros prefer the McNuggets.

"I go through the McDonald's drive-thru about once a month," says Allie Echeverria, MS, RD, LD. She usually gets a 10-piece Chicken McNugget, but if she returns a second or third time, she downsizes rather than supersizes her order.

"If I’m going to be eating fast food more frequently, I switch to the Happy Meal version for smaller serving sizes," Echeverria explains.

Costa is a vegetarian but also recommends Chicken McNuggets for meat eaters dining at McDonald's, and she's squarely in the Happy Meal for grown-ups camp. The meal comes with the six-piece Chicken McNuggets, which have 250 calories, 15 grams of total fat, 15 grams of total carbs and 14 grams of protein.

"With a decent protein content and fewer refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and calories than a classic cheeseburger, the McNuggets are a slightly more balanced choice," Costa says. "However, eating these in moderation is vital due to their processed nature and lengthy ingredients list."

Don't forget the water

"When consuming fast food, especially items high in sodium like fries, water can help offset the salt's effects by aiding in maintaining proper fluid balance in the body," Best says. "It can also help quench thirst more effectively than sugary or calorie-laden beverages. Choosing water over soda or other sugary drinks is a smart choice for both nutritional and overall health reasons."

Related: You Are What You Eat! Nutritionists Say These Are the 18 Best Foods for Gut Health

Other Snacks To Grab When You're On the Go

Whether you're looking to avoid McDonald's or would like a side or snack other than fries, dietitians say having some easy road snacks on hand is a great idea.

"Options like apples, oranges, bananas, nuts and baby carrots are excellent choices," Best explains. "They provide essential nutrients, fiber and healthier fats, offering a better balance of nutrition compared to fried and processed foods. These snacks can help curb hunger and provide sustained energy, making them convenient and healthier alternatives for on-the-go munching."

Long story short: It's OK to eat at McDonald's sometimes, just try to limit your visits when you can and stick with the healthier options.

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