Fast food has its perks. It’s normally pretty cheap. And as the name implies, the meals arrive swiftly: perfect for those times when we just have to eat. Plus, burgers, fries, shakes and chicken nuggets taste great. But many of our favorite quick-service selections come with a catch – in terms of calories and fat. For this and other reasons, then, you might want to pass on the following 20 fast-food favorites…
20. Stick to coffee-flavored coffee
What’s your go-to coffee order? Well, if it tastes like something other than coffee, then you might have a problem. Think about it: sweet hazelnut, caramel, vanilla or toffee tastes don’t appear naturally in coffee. No, Starbucks and other coffee shops create them with flavored syrups, which have lots of sweeteners and little nutritional substance.
That’s why certified personal trainer Laura Arndt suggests skipping flavored beverages altogether. In fact, she told the website HealthyWay that consumers should order coffee “plain, with skim or low-fat milk, and add [their] own flavoring.” So, next time, skip the super-sweet syrups they have behind the counter and sprinkle natural cinnamon into your cup instead.
19. Tuna salad has a ton of calories
Fried potatoes, shakes and cheese-slathered burgers — you know these things aren’t the best for your body. But seafood has plenty of known benefits, such as cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids. So when you opt for a tuna salad sandwich as you cruise through the drive-thru, you probably feel like you’ve made a healthy choice.
Unfortunately, though, fast-food tuna often doesn’t have as many health benefits to offer you. In 2012, for instance, Forbes magazine stated that anonymous chain restaurant employees had said their fish arrived in bags. The workers then dumped the water or oil from the bags before adding mayonnaise – sometimes at a one-to-one ratio with the tuna. So sandwiches stuffed with this tuna mayo aren’t as sinless as they may seem.
18. Baked isn’t always better
KFC stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken – but that’s not all that this chain restaurant serves. For one thing, it doles out the Chunky Chicken Pot Pie. The recipe brings together green peas, carrots, potatoes, chicken and gravy beneath a flaky crust. The savory pastry is also pre-baked so it’s hot and ready when you’re craving comfort food.
The Chunky Chicken Pot Pie isn’t as innocent as it seems, though. A single serving actually contains 720 calories and a whopping 41 grams of fat. Plus, the ingredients list features flavor-enhancer MSG (monosodium glutamate), which some consumers say boosts their appetites post-meal. The food also contains triglycerides – fats that can spike your cholesterol levels. These substances have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, too.
17. Smoothies can be too sweet
Fruit is good for you, ergo a bowl of blended fruit should be equally as healthy, right? The Jamba Juice Chunky Strawberry Bowl has plenty of body-bettering ingredients, too. Not only does it feature fresh bananas, but it also has Greek yogurt and peanut butter. You even get 12 grams of fiber and 19 grams of protein per bowl.
However, the Chunky Strawberry Bowl comes with one huge downfall: it’s jam-packed with sugar. According to website Eat This, a single serving has 58 grams of the sweet stuff – the same amount you’d get from eating more than a dozen Oreos. So even though much of that sugar comes from fruit, the bowl doesn’t have enough protein or fiber to balance out the rush.
16. Don’t dress your salad
Many fast-food salads come with a full slate of healthy ingredients. And a drizzle of dressing over the top ties the whole bowl together. Personal trainer Arndt told HealthyWay that there’s a simple reason why chain restaurants tend to pour their dressings generously, too. Simply put, they taste really good.
However, salad dressings can ruin an otherwise healthy fast-food bowl. Arndt suggested, “Always get the dressing on the side and add in only a limited amount.” That way, you can control the additional calories and fats that come with such sauces. Best of all, a moderate amount of dressing will give you all the flavor you need to enjoy your fast-food salad.
15. Domino’s Cali Chicken Bacon Ranch is a bad bet
Domino’s has a whopping 11,000 locations dotting the world. So it’s safe to say that the pizza chain slings quite a few pies. Internationally, in fact, all of the Domino’s franchises combined prepare roughly 1.5 million pizzas a day for their consumers. In the U.S., that adds up to about 400 million pizzas sold per year, according to Forbes.
No matter where in the world you’re ordering Domino’s from, though, you might want to skip the Cali Chicken Bacon Ranch pie. The hand-tossed pizza packs 520 calories and 26 grams of fat per slice. Worse yet, the same portion contains half of your daily sodium intake quota and 0.5g of trans fat. The latter substance can damage your heart health in excessive quantities.
14. Breakfast is brought to you by butter
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day – and that means you probably deserve more than a fast-food version. After all, many quick-service chains have some sort of morning platter that features sausage or bacon, eggs, hash browns and biscuits. It sounds tasty – and maybe even well-balanced – but don’t be deceived by these rapidly served meals.
According to certified personal trainer Hope Pedraza, everyone should “take a closer look” at fast-food breakfast platters. She told HealthyWay that in most cases “everything on the plate has been cooked with a ton of butter.” Plus, these meals tend to come with “more fat than you should have in your entire day.” So opt for something lighter, like a breakfast wrap or a smaller sandwich.
13. Skip the shake
Everyone should indulge from time to time – just make sure your choice of sweet is worth it. That’s why you should ask before ordering a milkshake at a fast-food restaurant to ensure they use real ice cream. Otherwise, you could be getting something entirely different – and we promise you don’t want to be eating it.
An anonymous former fast-food employee spoke to Forbes and said that their one-time employer used a mix rather than real ice cream. Worse yet, the workers were reportedly told to gather up the run-off from the machine and re-use it later in the week. Yet even if a restaurant operates in a more sanitary fashion than this, you should still opt for fresh milkshakes over ones that pour out of a designated machine.
12. Don’t dip your nuggets in ketchup
It’s hard to imagine a fast-food meal without a bit of ketchup. Tomato sauce is the perfect condiment to slather onto your burgers, after all, and your nuggets don’t taste the same without you plunging them into ketchup first. Sadly, though, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing – even when it comes to your dips.
Like many consumers, you perhaps grab a handful of ketchup packets after ordering a McDonald’s. Yet each one adds 90 milligrams of sodium and two grams of sugar to your meal as well as ten calories. And it’s notoriously hard to stick to using a single packet. This means your ketchup habit can seriously spike your sodium and sugar intake during each fast-food meal.
11. Crazy Bread? Crazy idea
Little Caesars started in 1959 as a single pizza joint in Detroit. Nowadays, though, there’s at least one franchise in all 50 states as well as in 26 territories and countries beyond U.S. borders. Fans of the eatery check in for the pizzas, of course – but the Crazy Bread is also a beloved item on the menu.
Former staffers suggest avoiding the Crazy Bread when eating at Little Caesars, though. As the website Delish shared, one anonymous employee claimed that the eatery slathered “tons of day-old butter” onto the famous breadsticks. Not only is that unappetizing, but you probably also don’t want to snack on something with so much hidden butter.
10. Coleslaw isn’t always the healthiest side
You might not always want fries with your burger – but don’t opt for coleslaw just because it seems healthier than its starchy counterpart. The version you make at home is probably packed with healthy ingredients brought together by a sensible dollop of (perhaps even low-calorie) mayonnaise. But your favorite fast-food joint probably can’t say the same.
It’s the mayonnaise that tends to be the problem when it comes to coleslaw. For instance, KFC’s take on the side option comes in at a whopping 170 calories. As nutritionist and registered dietitian Susan Stalte told HealthyWay, “[Coleslaw] can be almost as many calories as a meal.” Meanwhile, Chick Fil A removed coleslaw from its menu in 2016 – but not before releasing the surprisingly mayonnaise-and-sugar-laden recipe.
9. Say “no” to A&W gravy
You have a lot of menu items to sift through if you visit A&W. After all, it’s not just root beer for which the brand has become famous. The fast-food restaurants also serve up floats as well as hot dogs, burgers, chicken fingers and more. If you happen to pop into a Canada-based franchise, though, we suggest you skip the gravy.
A former A&W employee revealed to Delish that the eatery’s gravy has a secret ingredient – one that you may wish you had never found out. Apparently, chefs pour a full ladle of oil from the chicken fryer into the vat of gravy. The staffer remarked, “It’s really quite gross.” We can’t help but agree.
8. Subway can leave you extra salty
In the early 2000s Subway earned a reputation as the fast-food spot for health-minded diners. Some people even followed the Subway diet, eating the subs daily as part of a weight-loss plan. After a closer look at the subs and their ingredients, however, you’ll find they’re not necessarily as healthy as once imagined.
All processed meats, including cold cuts, can boost a person’s risk of developing cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. On top of that, these slices contain blood pressure-spiking levels of sodium, meaning a six-inch Subway cold cut combo could have nearly half of your daily recommended intake. So you might want to grab your sandwiches from somewhere else – or whip them up at home.
7. Chipotle tacos don’t offer the best value
Chipotle gets a lot of points when it comes to the quality of its ingredients. The company has made it its mission to work closely with farmers to ensure they treat the environment and their animals with respect. For instance, Chipotle sources free-range meat from animals that have not been given hormones.
One Chipotle item skimps on all of this goodness, though. A former employee told Delish that you should “never ever ever order the tacos.” That’s because, they said, the smaller shells can only hold “less than half the regular portions.” Elsewhere, burritos can pack more than 1,400 calories per portion. So opt for a bowl instead.
6. Orange you glad you didn’t order the chicken
Among the fast-food, Asian-inspired options on the Panda Express menu, one reigns supreme: the orange chicken. One employee told Delish that the dish stands as the restaurant’s most popular offering. And yet there’s a little detail about its preparation that’ll have you thinking twice about ordering it next time you visit.
Supposedly, Panda Express won’t whip up a new batch of orange chicken if its latest vat starts to dry up. Instead, staffers pour uncooked sauce on top of the meat so that it’s re-moisturized. Worse yet, Delish’s source said that their manager told them to perform the task when consumers weren’t looking. You can do better; find somewhere to buy fresh orange chicken instead.
5. Beware of a blended beverage
If you feel like there’s a Starbucks on every corner, you’re not far off. Worldwide, the coffeehouse has more than 30,000 locations, from which it doles out its ever-popular Frappuccino drinks. The blended beverages have raked in billions of dollars for the brand – they’re that popular.
Don’t let the Frappuccino become your go-to drink from Starbucks, though. A venti Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino, for instance, carries nearly 600 calories and 100 grams of sugar. Nutrition coach Janis Isaman explained to HealthyWay that while fast-food burgers may have the same calorie content, they at least come with some redemptive nutrients. As for blended beverages, Isaman said, “I simply don’t see the nutritional value in any of these drinks.”
4. Spilling the tea on Jimmy John’s
Jimmy John’s has made a name for itself in plenty of ways. For one thing, it promises to bring its clients fresh sandwiches with “Freaky Fast” delivery. In some cases, that means you will be chowing down in as little as four minutes after placing your order.
Yet while Jimmy John’s makes fast delivery a priority, it reportedly tends to ignore other in-store tasks. One employee revealed to Delish that the iced tea has a shelf life of eight hours. But, the source said, their opening managers brew a batch when they open at 5:00 a.m. and use it until closing at 10:00 p.m. The staffer claimed, “By the time we dump it at night, it has a thick, syrupy consistency and smells absolutely horrible.” We think that’s reason enough to skip the tea.
3. Grilled chicken isn’t so great
Fast-food restaurants know that you want options aside from burgers. So many of them have added grilled chicken patties into the mix. And you might opt for a poultry patty instead of one made of red meat because it seems so much healthier than its beef-based counterpart. Unfortunately, though, you’ll now have to think again.
An anonymous fast-food employee revealed one restaurant’s cooking methods to Forbes. They said, “To keep [chicken] from sticking to the grill, we use three squirts of margarine on the bottom of it. To keep it juicy, once we’ve lain the frozen blocks of chicken, three more squirts of liquid margarine are applied to the tops.” In other words, you’re “butter” off skipping the grilled chicken.
2. McDonald’s ice cream is almost worth the wait
We say worth the wait because, let’s face it, McDonald’s ice cream machines don’t have the best reputation. The fact that they’re often broken – thus rendering consumers unable to order cones and McFlurries – has become an internet meme. If you’re lucky enough to find a McD’s with a working machine, though, skip the dipped cones.
At first, it seems perfect. The only thing better than ice cream, after all, is ice cream covered in a chocolate shell. However, one employee alleged via Reddit that their McDonald’s location left the dipping chocolate out all day long. They wrote, “The top layer will congeal, and they just mix [it] back up and still use it.” No one wants dirty chocolate, so stick to plain cones if you want to indulge.
1. If the name Monster Thickburger isn’t a hint…
In 2004 the executives at Hardee’s responded to fast-food consumers’ desire for lighter options by… introducing the Monster Thickburger. The massive pile-up replaced the previously popular Monster burger, enticing eaters with even more meat – two 1/3-pound Angus patties and four strips of bacon, to be exact.
All of that Monster Thickburger meat melds with three slices of cheese, mayonnaise and a buttered bun. Altogether, these ingredients carry an unbelievable 1,340 calories as well as a shocking 96 grams of fat. Plus, you’ll get double your daily recommended intake of sodium from the burger, too. Needless to say, you should probably pass on this stack of patties.
Considering a fast-food menu can be a nostalgic affair, mind you. Most of us have probably been to McDonald’s enough times to know the menu by now, for instance. The fast-food chain thrives on keeping things simple, with a handful of staple items sold alongside the odd limited promotion. But over the years, everything from McPizza to McHotDogs have been tested, rolled out and subsequently thrown under the Golden Arches, often never to be heard from again. And these menu items are frequently so crazy that we can’t believe anyone ever took them seriously.
20. Mulan Szechuan Sauce
In 1998 McDonald’s launched a tie-in promotion for Disney’s then-new film Mulan, adding Szechuan sauce to the menu. Nineteen years later, the sauce was featured in the hit animated series Rick and Morty, and so McDonald’s ran a one-day return in October 2017. Unfortunately, though, supplies were so limited that police were called to at least one restaurant to quell angry fans as they collectively chanted, “We want sauce!”
19. The Hula Burger
Back when McDonald’s was only just becoming a household name, owner Ray Kroc found himself with a dilemma in heavily religious areas in the U.S., where many Catholics were not eating meat on Fridays. Kroc’s solution? The Hula Burger – a bun filled with grilled pineapple and cheese. Unsurprisingly, the similarly meat-free Filet-o-Fish performed much better, and the reportedly unappetizing Hula Burger was canned.
Unless you frequent McDonald’s restaurants along Canada’s east coast, you may not have been aware that the McLobster was actually a regular on the summer menu. Until 2017, that is, when the roll was discontinued thanks to the rising price of lobster. Yes, while nearby restaurants simply raised their own prices to cover the cost, McDonald’s chose to do away with the commercial crustacean altogether.
17. Onion nuggets
If you can believe it, chicken wasn’t actually McDonald’s’ first choice for a nugget filling. You see, in the 1970s the chain rolled out onion nuggets to four different locations. The response? Well, clearly not good enough to warrant making the delectable treats a standard menu item. We’ll keep our onions in ring form, thanks.
McDonald’s first added McPizza to its line-up in the 1980s, but thanks to the 11-minute preparation time, it didn’t stick around for long. Think about it: have you ever waited that long for anything in Maccy D’s? Eleven minutes is not “fast.” That said, two individual McDonald’s restaurants, in Ohio and West Virginia, continued to offer McPizza to anyone willing to travel for it. Today, though, there’s only one branch of the Golden Arches still serving this culinary creation, so if you want a slice of the action you’ll have to head to Orlando, Florida.
15. Chopped Beefsteak Sandwich
The precursor to the fabled McRib, the Chopped Beefsteak Sandwich didn’t have quite the same impact as its pork-based counterpart when it launched in the late 1970s. Perhaps that’s because it was basically just a hamburger in a different dress, arriving in a rectangular bun instead of the classic round shape of the Big Mac. Either way, though, it never made McDonald’s history – unlike the popular McRib.
McDonald’s had enjoyed a long and prosperous history largely off the back of a menu derived from chicken and beef. But in the early 1990s the burger behemoth decided to introduce an Italian element to its menu. Yes, spaghetti – with the option of meatballs – plus fettucine alfredo and lasagna were rolled out in a handful of stores across the U.S. Six months later, however, the test was over, and McPasta never returned.
It may go down in history as the worst fast-food PR gaffe of all time – and if not, it’s definitely up there. Yes, we’re talking about the fabled McAfrika, which McDonald’s unveiled in 2002 to a momentous backlash. Even worse, the burger was launched in Norway – one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Meanwhile, 12 million Africans were starving. It’s therefore not surprising that the fast-food giant was accused by many of insensitivity.
Ray Kroc may have perfected the fast-food business model with hamburgers and French fries. But what about hot dogs? Well, in 1977 he essentially ruled them out of ever appearing on the menu. That decree didn’t last forever, though, and McDonald’s has indeed tested the McHotDog in a number of markets. Still, as of yet that’s as far as it’s gone…
11. McLean Deluxe
Despite its grand title, the McLean Deluxe contained around 11 percent less fat in its meat than a regular burger. Hailed in the early ’90s as a healthy alternative care of McDonald’s, the menu item was quickly rolled out across virtually every restaurant in America. But once the initial hype had died down, the burger flopped just as swiftly, potentially thanks to long wait times, a weird flavor, high prices or a combination of the above.
10. McSalad Shakers
Long before hipster restaurants had latched on to the idea of eating meals from slabs of stone rather than plates, McDonald’s was serving salads in plastic cups. The idea was that you could shake the salad to allow the dressing to disperse evenly. But in 2003, three years after it had been introduced, McDonald’s canned the gimmicky health food in favor of its Premium Salads.
There’s a reason why some McDonald’s staple menu items have stood the test of time. Most, like the Big Mac, are just quintessential fast-food choices. But you know what isn’t a quintessential fast-food choice? French bread stuffed with various fillings. That was the genius behind “McStuffins,” which were tested at three restaurants in 1993 – and seemingly never heard from again…
8. Triple-Double Burger
Have you ever heard a more ridiculous name for a burger? Well, the ’90s were apparently all about “bigger is better,” and McDonald’s naming conventions followed that logic perfectly. In reality, the Triple-Double Burger was three patties and two slices of cheese stuck between a sesame seed roll – perhaps not quite as impressive as the name might suggest.
7. Shanghai McNuggets
Ever tried eating chicken nuggets with chopsticks? Well, that’s exactly what McDonald’s tried to peddle in the ’80s with their Shanghai McNuggets. Essentially, they were just regular nuggets – but with mustard, sweet-and-sour and teriyaki sauces and, of course, chopsticks. And whether due to poor sales or just cultural insensitivity potentially approaching the level of the McAfrika, they didn’t stick around for long.
6. Chicken Fajitas
Adding to the growing number of attempts that McDonald’s has made at exotic food, at one point you could order Mexican food from the Golden Arches. And we’re not just talking about jalapenos on a burger – but instead, actual, straight-up chicken fajitas. Yes, the ’90s were a strange time. Nowadays, you’ll only find much simpler wraps at Maccy D’s.
5. Mighty Wings
A more recent McDonald’s misadventure came in the form of Mighty Wings – the spicy chicken wings that were eventually sold at a discount just to shift them. Yes, in 2014 then-CEO Don Thompson admitted that the item had been a flop. The premium price, strange appearance and intense spice were apparently too much for the restaurant’s clientele.
McDonald’s’ first-ever menu item to be named after a real person landed in the early ’90s and was dubbed the “McJordan.” And in case it wasn’t obvious, yes, the hamburger was named in honor of basketball legend Michael Jordan. Alas, though, it was only rolled out in a handful of Midwest locations – but its popularity apparently endured. In fact, in 2012 an expired jug of the burger’s BBQ sauce sold for nearly $10,000 on eBay.
3. Fish McBites
In 2013 McDonald’s introduced a new menu item to Happy Meals for the first time in ten years. But just over a month later, it was pulled. Yes, poor sales meant that Fish McBites – McNuggets, essentially, but with fish instead of chicken – didn’t make it past the initial promotional period, which was intended to tie into Lent.
2. Fruit & Walnut Salad
Back in the mid-’00s, the McDonald’s healthy eating campaign was really gearing up. So while its competitors pumped out larger and fattier burgers, the Golden Arches instead lit up with, erm, a fruit and walnut salad. The option didn’t really blow anyone away, mind you, and it was eventually retired in 2013. Frankly, though, we’re surprised it lasted that long.
For those who wanted a bit more than the “large” option, Maccy D’s of course used to offer “supersize” menu items. According to the McDonald’s website, few people in the U.K. took the restaurant chain up on its mega-menu, mind you, leading to it being dropped there in 2001. In the U.S., on the other hand, the marketing move was dropped six weeks after the release of blockbuster documentary Supersize Me (2004), which raised serious health concerns about eating so much McDonald’s at once.