image source: McDonald's

Whether you’re pulling through a drive-thru during a road trip or you didn’t have time to pack your lunch in the morning, visiting your local McDonald’s is sometimes unavoidable.

But there are ways that you can create a delicious and nutritious meal – even at the Golden Arches.

Skip the Big Macs and the combo upgrades, and follow our tips for eating well at one of the most iconic fast food restaurants around the globe.

Tip #1: Start Small

Picture it: you go up to the counter or order at one of McDonald’s new electronic kiosks. The cashier (or the machine) asks you what size you want your combo to be. If you usually pick a large or medium, this can be a no-brainer…

But a large order of French fries can have 500 calories, according to the McDonald’s nutrition menu. And a large 32-ounce Coke? 310 calories!

When we order a larger size at a fast food joint, we tend to finish the portion – even if a smaller size could satisfy our hunger.

When you choose a McDonald’s combo, pick the smallest size to protect your calorie allowance.

A small order of fries has 230 calories, and a small Coke has 110 calories – picking a small combo over a large can save you 470 calories!

Tip #2: Choose Fresh Over Fried

While picking the smallest size on a combo item might save you calories, it probably won’t do you any favors in the nutrition department.

McDonald’s classic menu items, like their burgers, fries, and sodas, are loaded with sodium, saturated fat, and sugar.

A single Big Mac contains 540 calories and 10 grams of saturated fat, while a small order of fries is 230 calories and 160mg of sodium!

When choosing your food items, opt for the grilled and fresh versions instead of their crispy counterparts. Ask for your sandwiches without any sauces and request your salad dressing on the side – those creamy, fatty, mayo-based condiments can add a ton of extra calories.

Instead of choosing a greasy, deep-fried sandwich and side, try these fresher options instead.

  • Choose the Premium Grilled Chicken Classic Sandwich for your main, which clocks in at 360 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat. Pair it with a small side salad (20 calories) with a low-fat balsamic vinaigrette (40 calories), or a bag of apple slices if available.
  • For a complete meal, try any of the Premium Salads with grilled chicken, such as the Premium Southwest Salad (320 calories) and the Premium Bacon Ranch Salad (260 calories).
  • For your sweet fix or a quick breakfast, try the Fruit and Maple Oatmeal without brown sugar, which has 260 calories and 48 grams of carbs, or the Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait, which has 160 calories and 31 grams of carbs.

Tip #3: Rethink Your Drinks

One of the biggest calorie culprits at McDonald’s are the drinks. A large soda can easily cost you over 300 calories – and their smaller options aren’t much better.

In addition, McDonald’s milkshakes and McCafe options are loaded with added sugar and fat. A large iced coffee has 280 calories, 40 mg of cholesterol, and a whopping 7 grams of saturated fat – that’s 34% of our daily value from one drink alone!

Instead of choosing sugary, calorie-laden beverages, choose water. If you’re looking for something a bit more flavorful, follow these tips:

  • Diet sodas aren’t necessarily healthier. Instead, stick to unsweetened iced tea or water.
  • Take your coffee and tea black, and mix in your sweeteners and dairy yourself. You have greater control over the portions this way!
  • Can’t mix your coffee by yourself? Choose non-fat dairy and skip the sugar.
  • McDonald’s does have smoothies, but the calorie and sugar content of these smoothies is alarmingly high. Skip these options and choose whole, fresh fruit, like apple slices!

Tip #4: Talk to Your Server

When ordering at McDonald’s, don’t be afraid to ask the cashier to help you modify your meal! Substitutions can help you keep unhealthy ingredients off of your plate and lower your combo’s calorie count.

  • Ask for your French fries without salt to cut down on the sodium content.
  • Request your burger without any mayo or condiments – this can help you cut down 10% to 15% of its calories!
  • Ask for a smaller portion size if the smallest size still exceeds your calorie goal. For example, a regular McFlurry has about 556 calories. Asking the cashier to fill up the cup halfway can cut 200 to 300 calories!

While eating healthy at McDonald’s isn’t always easy, it is possible. If the Golden Arches are calling you, use this guide to make smarter choices. Enjoy!