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The healthiest fast food restaurants

Newlywed, new mom and first-time home buyer, Sarah is currently playing out her exciting life in Phoenix, Arizona. She recently gave up her job in finance to stay at home with her baby girl, who between bath time and feeding time, keeps ...

The top 11 places to get healthy(er) fast food

Decades ago, healthy fast food was an oxymoron, but a few years into the new millennium, and several standout fast food restaurants are catching up with the times. If you too find fossilized McDonald's French fries to be kind of unsettling, or if you're just hoping to clean up your workday lunch, these fast casual chains have some delicious and fairly healthy options for everyone.

But there is a catch. While most fast-casual restaurants advertised as healthy are quick to post their calorie counts, a new study has revealed that fast-casual restaurant entrées can be higher in calories than actual fast food — Chipotle versus McDonald’s, for example. Fast-casual restaurants may provide a wider selection of healthy options, but when ordering from any restaurant, it’s important to focus on the bigger picture, with calories being but one piece of the puzzle. A healthy entrée with a higher nutrient density and fresh ingredients may be higher in calories than a standard fast food burger made with preservatives and artificial ingredients.

And if you have kids, just think of this as Parenting 2.0. While there's nothing wrong with giving your kids fast food every once in a while, taking them to one of these "fresh" restaurants can teach them to enjoy healthier versions of their favorite treats:

1. Chipotle

The top 11 places to get healthy(er) fast food
Image: punctuated/Flickr

Chipotle may have been dragged through the proverbial mud as of late, but that big E. coli outbreak that occurred in Chipotle restaurants in several states has encouraged the chain to clean up its act. Chipotle, with more than 2,000 locations, is now working even harder to deliver “food with integrity” and bend over backwards for its customers: One of its strengths remains its offering to customize anything. Chipotle puts you in charge of your own meal and only provides the freshest of ingredients — opt to get a burrito bowl to save 300 calories over the tortilla, and go light on the cheese and sour cream. Proving this point, fitness guru Devin Cunningham has been eating Chipotle burritos every day for a year, first to bulk up and then to lose weight.

More: 16 copycat Chipotle recipes almost better than the real thing

2. Jason's Deli

The top 11 places to get healthy(er) fast food
Image: Dave Hensley/Flickr

With 260 locations in 30 states, Jason's Deli is a favorite for sandwiches, salads, wraps, pastas, paninis and more. More recently, Jason’s deli has upped the “healthy food” ante with specific menus for those who are vegetarian and/or gluten-sensitive. Though you could very well consume more than 1,000 calories in a single trip, it's just as easy not to. Choose fresh fruit or steamed veggies as your side, avoid the pasta dishes and go with broth-based soups instead of cream-based. Your waistline will thank you later.

3. Shake Shack

The top 11 places to get healthy(er) fast food
Image: Lucas Richarz/Flickr

Don’t let the name fool you — this burger joint that started out as a hot dog cart in NYC has taken a turn toward healthy. At over 66 locations, you can find single hamburgers or chicken dogs that weigh in at around 300 calories. There’s also a vegetarian ‘Shroom burger for those who want to skip the meat altogether, and any lunch item can be paired with yogurt, a small salad or fresh fruit. Like many fast food chains on our list, Shake Shack publishes its nutritional information online to make minimizing calories easy-peasy.

Next Up: Pret A Manger

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