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The caloric highs and lows of eating at Chipotle, McDonald’s, Panera, and Taco Bell

Reuters/Brian Snyder
Not what Chipotle ordered.
By Svati Kirsten Narula
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The most popular combinations of beans, rice, and meat that people order from Chipotle, America’s favorite fast-casual burrito chain, all contain close to 1,000 calories—as the New York Times so helpfully informs us. The implication is that, if you’re anything like the average burrito-lover, your meals at Chipotle are indulgences; they’re too rich in fat, carbs, and sodium to be a regular part of a healthy diet.

Consumers think they want this information, except when they don’t. But whether or not you’re shocked to learn that great-tasting, generously-portioned restaurant meals are high in fat, Chipotle is no better or worse than other chains in this regard. And it is possible to craft lighter lunches and dinners from the choices offered.

In the spirit of healthy awareness, here are some tables illustrating what’s nutritionally possible when one orders a complete meal (one main item and, in some cases, a side, and only according to standard options—no secret menu tricks), at various quick-service restaurants in the US. These are not the absolute lowest- or highest-calorie meals you can get at these restaurants, but they’re reasonable representations of high- and low-calorie combinations that are at least mildly satisfying.

Photo by Flickr user animakitty
Veggie burrito bowl w/ brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, tomato salsa, cheese
460
64g
18.5g
16g

* burrito bowls are better bets than salads at Chipotle because the chain’s salad dressing contains 270 calories and 4.5 grams of saturated fat.

Flour tortilla burrito w/ steak, white rice, black beans, corn salsa, sour cream, cheese, & guacamole
1320
130g
60.5g
62g
Reuters/Fred Prouser
A McDonalds Quarter Pounder has fewer calories than even the leanest Chipotle burrito, but who can eat a burger without french fries on the side?
McChicken sandwich w/ small order of french fries & ketchup
610
72g
16g
28g
Or: Premium Southwest Salad w/ crispy chicken & Creamy Southwest dressing
600
54g
26g
32g
Quarter Pounder burger w/ bacon & cheese, medium french fries & honey mustard
1000
98g
40g
49g

It’s tough to put together a McDonald’s meal that looks complete and also comes in at fewer than 600 calories. But you need to order multiple menu items to reach the level of that indulgent Chipotle option.

At Taco Bell, the menu’s caloric range is even tighter. Dozens of menu items, even hearty-sounding ones like the Cantina Steak Power Burrito, have fewer than 500 total calories. If you go over 1000, you’ll know it—because you’ll have eaten the fried tortilla bowl your fatty Fiesta Taco Salad came in, or you’ll have chosen a meaty XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito.

Reuters/Keith Bedford
Cantina Power Bowl w/ chicken (includes lettuce, guacamole, rice, avocado ranch dressing, cheese, black beans, and reduced-fat sour cream)
490
49g
29g
20g
Fiesta Taco Salad w/ beef, served in a crispy tortilla bowl, with black beans, cheese, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, tortilla strips, and reduced-fat sour cream
780
74g
26g
42g
Fiesta Taco Salad w/ beef (as above) & a side of nachos
1090
108g
30g
59g
Reuters/John Gress
At Panera Bread, a decadent-looking muffin will do less caloric damage than a veggie sandwich on whole-grain bread.

So many items on the Panera menu are stealth health bombs—the ingredients may be fresh and the recipes may sound artisan, but very few of the sandwiches can be eaten whole for fewer than 600 calories.

Roasted turkey and avocado BLT sandwich on sourdough bread
510
48g
37g
19g
Cup of broccoli cheddar soup, 1/2 chicken ceasar salad w/ dressing, and small baguette
700
63g
32g
36g
Steak and white cheddar panini on baguette & cup of french onion soup
1160
124g
60g
45g

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