I’m on a mission to order low carb at the top 30 fast food chains in the US. Two weeks is what I’ve given myself to complete the mission, so I’ll be eating a lot of fast food over the next 14 days.
If you want to follow along, you can subscribe to updates at the end of this post.
For each fast food restaurant I’m evaluating:
- Availability of low carb entrees (less than 20 net carbs).
- Satiety of low carb entrees.
- Price of low carb entrees.
- Taste of low carb entrees.
- Ordering experience.
My first stop was SUBWAY sandwiches — you can see my low carb ordering guide for SUBWAY here.
My second stop is McDonald’s which has a location about 2 miles from my house. Well-known for their efficient operations, consistent quality, and global reach, McDonald’s earns the most revenue of any fast food chain in the world, raking in about $25 billion a year. Wow!
Let’s take a look at how welcoming their menus are to low carb eaters.
Overall Ratings for McDonald’s
I rated McDonald’s as low-carb friendly because you can order almost any of their burgers without a bun and they’ll be low carb. They also have a few on-menu, low carb salads you can select from if you’re in the mood for greens. For breakfast, you can order bunless Egg McMuffins along with a black coffee and concoct yourself a decent little low carb breakfast.
- Low carb friendly – Yes
- Low carb entrees on menu – Not many. They have three different grilled chicken salads and a 4-piece & 6-piece chicken nugget that come in under 20 net carbs. Low carb dieters will need to special request / order off menu, mostly.
- Low carb entrees off menu – Yes, this is where McDonald’s shines. Their bunless burgers are delicious. You can also get bunless Egg McMuffins.
- Satiety of low carb entrees – Good. I felt somewhat satisfied after eating a bunless double quarter pounder with cheese & bacon, but still had room to eat my son’s cheeseburger patty that he didn’t touch (and I could have eaten more too). The bunless burgers don’t come with much lettuce and they pack it snugly in a small bowl, so psychologically it doesn’t feel like you’re eating a lot. Their bunless breakfast sandwiches were surprisingly filling.
- Taste of low carb entrees – Great. My bunless burger was amazing and I really enjoyed my bunless sausage egg & cheese biscuit and my bunless egg mcmuffin.
- Price of low carb entrees – Great. I only paid $6.25 for my double quarter pounder with cheese and that includes $1.20 for extra bacon and $0.25 for extra lettuce. If I had to do it over again, I’d scratch the extra bacon and lettuce, and just order two double quarter pounders for $9.60 ($4.80 each) — which would be an even better value. For breakfast, I paid about $2.90 apiece for the three bunless egg sandwiches I ordered. I only really needed two to get full, so a low carb breakfast at McDonald’s can be had for less than $6.
- Ordering experience – Ok. Going through the drive through for lunch, they got my double quarter pounder right, but accidentally left the bun on my son’s bunless cheeseburger. My son didn’t mind, of course :). He’s a lovable 2-year old Carb Eating Sucka so he actually ate only the bun and left the patty with cheese for me. For breakfast, I ordered inside at the counter and the employees were very helpful and friendly, but made a few mistakes. You can read more about those mistakes below in the “What I ordered” section of this post.
I really enjoyed my two low carb eating experiences at McDonald’s for this project. My main criticism of McDonald’s is that they only carry four entrees on the menu that are less than 20 grams net carbs.
What you should order
For breakfast, I recommend you order one bunless Egg McMuffin (comes with sliced ham, egg white patty, and slice of cheese ) and one bunless Sausage & Egg Cheese McMuffin. I was plenty full after eating those two.
For lunch or dinner, I recommend the bunless Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Get two if you’re pretty hungry.
If you need a small snack or side at a random time of day, they have a side salad with 4 net carbs (before you add dressing) and a 4-piece chicken nugget which is 10 net carbs. Of note, don’t order more than 4 nuggets or you’ll be getting to many daily carbs from their breading.
For drinks, you can get Dasani Bottled water, Diet Coke or Diet Dr. Pepper, unsweetened ice tea, or black coffee.
What I ordered
My first time into McDonald’s during this project was for lunch and I ordered a bunless Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese. That’s my go-to low carb order at McDonald’s. For additional flavor & calories this time, I added extra shredded lettuce and bacon.
It was delicious. Instead of trying to make the burger more filling by adding lettuce and bacon, I should have just ordered two burgers.
Ordering a bunless burger at McDonald’s is pretty easy, you just tell the drive through attendant what burger you want and then ask for “no bun” and make sure they confirm that with you or it shows that the bun was removed on the little ordering screen outside their drive in. The drive through attendants at McDonald’s must get the “no bun” order often because I wasn’t questioned about it.
Of course, the attendant always asks if you want to “make that a meal with fries and a drink,” and your answer should always be “No.” The fries alone have way too many carbs.
For my second meal, I went back later in the week and ordered breakfast since I figured many low carb dieters would find themselves at McDonald’s in the morning. As a practitioner of intermittent fasting, I rarely eat breakfast, but I did so for you, dear reader.
For breakfast, I ordered one bunless Egg McMuffin, one biscuit-less Sausage & Egg Cheese biscuit, and one biscuit-less Bacon, Egg & Cheese biscuit.
It was way too much food for breakfast, but I wanted to try their selection so I could make a good recommendation.
This particular location must not receive low carb breakfast orders very often as the person ringing me up struggled with it. He needed to ask a manager and one other associate how to ring it up and he had to correct one of the line chefs who inadvertently made my first egg sandwich with the bun.
When they gave me my to-go bag, I noticed they had put all the buns on the side in the wrappers. I don’t like temptation, so I explained that I had an allergy and a McDonald’s employee accepted the buns back.
I have one other minor criticism to share related to how they stacked the bunless breakfast sandwiches. They put the sliced cheese on the bottom on a styrofoam plate, underneath warm meat & eggs such that the cheese was melting and sticking to the plate.
A better stacking order is meat, cheese, then egg patty so you can cleanly eat it with your hands without scraping cheese off the plate.
I fixed the stacking issue myself for the photo, but it did require getting my fingers messy. It would have been inconvenient if I weren’t coming straight home to eat them.
I really enjoyed the taste of the bunless Sausage, Egg & Cheese Biscuit and the bunless Egg McMuffin. They use a poached egg patty with the yolk in the middle.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the bunless Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit. The bacon & cheese were fine, but they use a scrambled egg that tasted a bit dry and didn’t look as appetizing as the white egg patties they use for their other breakfast sandwiches.
The McDonald’s employees who served me were all very friendly, helpful, and accommodating. As I was checking my bag to make sure they got the order right, my cashier came over to check on me. That was nice gesture.
I’m more than willing to be patient with fast food places who try hard to accommodate me and act friendly. I know that special low carb orders are relatively uncommon still and can put a wrench in their processes.
What you can order
Bunless burgers, grilled chicken salads (their crispy chicken has too many carbs), small side salads, small-sized chicken nuggets (6 pieces or less), and bunless breakfast sandwiches.
If you’re into sauces, dips, dressings, & condiments, the following are great options at McDonald’s because they have 3 net carbs or less (net carbs in parentheses):
- Creamy Ranch Sauce (1)
- Spicy Buffalo Sauce (1)
- Marinara Sauce (2)
- Ketchup Packet (3)
- Newman’s Own® Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette (3) – This is the ONLY salad dressing you should order at McDonald’s. The others are too high carb.
If you’re super hungry, I wouldn’t mess with the grilled chicken salads or the tiny nugget orders. They won’t be satisfying enough for a meal based on my previous experiences (not described in this post).
What you should avoid
In case you’re new to low carb or keto eating, I’ll start by saying that all McDonald’s buns, fries, hash browns, tortillas, pancakes, and desserts (cookies, shakes, cones, etc) should be avoided.
There are also some less obvious entrees and sides to avoid that I’ve listed below. They seem like they might be low carb, but aren’t.
Tempting entrees to avoid:
- 10-piece Chicken Nuggets or larger – 24 net carbs (due to food starch and wheat starch in the breading)
- Crispy Chicken Salads – 20 – 40 net carbs due to breading on the chicken.
- Bunless Crispy Chicken Sandwiches – 20+ net carbs due to breading on the chicken
- Southwest Salads – 20 net carbs thanks to add tortilla strips, corn, and beans.
Tempting sides to avoid:
- Cuties (the little oranges) – 8 net carbs
- GoGurt – 9 net carbs
Tempting sauces to avoid:
- Honey Mustard Sauce – 5 net carbs
- Chipotle Barbecue Sauce – 11 net carbs
- Tangy Barbecue Sauce – 12 net carbs
- Sweet Chili Sauce – 12 net carbs
- Sweet ‘N Sour Sauce – 12 net carbs
Tempting salad dressings to avoid:
- Newman’s Own® Low Fat Italian Dressing – 7 net carbs
- Newman’s Own® Ranch Dressing – 9 net carbs
- Newman’s Own® Creamy Southwest Dressing – 11 net carbs
- Newman’s Own® Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing – 14 net carbs
Basically stick to bunless burgers and bunless egg sandwiches and stay from the sides & sauces, and you’ll be fine :).
My next low carb / keto ordering guide will be for KFC. I ate dinner there the evening before writing this post.
To get my KFC low carb ordering guide via email, sign up here:
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My plan is to report back with final results for how this fast food experiment affects my health, well-being, and bank account. And you’ll get some simple low carb recipes and other tips from me for all the times you’re not eating in a fast food joint :).
aka “Mr. SkinnyPants”