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Incorporating MyPlate at Fast Food Restaurants

Contributors: Barbara Gordon, RDN, LD

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: March 17, 2022

Reviewed: September 26, 2023

Friends eating |Making Healthy Choices While Eating Out
 shironosov/ iStock /Getty Images Plus

MyPlate provides an easy tool for helping you to include servings from each of the five food groups. One easy step to follow is to divide a plate into four sections when you eat, and add a serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy or a fortified soy alternative with each meal:

  • Grains: Fill one-quarter of your plate with grains — and aim to make at least half of them each day be a whole grain, such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or whole-grain bread.
  • Protein Foods: Make one-quarter of your plate a protein food, such as an egg, fish, chicken or a lean source of meat. Vegetarian sources of protein count, too — beans, lentils and tofu, for example.
  • Fruits: Fill another quarter of your plate with fruit such as blueberries, tangerine slices or strawberries.
  • Vegetables: The last quarter is for vegetables such as spinach, broccoli or carrots.
  • Dairy: Include a serving of fat-free or low-fat dairy, such as milk, yogurt or cheese, with every meal. Lactose-free dairy and fortified soy versions of milk and yogurt also are options.

MyPlate makes healthy eating easier and, with a little creative thinking, you can apply this way of eating when you’ve got an urge for fast food. Just keep in mind that some menu options can be high in salt and include extra calories from saturated fat and added sugars. However, when you decide to eat out, MyPlate offers a guide for selecting healthier options from the five food groups and helps you be mindful of portion sizes to stay within your calorie needs.


To eat within the MyPlate recommendations, focus on whole fruits more often instead of 100% fruit juice to get the added benefit of dietary fiber. Watch out for sources of added sugars. For example, instead of adding white or brown sugar to oatmeal, add fruit for a touch of sweetness.

Here are some tips on how to incorporate the five food groups into some common breakfast menu items.

Oatmeal: Oatmeal is available at many places and is a great way to get whole grains. Remember, MyPlate recommends at least half of the grains you eat during the day come from whole-grain sources.

  • Grains: Oats are a whole grain that provide dietary fiber.
  • Protein: Adding unsalted nuts or seeds can boost protein.
  • Fruit: If the oatmeal doesn’t come with fruit, ask if you can order some fresh fruit or unsweetened applesauce for a side. Some fast food restaurants offer fruit options with kid’s meals.
  • Vegetables: Make a mental note to eat more veggies at lunch and dinner.
  • Dairy: If your oatmeal isn’t made with milk, ask for low-fat or fat-free milk to drink on the side.

Breakfast burrito: A carefully ordered burrito can provide options from all five food groups! Select a small burrito packed with delicious ingredients.

  • Grains: Opt for a whole-wheat tortilla, if available, for your grain serving.
  • Protein: Eggs and beans are both good sources of protein.
  • Fruit: Order apple slices or another fruit option on the side.
  • Vegetables: Ask that bell peppers, tomatoes, onion or other vegetables be added to your burrito.
  • Dairy: Including cheese in the burrito provides a source of dairy.

Lunch and Dinner

To embrace healthier options at the drive thru, try including a small green salad with light dressing. Most restaurants serve sandwich options on white buns. For a more healthful option, choose whole-grain buns where available. And ask for mustard instead of mayonnaise, which can save a significant amount of calories and saturated fat.

Chicken: Chicken is a versatile protein that is featured on many menus when dining out.

  • Protein: Select a grilled chicken sandwich or a small order of chicken nuggets. Consider grilled chicken nuggets where available.
  • Grains: The top and bottom of the bun each count as an ounce-equivalent of grains (or more) depending on their size.
  • Fruits: Add an order of apple slices or a fruit cup on the side.
  • Vegetables: Order a small side salad and with dressing on the side, if possible.
  • Dairy: For a beverage, choose fat-free or low-fat milk. If dairy is not an option, opt for water instead of drinks with added sugars.

Burger and Fries: A hamburger with fries is an American classic. The good news is, it can fit within a healthy eating style:

  • Protein: The meat patty is a source of protein. Go for a single cheeseburger, rather than a double.
  • Grain: Opt for a whole-grain bun when available.
  • Fruits: Add an order of apple slices, unsweetened applesauce or a fruit cup.
  • Vegetables: Add tomatoes, onions and lettuce to your burger. If you’re ordering fries, get a kids’ size or split a small order with someone else.
  • Dairy: Adding cheese to your burger will incorporate dairy in your meal.

Check the Website

To help make the healthiest choices, before you eat out, check the restaurant’s website or look for calorie information posted on the menu. Review the nutrition information to help you figure out what you might order ahead of time.

Making small changes to what you order when eating out can help you build your healthy eating routine, as MyPlate recommends.

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