How to Eat Clean When Fast Food is Your Only Option

Eating clean at Subway

If anyone has any doubts about how hard it is to eat clean in America, to you I say:

Take a road trip.

‘Cause they don’t have gluten free bread at Subway (and even if they did, ew), and fuuhgeddabout trying to snag a healthy breakfast option from Starbucks.

Most road-trippin’ dietary guides focus on what you need to bring.

Hard-boiled eggs, fruit, beef jerky — but what if you’re too busy to prepare all that shit the night before? What if you just want to be like a normal freaking person for once, and just GO?

Inspired by my most recent road trip, and the fight I had with my husband about Bob Evans, I’ve put together a travel survival guide based on the places you’re most likely to pass on the road.

I usually search for Paleo options when I travel.

In real life, I avoid gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and excess sugar. Even though I don’t “do” Paleo at home, I find it easier to define myself this way on the road, and I recommend that you do, too.

If you are Celiac or following an auto-immune protocol, you’ll have to be super diligent in communicating with whomever makes your food. Stick to places where you get to talk someone through the preparation, like Subway, Chipotle, etcetera.

Disclaimer #1: My stomping ground is firmly rooted in the Mid-Atlantic. There are probably some other options out west, but I don’t know about them.

Disclaimer #2: Packing your own food is always better. But you can still find plenty of eats on the fly.

Disclaimer #3: This isn’t about the best-tasting meal you can find. (If you want that, pack a lunch.) It’s about making EASY choices that don’t derail your diet or hold you up for an hour.


Your best bet here is a sit-down place like Cracker Barrel or Waffle House (yep, I live in the South). You’re not going to get grass-fed pork or pastured eggs, but at least you can eat a decent meal of protein and fruit, without any bread or sweets in the way.

These places are usually fast, too, making for ideal road stops.

DON’T do a drive-through, unless you want an Egg McMuffin, hold the muffin. Not good. Also, fast-food coffee sucks.

Starbucks has started carrying some Paleo-friendly foods. They’ve got jerky now, and nuts, and some gummy-fruit thingys with no added sugar. If you like to indulge in some iced coffee on a long road trip (like moi), and you’re dying for a snack, you MIGHT just be able to score here.

Lunch & Dinner

I have been anti-Subway for a long time. I must have seen some scary food-industry exposé about what they put in their bread. And anyway the smell of the bread makes me want to hurl.

BUT, I recently discovered that you can have them throw a bunch of veggies in a bowl, with no bread, and an oil-and-vinegar dressing. (I think they call that a salad. Ha.)

Again, you’re not going to get organic here, but you WILL find lots of veggies. If you eat dairy you can even throw some cheese on top. I’m still skeeved out by the deli meat though.

Chipotle is another good place, and here you can get certain organic ingredients. They can make you a burrito bowl or a salad with whatever you want, and you talk them through the whole process.

The only downside here is that it’s pretty hard to find Chipotle on the road. (Not like Subway, which is everywhere.)

Any Mexican place is a good bet (fajitas are pretty much already Paleo). Lots of Chili’s on the highway.

Wendy’s has decent salads. No wait — lemme rephrase that. if you’re going to get a fast food salad, Wendy’s is the only place that’s any good. They also have baked potatoes.

Outback Steakhouse is a decent option because you can order à la carte and just get protein and veggies. The food’s not terrible, either.

Ruby Tuesday’s has a salad bar. It’s not that delicious but it’ll do in a pinch.

Of course you can always do a burger without the bun, which you can find at any fast food establishment. This is a last resort though; it’s not very tasty. At least ask for extra pickles.


On long road trips, I always get to a point where I want something cold and fizzy. Most gas stations don’t carry plain old sparking water, but every once in awhile you get lucky.

What you can do is get a fountain drink and just fill it up with ice and soda water. Add some lemonade if you’re feeling rebellious.


I’m only being kind of ironic here. Road trips are a great opportunity to experiment with some light fasting.

Will it kill you to go five or six hours without eating, as long as you’re hydrated?


This has the added benefit of solving the whole where-are-we-going-to-eat problem. Huge.


Life. Saver.

Plan ahead and order enough prepared meals to eat on the road. They’re perfect because they’re neatly packaged in airtight containers, completely in-line with your dietary needs, and —holy freaking tasty.

Last time I did this, I kept my meals in the fridge overnight, then let them sit in the car so they’d be room temperature at lunchtime. Then we just ate them while we drove.


Don’t Get Stuck

When you’re in the middle of nowhere, finding a place to eat is tough.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that. (Several, actually,)

Highway Dining has the highest reviews on iTunes, but there are seriously so many to choose from that you’re better off just googling one.

Next time you’re trippin’ about where to eat (you see what I did there?) take a deep breath and remember — there are plenty of places you can go.

You just have to be creative.

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