Casually Consuming More Calories: The Fast-Casual Conundrum

Casually Consuming More Calories: The Fast-Casual Conundrum

two mexican steak burritos with beer

By Daniel Preiato, BS, DTR, Contributing Blogger

In the past 5 years, there has been an emergence of fast-casual style restaurants, such as Chipotle and Panera Bread. These restaurants differ from their fast food counterparts because they allow the consumer to choose from mostly whole food ingredients and decide exactly what goes on their plate. While this appears to be a healthier option than traditional fast-food, some say that there is no difference between the average calories per entree at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. So the question remains, are fast-casual and fast-food entrees comparable in calorie content?

The Science

A May 2016 study from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics set out to answer this question. The researchers looked at the average calories in various entrees at 34 fast food and 28 fast casual restaurants. They found that, on average, fast-casual restaurant entrees had 200 more calories per entree than fast-food restaurants. (1) However, the study did not take into account other healthful nutrients , like vitamins, minerals and protein.

What Does This Mean For You?

When dining at fast-casual restaurants, you should be aware of the overall calorie content of the foods added to your plate. It is easy to quickly pile on calories with sauces and other extras. While consuming more calories is not always unhealthy, it may not align with your healthy eating goals.

Quick Tips For Cutting The Calories

Here are a few ways you can cut back on unnecessary calories when at a fast food establishment:

  • Consult the company’s website to find the nutrition information and calorie content of a given meal.
  • Add sauces and other toppings sparingly.
  • Add leafy greens and other vegetables, which offer a great nutrient profile and fiber for a little amount of calories.
  • Choose leaner protein options, such as chicken breast or lean beef, as opposed to higher calorie ground beef or pork (which are not labelled as lean).
  • Unwrap the burrito. Burrito bowls are much more calorie-friendly than their tortilla wrapped counterparts.


Better Options At Popular Joints

Higher CalorieLower Calorie
ChipotleCarnita Burrito with cheese and sour creamNutrition Info: 1055 calories; 43.5 grams fat, 48.5 grams protein, 114 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams fiber, 1965 milligrams sodiumChicken Burrito Bowl with lettuce and tomato salsaNutrition Info: 540 calories; 13.5 grams fat, 43 grams protein, 60 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams fiber, 1315 milligrams sodium
SubwayChicken Caesar Melt (12 inch) on 9-grain wheatNutrition Info: 1080 calories; 48 grams fat, 74 grams protein, 92 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 1880 milligrams sodiumRotisserie-Style Chicken (12 inch) on 9-grain wheatNutrition Info: 700 calories; 12 grams fat, 58 grams protein, 90 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 1100 milligrams sodium
Panera BreadSierra Turkey Sandwich on Asiago Cheese Focaccia Nutrition Info: 730 calories; 26 grams fat, 25 grams protein, 81 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 2100 milligrams sodiumSteak and Arugula on SourdoughNutrition Info: 500 calories; 18 grams fat, 24 grams protein, 51 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 870 milligrams sodium


  1. Schoffman, Danielle E., Charis R. Davidson, Sarah B. Hales, Anthony E. Crimarco, Alicia A. Dahl, and Gabrielle M. Turner-Mcgrievy. “The Fast-Casual Conundrum: Fast-Casual Restaurant Entrées Are Higher in Calories than Fast Food.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (2016): n. pag. Web.

Daniel Preiato, BS, DTR is a recent graduate of New York University with a bachelors degree in Nutrition and Food Studies. He is currently completing a distance dietetic internship with Priority Nutrition Care. Daniel’s concentration is in sports dietetics and culinary nutrition but he also works with the general population. Check out his website to find out more!



1 Comment
  • Plantillas Javier
    Posted at 14:04h, 18 April Reply

    I really love mexican food, their souces are exquisite and aren’t grasy as European sauces. Great post. I love your blog. Congratulations!!

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