When you’re traveling the world on a shoestring budget, it can be tempting to go for the cheapest food you can get your hands on and unfortunately, cheaper usually means something quick and tasty without much in the way of actual nutritional content. As a backpacker, you may be more inclined to care about the experiences and sights than what you choose to line your stomach with, but at the end of the day, food is your fuel and eating a balance of the right stuff is still important – if not more so – when on the go.
Because eating out can be fairly costly when traveling abroad, fast food restaurants can be like a beacon of light to the wary backpacker and it can be tempting to sacrifice your health for a little extra funds in your pocket. Thankfully though, you needn’t return home from your trip five stone heavier than when you first landed! Many of the world’s largest fast food chains also have plenty of healthy menu options too if you know where to look, so fast food grub doesn’t always have to mean calorific, heart-clogging stuff.
To guide backpackers in their quest to find healthy fast food eats on their travels, we’ve compiled a list of the world’s most nutritional and filling meals you can find in fast food restaurants and cafes around the world. We also looked at where you can order the most grease-filled food options on the planet for those days where you want to treat yourself (although, a lot of these options may take the term ‘treat’ to another level). Bon appetit!
20 Panera Bread Strawberry Chicken Salad – US/Canada (Healthy)
There was a time when finding fruit in your fast food order might have seemed like a bad joke, but in recent years, many fast food establishments have started to up their game when it comes to making nutrition a big focus of their menu offerings.
Take the fast-casual restaurant Panera Bread, for instance – their chicken salad isn’t your usual limp garden salad bowl drowning in fatty dressing. Their delicious Strawberry and Chicken salad is also topped with fresh blueberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple and toasted pecans for balance. That’s 30 grams of protein and a third of your daily fiber intake sorted. Yum.
19 KFC Double Down Dog - Philippines (Unhealthy)
You might remember KFC’s original ‘Double Down’ offering that was the equally calorific chicken sandwich placed between two slabs of fried chicken in place of the actual bread buns? Well, they are now also selling the hot dog version of the double down in the Philippine restaurants of the fast food giant.
Perhaps the thinking was that too much of one thing can be bad for you. Fried chicken next to fried chicken? So out. Meet questionable pork next to deep fried chicken! You have our permission to indulge in literally any other hot dog on your next trip to the Philippines – it will seem like a health food compared to this.
18 Gregg’s Breakfast Roll Or Porridge – UK (Healthy)
If you’re traveling around Britain, it would be almost sacrilege not to indulge in a traditional full English breakfast for one day of your visit, but since this is packed with more calories than a steakhouse dinner with all the fixings, we’d recommend a modest breakfast roll instead.
An egg and bacon roll at the UK fast food chain Greggs is a healthy way to get your protein hit for the morning that won’t break the bank either. Small pots of porridge oats are also on the menu at Greggs – another healthy way to fill you up ready for a day of exploring.
17 Kit Kat Sandwich - Japan (Unhealthy)
No, you’re not imagining things. You read that right – a Kit Kat sandwich. Something we could literally make at home for half the price if we wanted to (and that’s a big if). Except in our homemade version, we probably wouldn't go as far to add whipped cream to the ensemble as well.
If a 518 calorie Kit Kat bar weren’t enough of a sugar rush, the Japanese fast food chain First Kitchen decided smothering the chocolate in whipped cream would be the right way to go. The ‘filling’ (if you can call it that) is then sandwiched between two slices of white bread.
16 Any Veggie Sandwich At Subway - Worldwide (Healthy)
The sandwich chain may serve meat feast options and ones dripping in marinara sauce, but at least you get to choose how healthy your meal is. Bear in mind that Subway's slogan is ‘eat fresh’ and this is the best fast food place to take advantage of that. A footlong salad and veggie sandwich on multigrain bread? You are pretty much winning at a healthy backpacker's lunch option.
At current count, there are more than 1,000 more Subway stores worldwide than McDonald's, so there’s no excuse not to opt for a healthy sandwich on your travels – preferably the Veggie Delight – over a quick cheeseburger and fries.
15 Starbucks Spinach, Green Bean & Cheese Muffin, Hong Kong (Unhealthy)
Visitors to the Hong Kong branches of Starbucks may notice something a little odd about their muffins. You’ve spotted the blueberry kind, the lemon flavored and the raspberry offering, but a green muffin packed with most of the things some of us even avoid in a savory context? Nope, not exactly high on our muffin wish list.
This supposedly ‘sweet’ Starbucks treat is packed with Spinach, green beans, and cheese. An odd combo in itself and while greens are good, this muffin definitely isn't the way to get two of your five a day. If you’re trying to be healthy at a Hong King Starbucks, pick up the spinach and feta wrap instead.
14 Pizza Hut Double Decker Pizza - Singapore (Unhealthy)
Here’s a pizza topping nobody ever thought of before: pizza! Until the Singapore branches of Pizza Hut had this brainwave, that is. This bizarrely unnecessary menu item is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, topped with the least creative pizza ingredients ever – a mini pizza.
Singapore has taken a normal chicken and pepperoni pizza and added a layer of tortilla which has then been topped with turkey ham and Edam cheese before being drenched in mango mayo. What, even? Despite all eyes being on the bizarre mini pizza, we haven't overlooked the fact that the crust is loaded with a gross duo cheese combo. Eat this at your peril, backpackers...
13 A Metaboost Wrap At Freshii – Canada (Healthy)
The Canadian fast food eatery Freshii has been in business for over 10 years and if it’s a filling salad or quick protein packed wrap you’re looking for while on your travels here, this really is the best place to grab one.
Freshii packs dozens of unique flavors into its burritos, soups, and salads, but one of the healthiest options by far has to be their ‘Metaboost’ wrap. Make your protein choice between chicken, steak, tofu or falafel and from there, mix it up with kale, spinach, mango, carrots, goat cheese, almonds and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. There’s hope yet that Freshii’s tasty and wholesome menu might influence the ultimate fast food giant, as their CEO even implored McDonald's to serve healthier options.
12 Pizza Hut’s Surf, Turf & Dessert Pizza - South Korea (Unhealthy)
Korean cuisine is famed for its colorful and flavorsome food with an emphasis on healthy dishes that pack a punch. But to visit some of the country’s major fast food chains, you may want to leave your stomach (and your common sense) at home.
One of the most outrageous fast food items you’ll likely ever come across is South Korea’s surf, turf and dessert combo at Pizza Hut. This is essentially pizza topped with seafood, sausage, and steak with a sample of apple cream dessert conveniently tucked away in the crust. The three-course gum in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory springs to mind (and at least the kids didn’t have to look at the ridiculous food combos while they chewed it down). Barf.
11 Chicken Caesar Pita, Pita Pit - New Zealand (Healthy)
Somewhere between Subway and Taco Bell is Pita Pit – New Zealand’s answer to fast food with a healthy twist. Unlike most fast food chains, all the fresh ingredients are prepared right in front of the customer, so you know for sure every chopped vegetable and every grilled protein hasn’t been secretly deep-fried.
Pita Pit serves up delicious options all throughout the day so for the New Zealand backpacker wanting to start their day with a breakfast pitta in place of a pricey coffee and danish elsewhere or grab lunch in favor of restaurant prices and portions, this is the way to go. We’re loving the sound of the Free Range Chicken Caesar Pita or Beetroot, Feta, and Mint for the veggie traveler.
10 Leon Plant Burger - UK/Netherlands (Healthy)
Leon is a London-based fast-food eatery with a number of restaurants in the Netherlands and is a great middle ground for travelers who want something tasty and comforting on the go without piling on the cals. Leon’s tagline is: ‘Naturally Fast Food’ since everything from their rainbow salad box to their rose pistachio donut is made with 100% fresh ingredients.
Our personal favorite is the Leon Plant Burger – a vegan burger patty with the punch of lemongrass and chili and mild layers of fresh spinach, carrots and tamarind ketchup. They even rank their menu options based on your personal preferences with their fun and personable checklist (i.e. “I’m Vegan/I’m pregnant/I’m really hungry” - everything’s tasty here, but the latter will probably serve you best for a long day’s sightseeing!).
9 Pizza Hut’s Chee-Zee Marmite Stuffed Crust – New Zealand (Unhealthy)
Fast food chains around the world certainly love experimenting with bizarre pizza styles, specifically when it comes to what they can stuff the crust with. (Whatever happened to regular cheese stuffed crusts?). Not wishing to be left out, New Zealand branches of Pizza Hut have jumped on the crazy crust bandwagon with their Marmite and cheese combo stuffed crust, and it looks revolting.
Marmite or ‘vegemite’ as some might know it as is the love it or hate it paste made out of beer-brewed yeast. Most people are already pretty divided about whether this tastes good on toast, let alone lining the crust of a perfectly good pizza! We’ll give this ‘Chee-Zee’ marmite nightmare a pass, thanks.
8 Veggie And Vegan Soups And Curry Dishes - Norway (Healthy)
Eating out can be notoriously expensive in Norway, but there are a number of places that do quick and healthy meals for travelers on a budget. Visitors looking to keep a close watch on the purse string in Olso will be happy to know places like Punjab Tandoori in Grønland, are serving main meal curry dishes with naan bread at under 80K (around $9).
Alternatively, a haven of veggie cuisine at Krishna’s Cuisine in Majorstua serves up both veggie and vegan soups, salads and lunch platters for sharing. The restaurant's dish of the day tots up to a steep equivalent of $18, but the upside is, it comes with a free refill if you’re still hungry!
7 McDonald's McGrillschnägg Burger - Switzerland (Unhealthy)
The meat fiend among your traveling group will probably be happy with this greasy offering. The Swiss branch of McDonald's has created a burger that contains not only a burger patty but also a pork sausage – perfect for the fussy carnivore! We don’t know about you, but standard burgers just don’t have enough meat content sizzling with grease.
But it doesn't stop there – the McGrillschnägg burger is stuffed with so many fattening layers, it may as well be a wedding meat cake in between buns. The grilled sausage sits on top of several strips of bacon, shredded pork, melted cheese and last but not least, the whole thing sits on a bed of Rösti - the Swiss version of a hash brown patty.
6 Grenier Au Pain Bakery, Paris (Healthy)
You’ve tried the tasteless pre-packaged ham and cheese baguettes at train stations and airports, now try the best – crispy, authentic French baguettes at a fast food price (oh yes, this does exist). Nestled amongst the expensive cafes and restaurants in the cuisine capital of the world is the budget bakery, Grenier Au Pain, where travelers can lunch in a place that has repeatedly won the award for “best baguettes in Paris”.
A crunchy and deliciously fresh ham and cheese baguette in this delightful cafe gives backpackers the authentic taste of France at a tourist-friendly price. On certain days, they even run a lunch special deal which comes in at just under 7 Euros for a sandwich, drink and eclair combo! Ooh la la.
5 Taco Bell’s Chocodilla – Guatemala (Unhealthy)
If you’re backpacking through beautiful Guatemala and find yourself needing to satisfy a sweet tooth craving, you might be better off finding a local bakery or supermarket candy, because this strange menu item at Taco Bell is probably loaded with twice the calories of your average sweet snack.
Taco Bell franchises in the US have previously been known to fill their flour tortilla wraps with Kit Kats, so Guatemalan branches of the fast food chain stepped it up a notch by introducing chunks of a Baby Ruth bar (or two) as the filling with the usual fajita mix, in with peanuts and nougat dripping in caramel. Pack some dental insurance on your travels, that’s all we can say.
4 Goi Mein Noodle Salad, Hamy Cafe - Berlin (Healthy)
As you wander around in search of quick and tasty eats in the bustling German capital, it can be tempting to give in to currywurst and freshly baked pretzels to satisfy cravings, but as good as these are, they certainly won’t keep your stomach satisfied for long.
Swing by some of the city’s many cafes serving far healthier and equally delicious options instead (your bank balance will think it's pretty delicious too!). Berlin’s Hamy Cafe serves up a tasty range of authentic and nutritious Vietnamese dishes such as pho bo beef soup, goi mein noodle salad and a dessert option of banana pudding to top it all off. Yes, please!
3 Burger King XL Chilli Cheese – Germany/Austria (Unhealthy)
If you thought a bratwurst dinner and a generous helping of apfelstrudel was the most calorific meal you could eat while touring Germany or Austria, think again. This grossly over-indulgent offering from their respective Burger King outlets can barely call itself a burger – it’s a clogged artery waiting to happen!
The ‘X-tra Long’ Chilli Cheese sub is made up of not one, not two, but three burger patties in one sandwich and if it's meant to be a sharing platter option, it's certainly not advertised as one. As if a triple sandwich of flame-grilled burgers weren’t enough, layers of chili cheese sauce are also dripping over jalapeños and cheese slices. Total cals? 808.
2 Domino’s Peanut & Mayo Crust- Taiwan (Unhealthy)
Move over, peanut butter and jelly, there’s a new food combo in town (or according to Taiwan, there is). This ridiculous offering from Domino’s Pizza has managed to think of something even more disgusting and fattening to stuff their crusts with than plain old melted mozzarella. (At this point, a deep-pan cheese stuffed crust is looking like a superfood).
Travelers stopping by the Taiwanese branch of Domino’s may have to do a double take when they peruse through the menus and find this monstrosity – a pizza crust lined with peanut butter and mayonnaise, side by side. In harmony. They’re even together when you inevitably throw this back up.
1 Fresh Persian Cuisine, Rice Box - Luxembourg (Healthy)
Nearby the central rail station in Luxembourg city is one of the cheapest and healthiest fast food places tourists can hope to find. The country’s one and only ‘Rice Box’ bar is home to fresh and authentic Persian cuisine served up – as you might have guessed – in a nicely packaged takeaway box.
Customers are spoilt for choice with the array of tasty toppings and condiments to go with their rice order. How about your choice of beef or veggie curry on a bed of spinach or fluffy aubergine rice topped with raisins and almonds? A pic and mix of healthy rice dishes at an affordable price. Delicious!