16 Paleo-Friendly Fast Food Options That Won't Ruin Your Diet

If you follow a paleo diet, you'll likely find fast food chains challenging. Fast food meals generally contain a lot of additives, processed sugars, and salt, all of which go against the nature of the paleo diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, the diet mimics a caveman-like eating regime, including foods that could be hunted or gathered. While most fast food places feature countless highly processed foods, there are still some options when dining out.

Paleo dieters focus on incorporating lean meats and fish, fruit, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Everyday Health adds that those who eat paleo can add olive oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil in moderation. While we do not always know the oils used by fast food joints, we have compiled a list of recommendations that fit the paleo requirements should you find yourself at a fast food restaurant. Here are some great paleo-friendly fast food options that won't ruin your diet.

1. Grilled Nuggets from Chick-fil-A

In 1967, S. Truett Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A hoping people would enjoy more chicken instead of beef. A 1995 Chick-fil-A marking campaign that cleverly featured a cow painting a billboard with the words "Eat Mor Chikin" solidified this dream, creating a branding image that is still used decades later. Today, Chick-fil-A is the best-selling quick-service chicken chain in America. While the chain is widely popular, not all chicken items at Chick-fil-A are considered paleo.

Paleo eaters avoid grains, commonly found in fried foods like fried chicken. What you may not know is Chick-fil-A offers grilled chicken sandwiches and nuggets. As mentioned, grains don't have a place at the paleo eater's table, so we suggest the grilled nuggets in this case. The grilled nuggets come in counts of five, eight, or 12, so we recommend grabbing a dozen to maximize your meal. Unfortunately, you will have to pass on the Chick-fil-A sauce and replace it with a more paleo-friendly condiment at home.

2. Lettuce Wrap Burger from Shake Shack

If we shared that Shake Shack started as a single hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in New York City, would you believe us? Shake Shack shares on its website that the cart's original mission was to raise money for a public art project. Decades later, the burger joint is more successful than ever, solidifying itself as a fast food phenomenon.

Shake Shack prioritizes premium ingredients, and those who follow a paleo diet appreciate that focus more than most. Finding paleo-friendly options at a chain that offers fries, burgers on buns, and milkshakes can be challenging. At Shake Shack, you have to get creative with your order.

The chicken items at Shake Shack are hand-breaded and fried in soy oil, making these products not paleo. On the other hand, many burgers come on buns and contain cheese and condiments, contradicting the paleo diet. Modify the Avocado Bacon Burger by removing the cheese and ShackSauce. Additionally, order a lettuce wrap sans bun to comply with the low-carb aspect of paleo. Add cherry peppers, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and onions to beef up your burger. No pun intended.

3. Lifestyle Paleo Bowl from Chipotle

At Chipotle, the order opportunities are endless. The fast casual restaurant made it easy to customize your meal, whether inside a tortilla, added to a bowl, folded into a quesadilla, or scooped into a taco shell. Chipotle bowls can be tailored to all taste preferences, allergy needs, and diets. For the sake of this article, we'll be diving into the best options for the paleo diet.

While most Chipotle goers know about its customizable burritos and bowls, most people are not as familiar with the relatively new Lifestyle Bowls. According to the marketing on the Chipotle site, they want you to "match your bowl with your goal." Essentially, no matter what diet you follow or even explore, Chipotle can customize a bowl just for you and your needs. When it comes to this chain, there is no need for modifications. The Paleo Bowl combines lettuce, chicken, fajita veggies, tomatillo-green salsa, and guac. It's packed with whole foods to keep you full and satisfied without breaking your paleo diet.

4. Protein Style Burger from In-N-Out

Famous for its secret menu, In-N-Out actually features these items on the company website. This not-so-secret menu takes the common modifications made by customers and advertises it for all to see — no secrets necessary.

The West Coast favorite showcases a very simple menu to its guests dining in or in the drive-thru, but frequent In-N-Out goers know that the best stuff is from the secret menu. In the case of a paleo dieter, your options are limited but not impossible. Like other burger chains, In-N-Out offers a protein-style burger that takes the hamburger patty and wraps it in lettuce instead of a bun.

In addition to ordering it protein style, avoid the restaurant's signature spread that does not meet paleo standards. And if you have a big appetite, try ordering a double protein style to get an extra meat patty added to your order. With no fries or milkshake in your paleo order, a single protein-style burger might not do the trick.

5. Custom Bowl from SweetGreen

Salad lovers unite. Our next paleo-friendly fast food option that won't ruin your diet comes from one of our favorite salad chains, Sweetgreen. Sweetgreen puts plants at the forefront of its meals, making this chain perfect for the paleo diet. 

While this chain might be healthy overall, not every menu item fits the bill for paleo eaters. At Sweetgreen, the best idea is to order a custom bowl. Creating your own bowl will ensure you do not break your diet, allowing you to add all the delicious toppings your heart desires.

To make a custom bowl, you will move through a line similar to a Subway sandwich assembly line. In-store and online, the bowl begins with a base of lettuce and grains, but paleo eaters should skip the grains. The second step is toppings, a great place to load up on veggies. Next, add premium ingredients, aka the expensive stuff, but other than meat, you will need to forgo other options like the parmesan cheese crisps. Finally, the last step is the dressing, which unfortunately does not fit into the paleo diet. However, Sweetgreen offers a fresh lemon squeezed on top, which we recommend for some added flavor.

6. Eggs & Cheddar Protein Box from Starbucks

We all think of Starbucks for its creative coffee and tea creations, and while this chain does not provide the most paleo options on our list, we found a few that fit the diet. Because Starbucks' pre-made breakfast and lunch sandwiches contain bread and dairy, it isn't easy to modify for someone eating paleo, so we suggest opting for the protein boxes.

Starbucks offers a variety of protein boxes, but we found the Eggs & Cheddar Protein Box to be one of the most paleo-friendly options. To ensure this meal is paleo, consume only the hard-boiled eggs, apples, and grapes from this box. Of course, dairy and bread are not considered paleo, so remove the cheddar and multigrain muesli bread to comply. Additionally, peanuts are considered legumes and not paleo, which means the small package of peanut butter included in the box is also off-limits.

7. Fit Menu from El Pollo Loco

El Pollo Loco specializes in Mexican grilled chicken, making this chain the perfect paleo-friendly fast food option that won't ruin your diet. Like other restaurant chains, El Pollo Loco jumped on the healthy bandwagon by releasing a Pollo Fit Menu. The menu is extremely limited; however, both items listed can be paleo-friendly when modified.

The Keto Burrito contains lettuce, cabbage, chopped grilled chicken, avocado, Pico de Gallo, cotija cheese, and cilantro dressing wrapped in a keto-friendly tortilla. To make this meal paleo, order the burrito without cheese or dressing and simply undo the burrito to create a bowl. We suggest ordering an extra bowl or plate to make this deconstruction a little easier.

If you want to get more out of your meal, the Double Chicken Avocado Salad packs more veggies than the burrito. Although according to its nutrition info, both options offer more than 50 grams of protein. To keep the salad paleo-friendly, simply remove the corn, cotija cheese, and both types of dressings.

8. Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken from Panera Bread

Panera Bread fans live for the bread bowls, pastries, and mac and cheese from the popular fast casual chain, but these popular items won't do it if you follow the paleo diet. Thankfully, Panera Bread offers some menu items that are sans grains, dairy, and processed sugars. We headed to the salad section of the menu to find the best paleo-friendly options that won't ruin your diet.

To find the best meal just like the caveman used to do it, we grabbed a Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken from Panera Bread. At first glance, this seems like it would not require any modifications. The Strawberry Poppyseed Salad contains lettuce, pecans, strawberries, chicken, pineapple, blueberries, and mandarin oranges. Due to the strict paleo guidelines that discourage processed sugars and oils, followers of the diet will need to remove the pecans, oranges, and dressing. According to Panera's ingredient information, the pecans are roasted with cottonseed oil, the oranges are covered in sugar, and the dressing contains many ingredients that are not paleo-friendly. Essentially, stick with the chicken and fresh fruit in the salad to keep this paleo compliant.

9. Build your own salad from CAVA

A Mediterranean culinary brand, CAVA is all about making healthy food highly customizable. CAVA started with three friends who took inspiration from their Greek families and the food they were constantly surrounded by as kids (via CAVA). Add in the fact that one friend was a chef, and the magic of CAVA began. This healthy chain makes creating a Greek-style entree easier than ever with an assembly line for bowls, salads, and pita.

CAVA makes it easy to create a paleo-friendly salad. Start with a lettuce base; you can choose from SuperGreens, arugula, spinach, romaine, or SplendidGreens. The next step in the line includes dips and spreads, and this step should be skipped if you want to follow paleo. Next, choose your protein, other than the falafel, which is not paleo. Finally, add your favorite toppings. Be selective with this step as many toppings such as crumbled feta, fire-roasted corn, and lentil tabbouleh are not paleo-friendly. As we have discussed thus far, dressings are a no-go, so end your bowl at the toppings station.

10. Unwich Beach Club Sandwich from Jimmy Johns

If you like sandwiches, then you know Jimmy John's. The chain started with only four variations of sandwiches and is known today for its 18 different offerings and insanely fast delivery (via Jimmy John's). We appreciate this, but you may be wondering how sandwiches fit the paleo guidelines. Paleo eaters do not consume grains and bread if you haven't been paying attention. In 2003, Jimmy John's released the Unwich. If you love Jimmy John's but don't mess with bread, the Unwich is basically a lettuce-wrapped sandwich. It's like a protein-style burger, but the sandwich version.

Now that we ditched the bread, it's time to pay attention to the fillings. We recommend ordering an Unwich Beach Club without cheese and mayo. This sandwich comes with turkey, avocado spread, cucumber, lettuce, and tomato, and it's delicious and filling even without the bread. Jimmy Johns even allows you to add Freebies (mayo, mustard, pickles, etc.) for no extra charge, although onions and peppers are the only paleo-friendly options.

11. Power Bowl from Taco Bell

Next on our paleo-friendly fast food options list, we're diving into the menu at Taco Bell. While your idea of Taco Bell likely correlates with late-night eating or a road trip snack, the chain does provide healthier offerings and paleo-friendly options. You won't find quesadillas or Crunchwrap Supremes in this order. At Taco Bell, we ordered a Power Bowl to comply with the paleo guidelines.

A standard Taco Bell Power Bowl includes black beans, seasoned rice, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, cheese, avocado ranch sauce, and tomatoes. Additionally, you can add more beans, chicken, beef, steak, potatoes, jalapeño peppers, onions, fries, or more cheese for various extra charges. To ensure your order remains paleo, order the power bowl, substitute the lettuce for rice, and remove the sour cream, cheese, beans, and avocado ranch sauce. With all these modifications, we recommend also adding chicken, jalapeños, and onions to beef up the bowl. Its guacamole is paleo-friendly, so heck, even order an extra side of that too.

12. Lettuce-wrapped burger from Five Guys

Lean meat and fish represent a significant portion of paleo diets, making the high-quality burgers at Five Guys a good choice for paleo eaters. Unfortunately, while the brand does use fresh ground beef, its fries are cooked in peanut oil, making them off-limits for those on the paleo diet (via Five Guys).

While the fries won't be included in your order at Five Guys, a classic hamburger can provide a paleo-friendly option. Of course, the bun cannot come along, so order this one wrapped in crisp iceberg lettuce instead.

Unlike other burger chains that require a ridiculous amount of modifications to stay paleo compliant, Five Guys gives you plenty of topping options. We recommend skipping the condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, cheese, etc.) and sticking with lots of veggies when staying paleo. If you really like meat, bacon can be an excellent addition to your burger too.

13. Southwest Avocado Salad from Wendy's

The next paleo-friendly meal on our list may surprise you. While Wendy's is famous for square beef patties and Frosty desserts, it also offers a wide variety of salads. Ordering a burger without the bun can get redundant at fast food restaurants, so choosing a nourishing salad can help you diversify your paleo-friendly options.

With a few modifications, Wendy's Southwest Avocado Salad can be a great paleo-friendly meal. This salad includes a blend of lettuces, pepper jack cheese, diced tomatoes, avocado, Applewood smoked bacon, and grilled chicken, all topped with Southwest Ranch Dressing. If you have been paying attention thus far in our paleo roundup, we have to remove the cheese and dressing from this salad for it to be considered paleo. The salad still tastes great and fills you up without these ingredients, yet follows the paleo lifestyle, a win-win situation.

14. Lettuce-wrapped hamburger from McDonald's

Next, we discover what the happiest place on earth has to offer. No, not Disneyland; it's the golden arches at McDonald's. As one of the largest fast food chains in the world, McDonald's is known for its hamburgers, specifically the Big Mac. Unfortunately, the Big Mac's triple buns, sauce, and cheese do not comply with the no grain and no dairy nature of the paleo diet. McDonald's even discloses that its pickles contain an artificial preservative, so we'll be skipping those too.

To find paleo-friendly fast food options that won't ruin your diet at McDonald's, opt for a plain hamburger lettuce-wrapped, aka no bun. McDonald's chicken does come fried, so there are not many options at this famous chain for paleo eaters. If you want to avoid ruining your paleo diet at McDonald's, order a hamburger and make sure to ditch the bun, condiments, and pickles.

15. Lettuce-wrapped burger from Burger King

Burger King claims quality and taste are at the forefront of the company's mission. While this sounds great, for paleo eaters, it really comes down to ingredients and how items are cooked. Compared to other burger chains, Burger King's paleo options are more limited. But don't fret; Burger King can stay on your list if you find yourself in a pinch.

Like other burger chains, getting your burger protein style (aka, wrapped in iceberg lettuce) is the best option to keep your meal paleo-friendly. Burger King flame grills their beef patties and tops them with pickles, mustard, and ketchup. Unfortunately, you will have to remove all those toppings to ensure that this burger stays paleo. We also recommend adding tomatoes and onions to give this hamburger more bulk. The burgers here are not always the best sans bun, but it gets the job done.

16. Teriyaki Bowl Chicken from Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box is one of the most interesting fast food brands in the marketplace. The fast food chain set the standard for things like the drive-thru, breakfast sandwiches, and to-go salads. Now, Jack in the Box features one of the most diverse fast food menus. You can order anything from a burger and fries to tacos and egg rolls. At Jack in the Box, your fast food order options are endless. For paleo dieters, the options are not quite as endless, but Jack in the Box does provide options outside of a bunless burger.

At Jack in the Box, we suggest ordering Jack's Teriyaki Chicken Bowl. This bowl is made with chicken, veggies, and rice, but you will have to remove the rice to comply with the paleo diet. Ask for no sauce and to add additional vegetables to replace the rice for a filling and low-carb meal. Not many fast food chains offer this type of bowl, so we enjoyed the unique dish.