The Unhealthiest Chicken Sandwiches (and What to Order Instead)

When you’re on the go, eating out is sometimes your only option. Ordering from a menu can be tricky, though. A grilled chicken sandwich, for example, sounds healthy compared to a double bacon cheeseburger, right? Yet without realizing it, you may end up ordering one of the worst chicken sandwiches a restaurant has to offer.

Unfortunately, scoping out every restaurant’s healthiest options can seem like a nightmare when you’re in a hurry. Since there isn’t always time to thoroughly explore every menu while in the drive-through line, here’s a list of some of the worst chicken sandwiches you can buy — and healthier menu alternatives you can order instead.

1. McDonald’s: Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

One of the worst chicken sandwiches on the McDonald's menu, containing over 1,000 mg of sodium.

While it’s possible to order a healthy meal at McDonald’s, this sandwich is anything but nutritious. | iStock.com/bhofack2

Over the years, McDonald’s has managed to incorporate many healthy substitutes and sides into its menu. However, some of the least nutritious salads, burgers, and sandwiches still remain among their most popular selections. Watch out for the Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich, which offers most of its 64 grams of carbohydrates as added sugar.

You’d expect a sandwich from a fast food restaurant to be salty, but over 1,000 milligrams of sodium in one menu item is almost half of what you’re supposed to have over the course of a day. Even removing the mayonnaise dressing doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s the size that’s the problem: It’s just a very large sandwich.

Order Instead: Chicken McNuggets and a Side Salad

Chicken McNuggets are a healthier chicken option to consider when ordering from the menu.

Order Chicken McNuggets and a side salad to satisfy your craving for something crispy. | iStock.com/OlgaMiltsova

You’re just not going to find a reasonably healthy sandwich on a McDonald’s menu unless you remove most of the main ingredients (making it no longer a sandwich). However, you can still satisfy your crispy chicken craving without all the extra calories and fat. A 4-piece order of Chicken McNuggets will give you just under 350 milligrams of sodium and only 11 grams of carbs.

In addition, you can order a side salad to add some nutritious veggies to the mix without tacking on the extra ingredients that tend to make fast food salads so unhealthy. A McDonald’s side salad contains a variety of veggies — which means enough fiber to help fill you up without eating a sandwich severely lacking in vital nutrients relative to its size.

2. Wendy’s: Asiago Ranch Chicken Club

One of the worst chicken sandwiches from Wendy's, featuring cheese, ranch sauce, bacon and fried chicken.

Cheese, ranch and bacon: it tastes good, but is it really worth it? | iStock.com/SergeyPlyusnin

Doesn’t the fancy name of a menu item make you want to order it more? Exhibit A: the Asiago Ranch Chicken Club. The name itself sounds delightful, but should send up a few major red flags. Cheese and ranch sauce don’t usually add much value beyond flavor to a sandwich. The bacon adds more crunch, but that’s about it. And just because there’s lettuce and tomato doesn’t make up for the fact that the list of added flavorings to the chicken breast alone runs a mile long.

Order Instead: Grilled Chicken Wrap

A Wendy's grilled chicken wrap features chicken, lettuce, cheddar cheese and honey mustard sauce.

Everything you love about a chicken sandwich bundled up in a soft tortilla. | iStock.com/IgorDutina

Wraps aren’t always necessarily healthier than a traditional sandwich, but a Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Wrap is a happy exception. Instead of crispy fried chicken doused in a mixture of sauces and flavorings smashed between two buns, this lunch-friendly item features grilled chicken, lettuce, cheddar cheese and honey mustard sauce all wrapped neatly into a flour tortilla. It even has 20 grams of protein without too many other added ingredients to cancel it out.

3. Panera Bread: Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt

One of Panera Bread's worst chicken sandwiches, this menu item's sodium content is extremely high.

This one sandwich will help you reach your maximum sodium intake threshold for an entire day. | iStock.com/olgna

This is another case where a few healthy ingredients don’t quite cancel out the bad stuff. The Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt does have fresh, antibiotic-free chicken, and the bread isn’t the worst you can find. But it has sky-high sodium content, nearly 2,000 milligrams, which comes from a medley of sauces, as well as its emphasis on cheese. A “melt,” after all, is just menu shorthand for “toasted bread with melted cheese all over it, and some other stuff in between.” Processed cheeses, like the Gouda on this sandwich, taste amazing — if you’re willing to deal with the extremely salty consequences.

Order Instead: BBQ Chicken Flatbread

Panera's BBQ chicken flatbread is one of the healthiest sandwich options on the menu.

Barbecue chicken fresh off the grill tastes as good as fried chicken, except it’s healthier. | iStock.com/Shaiith

Panera’s BBQ Chicken Flatbread shares many ingredients with the above sandwichc. The difference is mainly in the bread, which in this case, is considered whole grain. These breads are prepared using all parts of the natural grain, which offers more nutrition per serving, like essential B-vitamins, than breads with one or more parts of the grain removed. It does also include two kinds of cheeses, but they’re more of an accent on this sandwich, rather than the glue that holds the whole thing together.

4. Chick-fil-A: Spicy Deluxe Sandwich

The sodium content of this item, and the fact that it's deluxe, makes it one of the worst chicken sandwiches Chick-fil-A has to offer.

What makes a spicy chicken sandwich spicy, anyway? | iStock.com/Elena_Danileiko

They may be best known for their chicken, but some Chick-fil-A menu options aren’t so nice. When it comes to sandwiches, the Spicy Deluxe scores high on the list of things to avoid. What makes this sandwich so spicy? Sugar and salt mostly, though there a few good old-fashioned spices in there somewhere.

The biggest problem with this sandwich is that it’s not just the chicken full of these iffy ingredients: It has an outer coating of “spice” on top of that, too. In the end, that all adds up to about 43 grams of carbs, and 1,760 milligrams of sodium — all in one sandwich. This accounts for more than two-thirds of your maximum recommended sodium intake for a whole day. That’s a lot of salt.

Order Instead: Grilled Nuggets

Grilled chicken nuggets are an excellent alternative to fried chicken.

It’s still a chicken nugget, it’s just not crispy. | iStock.com/Monrudee

Chick-fil-A’s Grilled Nuggets are exactly what they sound like: grilled pieces of chicken in nugget form. They’re not breaded or fried: Just grilled and seasoned for added flavor. If you need some spice, you can dip them in your favorite sauce, which allows you to control how much sauce you get with each bite.

Many sandwiches come with an intense sauce overload, even if you ask for less. And more sauce usually equals more calories; fat; more of all the things you really don’t need. These nuggets are the portion-controlled delight you’ve always wanted.

5. Chili’s: Buffalo Chicken Ranch Sandwich

As far as worst chicken sandwiches go, this one's pretty high on the "nope" list.

Spicy buffalo sauce is better homemade, anyway. | iStock.com/bhofack2

The Buffalo Chicken Ranch Sandwich is a spicy, creamy mess with some vegetables on top. Have you ever wondered what’s in spicy buffalo sauce? Usually, hot pepper sauce — which is mostly way too much sodium and sugar — plus butter, more salt and sugar, and plenty of flavorings you can’t even pronounce. This sandwich also comes loaded with ranch sauce — also not the best indicator of a healthy meal.

Once again, portion size is a major concern here. With all that messy ranch sauce, it’s not the easiest to split with the intention of packing half to go.

Order Instead: A Cup of Chicken Enchilada Soup

Swap a chicken sandwich for a bowl of chicken enchilada soup for a wider variety of flavors.

Chicken and soup go great together, plus there’s cheese in it too. | iStock.com/bbourdages

Since portion size makes the buffalo chicken ranch sandwich a no-go, try a cup of Chicken Enchilada Soup instead. There’s plenty of chicken, tortilla slices, and cheese in that bowl, but it’s actually a reasonable portion of soup you can order along with a salad or shared appetizer. This way, you can still enjoy delicious bites of chicken and cheese without going completely overboard.

6. Subway: Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt

Subway's worst chicken sandwiches typically have bacon and sauce on them.

If only bacon were a vegetable (it’s not). | iStock.com/HandmadePictures

Subway’s Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt features several of the key signs of a dangerous sandwich: It has bacon, it’s drenched in ranch, and it’s a melt. You can pretty much count on steering clear of anything with bacon and ranch sauce as main ingredients, since they’re high in both sugar and sodium. When it comes to melted cheese, moderation is a virtually impossible achievement.

For the record, most commercial ranch sauces are a combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, salt, and spices. That’s fine for veggies, but not so fine on top of bacon and cheese.

Order Instead: Oven-Roasted Chicken Sandwich

Oven-roasted chicken is much more nutritious than fried chicken.

Roasted chicken and fresh veggies make this sandwich a winner. | iStock.com/missaigong

A member of Subway’s Fresh Fit selection, the Oven-Roasted Chicken Sandwich is on the healthier side of delicious. Any chicken that isn’t fried, wrapped in bacon or covered in an unspecified spice mixture is a great start to any healthy entrée. This sandwich also includes fresh ingredients like green peppers and cucumbers — all the crunch, without the crispy bacon. This is one veggie-packed sandwich that doesn’t feel like a salad on a bun.

7. KFC: Doublicious

Try KFC's Doublicious sandwich at your own risk.

Any food with “double” in its name is trying to tell you something. | iStock.com/chirapbogdan

Kentucky Fried Chicken is famous for — you guessed it — their fried chicken. You can order it by the piece or by the bucketful. You can even order it on a sandwich. Of all the chicken sandwiches across menus around the country, the Doublicious is the one you definitely want to avoid. The poulty alone delivers 910 milligrams of sodium. Add on bacon, cheese, sauce, and a sweet Hawaiian bun — dough, butter, and at least three different variations of sugar — and your chances of eating a healthy meal on the go look pretty unlikely.

Order Instead: Just one Chicken Little

 

KFC's Chicken Littles are best eaten one at a time.

Eat one baby sandwich and save the other one for later. | iStock.com/ilzesgimene

When you order Chicken Littles, you basically get two baby chicken sandwiches with a choice of side. Eating just one of these sandwiches comes out to about a third of the Doublicious’s calorie count and half of the sodium. The great thing about eating out is you don’t have to eat everything all at once! You can always purchase a full order and save the second sandwich for later. Pair it with a side of green beans so you can still finish your meal feeling full without the overwhelming temptation to reach for a second sandwich.

8. Cheesecake Factory: Chicken Parmesan Sandwich

One of Cheesecake Factory's worst chicken sandwiches - probably worse for you than actual cheesecake.

Eating healthy would be so much easier if restaurants stopped melting cheese on everything. | iStock.com/Rasulovs

If you’re not heading to Cheesecake Factory just for cheesecake (it happens), you actually have a fairly wide selection of entrées and sides to choose from. If you’re in the mood for chicken, though, stay away from the Chicken Parmesan Sandwich. This meal alone packs almost 3,000 milligrams of sodium — well over the maximum amount of sodium you’re supposed to have in a single day. The other downside to eating salty foods is they make you thirsty. Unless you automatically default to ordering water when you eat out, you’re much more likely to unknowingly consume tons of extra calories from soft drinks.

Order Instead: Chinese Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is a much healthier option than fried meat on a bun.

Add chicken to salad to trick yourself into eating healthier without having to give up chicken. | iStock.com/YakubovAlim

Fill up on the Chinese Chicken Salad instead, which includes fresh lettuce, mandarin oranges, almonds, snow peas, and more. The sliced chicken in this salad is poached, meaning it’s cooked by covering it with water and letting it simmer. That’s much better than chicken fried in oil or boiled at high temperatures, which can cause it to lose valuable nutrients as well as flavor. It’s a light, crunchy, and fresh option that feels less like a salad and more like a well-balanced meal — because it is!