With people looking to save every penny, it's tough to say "no" to a meal for $6 that fills you up.
Trouble is, for decades now, fast food has been written off as ultimately unhealthy and fattening. So much of it is fried, processed, or both.
But in its March issue, Health magazine tells about the top ten healthiest fast food chains in the country.
It examines why they're healthy, what the healthiest meals are to eat there, and what to avoid. The chains were scored and ranked on such factors as the use of healthy fats and preparations, healthy sodium counts in entrees, availability of nutrition information, and the use of organic produce.
One big surprise: A traditional fast-food chain, McDonald's, cracked the top 10.
On The Early Show and on the show's Saturday Edition, Health's senior food and nutrition editor, Frances Largeman-Roth, discussed several of the top ten, and what you can order at those eateries to keep your meal as healthy as possible.
The Health magazine top ten:
1. Panera Bread Over 1,230 locations nationwide
This bakery-café-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal. Half-size soups, salads, and sandwiches make it a cinch to control portion size. Also, most of the chicken is antibiotic- and hormone-free, a rarity for large chains. Panera also won top honors for its kid fare.
Try it: Delicious, nutrient-packed combos like half a Turkey Artichoke on focaccia bread with a bowl of black bean or garden vegetable soup.
Danger zone: Sticky buns and cheese Danishes are on display at the counter.
2. Jason's Deli 206 locations in the West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South
This up-and-comer snagged second place largely because of its devotion to organic food: About one-fifth of all its ingredients are organic, from blue-corn tortilla chips and whole-wheat wraps to field greens and spinach. Jason's menu also highlights ultra-healthy sandwiches and provides the nutritional info.
Try it: Any sandwich on an organic whole-wheat wrap.
Danger zone: High-sodium counts on some sandwiches.
3. Au Bon Pain 280 locations nationwide
A pioneer in healthy fast food, Au Bon Pain serves up sandwiches, soups, salads, and hot entrées made with whole grains, veggies, and hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken. New this year: Portions, a 14-item menu of nutritious small plates, all of which are less than 200 calories. Au Bon Pain also provides on-site nutritional information via computer kiosks, so before you even order you know each option's calories, fat, and sodium.
Try it: Low-calorie soups, from Jamaican Black Bean to Fire Roasted Exotic Grains and Vegetables.
Danger zone: The sodium counts can get high if you don't pay attention.
4. Noodles and Company 204 locations in West, Midwest, South
Noodles and Company isn't your typical greasy Asian food-court joint. In fact, it goes beyond Asian fare and cuts out the grease (only healthy soybean oil is used in sautéing). Lean proteins-hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp, and organic tofu-can be added, to your bowl and you can opt for a smaller sized portion.
Try it: The whole-grain linguine-usually hard to find when eating out.
Danger zone: The desserts.
5. Corner Bakery café 111 locations in West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South
A fantastic and healthy breakfast menu sets this chain apart from all others. But Corner Bakery also has healthy salads, sandwiches, and soups made with whole grains, fresh, lean meats, and vegetables, as well as great portion-controlled combinations that make limiting calories easy.
Try it: Healthy oven-roasted chicken that comes with most pastas and salads.
Danger zone: You have to go to their Web site to get nutritional info.