Chipotle emphasizes its fresh ingredients and food values that include environmentally-friendly sourcing. While these are good qualities, but they aren’t the best indicators of how nutritious the meals are. For that, you have to look at the ingredients and the makeup of the menu items. To make it easier to eat well at this popular chain, I scoured the website to find the healthiest picks on the menu — as well as a few things you might want to eat less often.
How to order a healthy meal at Chipotle
Chipotle offers more vegetables and whole grains than typical fast-casual joints, but like other restaurant fare, it can be high in sodium and saturated fat. Take advantage of their customizable menu by using these tips:
- Opt for whole grain brown rice over white rice. And ask for light a scoop if you’re watching your carb intake or trying to manage your weight.
- Double up on vegetables. The cilantro-lime cauliflower rice, fajita veggies, salsa, and lettuce all count toward your vegetable goals.
- Add beans. A scoop of black beans has 9 grams of both protein and fiber, making it a great addition or alternative to meat.
- Watch the dairy toppings. A normal portion of cheese has 125 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat. A better strategy may be to ask for a light helping of cheese, which cuts the saturated fat in half and shaves 55 calories from your order. If you’re having the sour cream, the same strategy applies. A regular portion has 7 grams of saturated fat, but a light one has half that amount.
- Get a crunchy taco shell on the side and have it in place of chips. A regular order of Chipotle tortilla chips is about four servings, so this tactic will provide the crunch you’re craving, but it’ll help you stick to a more reasonable portion.
The healthiest things to order at Chipotle
In general, these bowls are loaded with vegetables and they’re suitable for lots of eaters, even those who aren’t following the specific diets they were created for. They also tend to have ample protein and fiber — two elements that help you stay full and satisfied. Of course, they may still have half (or more) of the upper amount of sodium you should aim for in a day, but that’s not out of the ordinary when it comes to restaurant food.
A salad is like a DIY version of a lifestyle bowl. In this case, you select toppings to add to your greens. A salad with chicken or beans (or both), salsa, and guac, is a balanced choice. Add a light or regular portion of brown rice if you want a heartier meal. Another fun and tasty option is to ask for a crispy taco shell on the side, and then crumble it over your salad. This will instantly take your meal to the next level of deliciousness.
If you want a totally customizable meal that’s heartier than a salad, a burrito bowl is the way to go. Start with a light or normal portion of brown rice, and then add the cilantro-lime cauliflower rice to boost your veggie intake. Adding the veggies to the rice will make this meal more filling and nutritious. To the base, add your veggies and any protein you like. Don’t forget you can replace your meat protein with beans, or just add some to your order. Like other Chipotle toppings, you can add a light, normal, or extra amount.
What’s nice about the tacos is you can order any amount, so you have a chance to check in with your appetite to determine the number that would be most satisfying. The crispy masa corn taco, while fried, seems to be the way to go since the bready flour taco shells are made with wheat flour, which really means white flour since there’s no indication they’re made from 100 percent whole wheat. The corn tacos are also a good source of fiber. Fill your tacos with lettuce and beans, and another protein if you like. And don’t forget the salsa!
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What to eat less often at Chipotle
Of course, when it comes to what you eat, the context matters. When your nutrition plan includes mostly whole or minimally processed plant foods, a less healthy ingredient or meal won’t make much of a difference. That said, maybe you’re trying to actively eat healthier. In that case, here are some of the menu items you may want to eat less often.
The flour tortilla is made of very processed refined grains, and between the wrap and the brown rice, you’ll get the carb equivalent of nearly six slices of bread. Even without the rice, the tortilla is like eating almost four slices of bread. Instead of a burrito, you might like a burrito bowl, which has all of the same burrito fillings layered in a bowl. Meanwhile, a bowl made with brown rice brings the carb number down to the size of a sandwich, and if you order a light portion of rice, you’re in same carb zone as a single slice of bread.
Given that you’re starting with the same flour tortilla as the burrito, the nutrition stats are similar. The doughy burrito has as many carbs as three-and-a-half slices of bread, and if you top it with rice, you’re up to six slices. Plus, this meal contains 330 calories’ worth of cheese alone, and the cheese contributes 15 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat. You can make it healthier by skipping the optional rice topping and stuffing your quesadillas with fajita veggies. Then, load them up with fresh tomato salsa for more flavor and veggie goodness.
The bottom line
It's important to remember that these meals may be loaded with sodium, saturated fat — or both. The best way to keep these less healthy substances to a minimum is to make most of your meals at home. Still, getting the occasional meal out can help reduce cooking and meal planning fatigue. Chipotle meals also come in handy when your plans to bring lunch didn’t work out, when you’re traveling, and when you’re running errands and need to stop to eat. Since you can customize your Chipotle meals to include whole grains and generous portions of veggies, and since Chipotle has vegan and vegetarian options, it’s one of the more nutritious restaurant chains to eat at.