Grabbing a quick meal on the go is always the easiest at a fast food restaurant. Whether you run in and get a sandwich or tacos from the cashier, order via the app, or hit the drive-thru for your fix, it’s one of America’s favorite ways to dine out. It’s also affordable unless you let those expensive little add-ons add up without noticing.
Over the years, fast-food chains have mastered the upsell. Would you like a large instead? Do you want to add bacon or get a bigger drink? How about an extra pump of syrup?
We spoke with restaurant experts, chefs, and dietitians to see what the impact of adding on to your fast food order has on your wallet and your waistline, and what they think you should skip when placing your order.
Almost every expert we spoke with cautioned against upgrading your meal from a small or medium to a large option, due to the cost, calories, sodium, and sugar.
“Meal deals with fries and a large drink included,” says Cheryl Orlansky RDN, LD, CDCES, “It may come out to be a better deal cost wise, however, they are marketing more food; more calories than you really need to eat at one meal.”
“Supersizing drinks when that’s not your true desire literally just adds a surplus of additional sugar into your meal,” Shena Jaramillo MS, RD, told us. “Adding on the fries and soda to the meal when it wasn’t our intent can cause us to overeat and feel sluggish.” It will also boost the bill.
“Another fast food add-on that isn’t worth the money or extra calories is the ‘super-sized’ option,” says Raymond Neil, chef and contributor at TrishDevineKitchen.com. “The supersized option is often appealing because it seems like a great deal, but it’s actually a bad idea. Not only does it add extra calories, but it also often comes with a large amount of sodium, sugar, and fat. It can also be more expensive than buying two regular-sized items.”
Starbucks can be a lifesaver when energy’s lagging, but it’s easy to add dollars and calories to your coffee order, says Dan Gallagher, RD, Aegle Nutrition. “Many Starbucks drinks automatically come with a ton of sugar and artificial sweeteners, so those extra syrup pumps aren’t worth it. Your wallet—and your body—doesn’t need all that extra stuff! Additional pumps are $.80, which adds up when you are consistently ordering them time and time again.”
It also adds up for Starbucks who is making billions on these little extras.
While your taste buds might like the cheese, the calories aren’t worth it, says Megan Wong, RD at Algae Cal. “If you ‘upgrade’ from a hamburger to a cheeseburger at In-N-Out, the amount of sodium (salt) jumps from an already high 650 milligrams to a shocking 1000 milligrams! This is a lot, given that most people should have no more than 1500 to 2300 milligrams of sodium throughout their entire day.”
If you’re trying to keep your check average, and calories and sodium down, avoid bacon add-ons, says Wong. “At Shake Shack, adding two slices of bacon means 70 extra calories, 45 of which come from fat, and 290 mg of additional sodium,” she explained.
Extra bacon at Shake Shake also adds $2 and fast-food bacon is never as crispy as it should be.
Adding stuffing to your crust means adding calories, cost, and not that much flavor, says Raymond Neil, chef and contributor at TrishDevineKitchen.com. “When it comes to pizza, stuffed crusts are one of the least healthy options,” he says. “These crusts are usually filled with cheese and other processed ingredients, making them a calorie bomb. In addition to the extra calories, these crusts can also be expensive. You’re better off getting a regular crust and adding extra toppings if you want to make your pizza more flavorful.”