It's easy to go completely overboard with the toppings at Chipotle. Be careful—you could be eating 70 grams of fat in one sitting. Photograph courtesy of Flickr users Mike Saechang.
Just saying the word “Chipotle” is enough to make most people salivate. But those baby-size burritos can leave health-conscious folks a little wary. So to help you navigate the menu, Vienna-based dietitian Rima Kleiner has the skinny (and the fatty) on this beloved fast-but-fresh food spot.
“It’s not a bad choice for a healthful lunch. It’s got lots more options to make healthier choices than a lot of other fast food places,” she says. “There is a lot of sodium, but that’s just restaurant eating and not specific to Chipotle.”
So saltier meals are a given. If that’s not a big concern for you, read on for her breakdown of the menu—including the best and worst of the salads and the healthiest meal for kids.
• Burrito, with carnitas, cilantro-lime rice, sour cream, roasted chili corn salsa, and cheese: “On the surface it’s not that bad, but anything with a burrito-size flour tortilla and sour cream has a lot of calories, sodium, and fat,” Kleiner says. A burrito built this way clocks in at 910 calories, 40 grams of both fat and cholesterol, and almost a full day’s worth of sodium.
• Soft tacos, with barbacoa or chicken, rice, fajita vegetables, and green tomatillo salsa: Three of these soft tacos are 520 calories total, putting them in acceptable range for a proper meal. Kleiner says. “This has half the fat of the worst menu item, and adding the green salsa gives it nine grams of fiber, which is double the last meal.” There’s still 1,200 milligrams of sodium, though, so be extremely careful about your other meals during the day.
• Burrito bowl, with steak or chicken, brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, guacamole, and green salsa: The best meal at Chipotle is one that skips the tortillas. This burrito bowl is a square 510 calories, 17 grams of fat, and an impressive 22 grams of fiber. “It’s got lean protein and heart-healthy fats that will give you a full feeling for longer. This is pretty good meal,” says our expert. Be sure to ask for half the normal amount of guacamole, as the dollop tends to be generous.
• Worst—lettuce, carnitas, pinto beans, chili-corn salsa, cheese, and chipotle-honey vinaigrette, with chips: “This salad is actually higher in fat and sodium than the worst meal on the menu,” Kleiner says. Between the pork, cheese, and honey-chipotle dressing, you’ll be eating 70 grams of fat, more than a day’s worth of sodium, and 1,330 calories if you have it with the chips (it’s 760 by itself).
• Best—lettuce, chicken or steak, black beans, fajita vegetables, and chipotle-honey vinaigrette: It’s a healthy 450 calories, and as long as you keep the dressing on the side, you’re in the clear with your fat intake. Plus at 925 milligrams of sodium, it’s the least salty option at Chipotle. Add a little guacamole if you’re concerned about staying full until dinnertime.
BONUS: BEST KIDS’ MENU OPTION
• Taco kit, with single soft taco, steak, black beans, and cheese: “In a kids’ meal, you’re looking for about 375 calories,” says Kleiner. “The steak is great because iron is a really important nutrition kids aren’t getting enough of. And the cheese is fine for kids because they need the calcium.” This meal is 355 calories with 10 grams of fiber, although the sodium remains a problem here, too. Swap juice for milk and share the side of chips.
Kleiner advises us to go for the smaller corn tortillas at Chipotle. “Burritos are good, but one tortilla has close to 300 calories, 80 of them from fat,” she explains. It’s also the second-highest sodium offender on the restaurant’s ingredient list (just behind the chipotle-honey vinaigrette). A good rule of thumb is to opt for brown rice, fajita veggies, and green salsa; they’ll give you the nutritional room to build the lunch you crave.