Chipotle’s menu, as curated by a nutritionist

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With careful thought and menu research, you can enjoy a healthy Chipotle meal

Here are the best options if you're focused on healthy choices within the limits of the menu

CNN  — 

Considering that so many Americans consume a large percentage of meals outside the home, how do you reach nutrition goals with so many options? We’ve done the legwork for you at the most popular fast food chains.

Chipotle will give you your fill of Mexican food, but because you have free rein to create your own meals from various fillings and toppings, the calories and sodium counts can add up quickly. Note that the nutritional information we provide is based on Chipotle’s online calculator.

But one nutrient you won’t have to worry about at Chipotle is sugar, as most of the menu’s options are low in sugar. Just steer clear of the sugar-sweetened beverages on the menu.

Here are the best Chipotle options if you’re focused on healthy choices within the limits of the menu. We break it down by good choices for kids, athletes, drivers, vegetarians and vegans, as well as low-calorie, low-sugar, low-salt, gluten-free and low-carb options.

For kids

Our picks: Kids tacos (build your own): Soft corn tortillas with chicken, black beans and tomato salsa; Mandarin oranges and organic milk

This meal provides more protein (30 grams) and less saturated fat (3 grams) than the kids’ cheese quesadilla, and it gives kids more than a third of their daily calcium needs, thanks to the milk. The Mandarin orange has only 35 calories and offers a vitamin C boost.

For vegetarians

Our pick: Tacos (soft corn tortillas) with black beans, fajita vegetables, cheese and romaine lettuce

Vegetarians may be tempted to add the “sofritas” (a mix of tofu, chilis and poblanos), even though it’s included. The black beans alone will take you further nutritionally; they have more fiber (12 grams vs. 3.5 grams), much less sodium (260 milligrams vs. 555 milligrams) and about the same amount of protein (7 grams vs. 8 grams). And the sodium in the sofritas represents almost a quarter of your daily limit.

The beans also give you a bigger bang for your bite when compared with the brown rice option, as you get more protein and fiber. And if you really want to give yourself a nutritional upgrade, skip the cheese and grab a container of organic milk to save sodium and saturated fat.

For vegans

Our pick: Tacos (soft corn tortillas) with black beans, fajita vegetables and romaine lettuce

The best vegan option is the same as the vegetarian one, minus the cheese, which cuts out 100 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat.

For calorie counters

Our pick: Salad with romaine lettuce, chicken, fajita vegetables and tomatillo green-chili salsa

Not only is the tomatillo-green chili salsa lowest in calories out of all the salsas, research shows that the heat it gives off can cut your appetite, too. And skip the salad dressing; half the packet adds another 135 calories, 12.5 grams of fat and 425 milligrams of sodium. Without it, the salad has only 225 calories.

For the sugar-sensitive

Our picks: Everything on the menu is low in sugar, except the vinaigrette dressing and most of the drinks.

For the salt-sensitive

Our pick: Tacos with soft corn tortillas, chicken and romaine lettuce

It’s not easy to go low-sodium at Chipotle, but avoiding salty fillings, toppings and salad dressing is your best bet.

These tacos may be plain, but they are one of the lowest-sodium options available (at 385 milligrams, total).

If you need a topping, choose the sour cream because (at 30 milligrams, according to Chipotle’s website) it won’t make a huge sodium dent. It will boost saturated fat, though.

Other lower-sodium options include a burrito bowl with chicken and brown rice (505 milligrams) or chicken and fajita vegetables (480 milligrams).

For the gluten-sensitive

Our picks: According to Chipotle’s website, everything on the menu is wheat- and gluten-free, except soft flour tortillas (used for burritos and tacos). And if corn is an issue for you, choose a salad or burrito bowl.

For the athlete

Our picks: Burrito (flour tortilla) with steak, brown rice and romaine lettuce

The carbs in this burrito will fuel muscles for exercise. Plus, the steak contributes protein along with iron, which helps deliver oxygen to muscles. It’s true that the sodium is on the higher side, but if you’re sweating a lot, you can afford some extra milligrams. Just avoid those salsas to keep sodium in check.

For the road warrior

Our picks: Kids tacos (build your own): soft corn tortillas with chicken, brown rice and fajita vegetables; Mandarin orange and organic milk

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    Yes, it’s from the kids’ menu, but downsizing your meal while driving will keep you from feeling stuffed and sluggish. This meal is protein-rich and moderate in fat, a winning combo when you need sustained energy. Skip the beans, as they may cause GI discomfort while on the road. And save that Mandarin for a snack when you need it.

    For the carb-conscious

    Our pick: Burrito bowl with chicken, fajita vegetables, tomatillo green-chili salsa, guacamole and romaine lettuce

    You might not think of this meal as a true “burrito,” but by sacrificing the tortilla, you get to enjoy a heaping of guacamole. Yes, the fat numbers are high, but the guacamole is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. If you can do half of the guacamole portion, you skim almost 200 milligrams of sodium.

    Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, author and health journalist.