Healthy Options at Hardee’s

Entering Hardee County

Last week at the International Food Blogger Conference, keynote speaker James Oseland (Editor of Saveur Magazine) inspired a roomful of adoring foodies with his vibrant stories and heart-warming perspective on food and food writing.

One of the more amusing moments was his mention of a roadside stop at a Hardee’s restaurant, some years before when he first started working at the magazine.  It felt like a rare glimpse behind the curtain, where even the most exalted foodies are still real people, and (sometimes) even eat like the rest of America.

That’s exactly why I continue to focus on the larger, chain restaurants in my “Menu Mondays” posts:  These are the places where most of America eats.

So, in honor of Mr. Oseland, today’s Menu Monday is all about Hardee’s.

Hardee’s is formally known as Hardee’s Food System, Inc. (Do you really want to eat at a place that’s a Food System?)  Hardee’s is a wholly-owned subsidiary of CKE Restaurants, Inc.  Those initials “CKE” originally come from Carl Karcher Enterprises, of Carl’s Jr. fast-food fame.  They share the same “Happy Star” icon, and several menu items (such as the “six-dollar burger”).

In the United States you’ll find Hardee’s franchises in the Midwest and East, and Carl’s Jr. in the West.

Considering that they’re a fairly typical fast food joint (a description to which I’m sure they’d take offense), I give them some credit for recommending several specialty diet options on their website.  They make recommendations for Vegetarian, Gluten-Sensitive, Low-Carb, and Low-Cal options.  Perhaps it’s just a token gesture, but hey, it’s a start. I’ll discuss these separately below.

Looking through the Hardee’s Ingredients List, I was appalled to find that a lot of their products use partially hydrogenated oils — which means they contain trans fats.  (Here’s my primer on fat, and a note of caution about the trans-fat loophole).  Apparently they’ve completely missed the trans-fat memo.

The following Hardee’s items contain partially hydrogenated oils, and therefore contain artificial trans fats:

Thickburger patties, Six-Dollar Burger patties, Charbroiled Chicken Breast, Fish Fillet, Breaded Pork Chops, Mashed Potatoes, Mushroom Sauce, Au Jus Sauce, Tortillas, Biscuits (Scratch and Cinnamon Raisin), Margarine (on top of the biscuits), Biscuit Gravy, Croissants, Pancakes, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Coffee Creamer, Hot Chocolate, Whipped Topping, Ice Cream (Cookies & Cream and Mint Chocolate Chip), Ice Cream Cones, Vegetable Shortening for Frying (fully hydrogenated), and “Whirl” (a margarine-like substance added to many of their breakfast items).

So on to the recommendations.  Bear with me, this might be a rough ride.

Breakfast – Better Choice

The grits look like the best option to me — by a wide margin — because of the lower calories and fat.  Even if you get two servings, you’ll do better than the other breakfast options.

Grits (one serving)
110 cal, 1g sat fat, 5g total fat, 490mg sodium, 16g carbs, no sugars, 1g fiber, 2g protein

Breakfast – Better Choices

Don’t like grits? These would be the next-best options.  I’m not thrilled about them, mind you, but they are, well, better.

Pancakes (3) – Without syrup, jam, or butter
300 cal, 1g sat fat, 5g total fat, 830mg sodium, 55g carbs, 12g sugars, 2g fiber, 8g protein

Sunrise Croissant™ with Ham
400 cal, 23g total fat, 1,070mg sodium

Frisco Breakfast Sandwich®
420 cal, 18g fat, 1,250mg sodium

Texas Toast Breakfast Sandwich – Sausage
480 cal, 30g fat, 960mg sodium

Breakfast – Worst Choices

Everything else on the breakfast menu is a pretty lousy proposition.  Most of the sandwiches are built around their calorie/fat/sodium-rich biscuits.

Anything over 600 calories or 1,500mg sodium gets the Red X.

Made from Scratch Biscuit™
370 calories for a small biscuit, loaded with 23 grams of fat and 890mg sodium.  And no fiber whatsoever.

Cinnamon ‘N’ Raisin™ Biscuit
These looked pretty good at first (300 calories, “only” 15 grams of fat and 680 mg sodium) but then I realized that they’re really small, at just 81 grams per serving.

Jelly Biscuit
520 calories, 1,020mg sodium.

Sausage Biscuit
530 calories, 38g fat, 1,240mg sodium

Sausage and Egg Biscuit
590 cal, 42g fat, 1,300mg sodium

Chicken Ham Biscuit X
440 cal (better than most…) but a whopping 1,710mg sodium

Chicken Fillet Biscuit X
620 cal , 37 g fat, 1,560mg sodium

Country Steak Biscuit
590 cal, 40g fat, 1,290mg sodium

Breaded Pork Chop Biscuit X
640 cal, 39g fat, 1,270mg sodium

Pork Chop ‘N’ Gravy Biscuit X
680 cal, 42g fat, 1,400mg sodium

Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuit X
530 cal, 36g fat, 1,390mg sodium

Loaded Omelet Biscuit X
610 cal, 42g fat, 1,540mg sodium
Please tell me know already know to avoid anything with the word “Loaded” in the name.

Monster Biscuit™ X X
770 cal, 55g fat (including 18g sat fat, nearly a day’s max), 2,310mg sodium
Yup, that’s an entire day’s salt in your breakfast sandwich.  “Monster” is another no-no food word.

Smoked Sausage Biscuit X
620 cal, 46g fat, 1,680mg sodium

Biscuit ‘N’ Gravy™ X
530 cal, 33g fat, 1,510mg sodium

Low Carb Breakfast Bowl® X
620 cal, 21g sat fat, 50g fat, 1,380mg sodium
Whoa. Don’t fall for the “health-halo” on this one! Just because it’s low-carb doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  That’s an entire day’s worth of fat!

Loaded Breakfast Burrito X X
760 cal, 21g sat fat, 49g fat, 1,700mg sodium

Big Country® Breakfast Platter – Bacon (without syrup, jam, or butter) X X
910 cal, 48g fat, 2,210mg sodium

Hash Rounds® – Small
250 cal, 3.5g sat fat, 16g total fat, 360mg sodium, 25g carbs, 1g sugar, 2g fiber, 3g protein
I put these here to point out that a small serving has 250 calories.  The large?  530.

Thickburgers® & Sandwiches – Better Choices

Interestingly, it seems that the cheeseburger variations of the Thickburgers are significantly lower in calories than the regular ones.  As far as I can tell, the regular thickburgers include mayonnaise — a major source of fat and calories — whereas the cheeseburgers don’t add it.  I don’t see why you couldn’t have it both ways:  If you get a regular burger, hold the mayo.

Green Checks go to those 350 calories or fewer and under 1,000mg of sodium.

Small Hamburger (“Regular” Hamburger)
310 cal, 4g sat fat, 15g total fat, 500mg sodium, 32g carbs, 6g sugars, 1g fiber, 14g protein

Small Cheeseburger (“Regular” Cheeseburger)
350 cal, 4g sat fat, 19g total fat, 730mg sodium, 32g carbs, 6g sugars, 1g fiber, 16g protein

Regular Roast Beef Sandwich
310 cal, 5g sat fat, 15g total fat, 840mg sodium, 28g carbs, 3g sugars, 1g fiber, 17g protein

Hot Ham ‘N’ Cheese™
280 cal, 4g sat fat, 12g total fat, 1,090mg sodium, 29g carbs, 4g sugars, 1g fiber, 18g protein

Low-Carb Charbroiled Chicken Club Sandwich
360 cal, 7g sat fat, 23g total fat, 1,290mg sodium, 14g carbs, 8g sugars, 1g fiber, 24g protein

Thickburgers® & Sandwiches – Better Choices

All of these are in the 400-450 calorie range, but are over 1,000 mg sodium.  Not the Better Choices, but not the worst, either.

Little Thick Cheeseburger
450 cal, 9g sat fat, 23g total fat, 1,180mg sodium, 54g carbs, 16g sugars, 4g fiber, 32g protein

1/3 lb. Low Carb Thickburger®
420 cal, 12g sat fat, 32g total fat, 1,010mg sodium, 5g carbs, 3g sugars, 2g fiber, 30g protein

Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich
450 cal, 9g sat fat, 23g total fat, 1,180mg sodium, 38g carbs, 10g sugars, 3g fiber, 24g protein

Spicy Chicken Sandwich
440 cal, 5g sat fat, 21g total fat, 1,180mg sodium, 28g carbs, 3g sugars, 1g fiber, 25g protein

Jumbo Chili Dog
400 cal, 9g sat fat, 26g total fat, 1,170mg sodium, 25g carbs, 6g sugars, 1g fiber, 16g protein

Big Roast Beef™
400 cal, 7g sat fat, 21g total fat, 1,180mg sodium, 28g carbs, 3g sugars, 1g fiber, 25g protein

Hand Breaded Chicken Tenders™ (5 piece)
440 cal, 4.5g sat fat, 21g total fat, 1,290mg sodium, 21g carbs, no sugars, 3g fiber, 41g protein

Thickburgers® & Sandwiches – Worst Choices

Anything over 600 calories or 1,500mg sodium gets the Red X.

1/3 lb. Cheeseburger Thickburger® X
620 cal, 13g sat fat, 33g total fat, 1,580mg sodium, 51g carbs, 10g sugars, 3g fiber, 35g protein

Any 1/3 lb. Thickburger® X
620-930 cal, 13-21g sat fat, 36-64g total fat, 1,580-1,840mg sodium, 42-52g carbs, 5-10g sugars, 3-4g fiber, 35-39g protein

Any 2/3 lb. “Double” or “Monster” Thickburger® X X
1,150-1,320 cal, 28-36g sat fat, 78-95g total fat, 2,410-3,020mg sodium, 46-53g farbs, 7-10g sugars, 2-4g fiber, 62-70g protein

The Six Dollar Thickburger® X X
930 cal, 21g sat fat, 59g total fat, 1,960mg sodium, 57g carbs, 15g sugars, 4g fiber, 46g protein

Charbroiled Chicken Club Sandwich X
630 cal, 8g sat fat, 32g total fat, 1,730mg sodium, 54g carbs, 16g sugars, 4g fiber, 32g protein

Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich X
710 cal, 7g sat fat, 38g total fat, 1,610mg sodium, 62g carbs, 6g sugars, 5g fiber, 33g protein

Big Hot Ham ‘N’ Cheese™ X
460 cal, 8g sat fat, 20g total fat, 2,040mg sodium (!!), 40g carbs, 4g sugars, 2g fiber, 36g protein

Fish Supreme Sandwich X
630 cal, 7g sat fat, 38g total fat, 1,310mg sodium, 51g carbs, 14g sugars, 3g fiber, 22g protein

Fried Chicken (Leg, Wing, Breast, or Thigh)
170-370 cal, 2-4g sat fat, 7-15g total fat, 570-1,190mg sodium, 15-29g carbs, no sugars, no fiber, 13-29g protein
I’m lumping all these together for simplicity, assuming people won’t order just one fried chicken wing.  The more you get, well, the more you get.

Special Diet Options

Note that they use the phrase “Gluten-Sensitive,” not “Gluten-Free.”  Everything is made in the same place, so there’s a chance of cross-contamination.

Low-Carb/Gluten-Sensitive Breakfast Bowl X
They do actually list this one in the nutrition info.  It’s got 620 calories and an entire day’s saturated fat.  Don’t fall for the “health halo!”

1/3 lb. Low-Carb/Gluten-Sensitive/Low-Cal Thickburger
I actually put this under my burger Better Choices, at 420 calories and “only” 1,010mg sodium, it’s one of the best lunch choices.  Better yet, get the 1/4 lb. “Little Thickburger” version.

Low-Carb Charbroiled Chicken Club Sandwich
This one also made it into the “Better Choices” list, at  360 calories and “only” 1,290mg sodium.

Side Salad (Veggie, Gluten-Sensitive)
Probably the best option on the entire menu — as long as you don’t douse it in fatty, salty dressing, of course.

Egg & Cheese Biscuit X
The biscuit itself is loaded with fat, calories, and sodium.  Keeping off the meat isn’t going to make much of a difference, I’m afraid.

Veggie Thickburger
This is the Thickburger, with all the toppings, minus the, umm, burger.  Skip the mayo.

Big Hot Ham ‘N’ Cheese (Low-Cal) X
I put this one under “Worst” choices because it’s got over 2,000 mg sodium.  The regular (not “big) one is about half the sodium, so it ended up on the Better Choices list.

Charbroiled BBQ Chicken Sandwich (Low-Cal)
This made it onto my “best” list.

Menu Mondays are my recommendations for the most healthful options at chain restaurants. Although it may be tough to find “perfect” options when eating out, it’s important to choose “better” whenever possible, and I hope these guides will help make that easier for you.

indicates the “best-of-the-best,” and X indicates the “worst-of-the-worst,” more or less.

Hardee’s Nutrition Information [PDF, 1 page]

Photo by ferret111.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

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August 6, 2013 11:21 am

What exactly are in the spices used on the regular burgers?

September 7, 2010 9:41 am

Hmm, coming from the land of Carls Jr myself, I always assumed the menus were identical (and equally gross)… looking forward to that investigation!

September 6, 2010 2:37 pm

I am impressed you found something even slightly healthy on the Hardee’s menu. I remember trying to get grilled chicken on a salad in a Hardee’s in Iowa and getting laughed at. They didn’t have anything but full fat dressings either. It’s funny they are owned by Carl’s Juniors which has a number of “healthy” options (although I am sure those are still relatively bad). Thanks for the write-up!