Fast food hacks that will change the way you eat forever

Whether your fast food habits include lunch every day or breakfast once a week, a daily coffee or an occasional treat, there's a hack out there for you. We're talking about little-publicized tips and tricks that help you get more for your money (and sometimes, free stuff!), or things that just make the whole process easier. And easy is the name of the game when it comes to fast food, right?

Sometimes, there's an added bonus to these hacks, too. You might be doing just a little bit to help save the world — and it's those little things that start to add up when everyone does it — or you might find your food is actually tasting just a little bit better. So, let's talk about how to get the most out of your next trip to your fast food chain of choice, whether it's McDonald's, Starbucks, or somewhere in between.

Free upgrades from Chipotle

If you walk away from Chipotle and you're still hungry, you're doing life wrong. They're notorious for their huge portions, but did you know there's a ton of stuff you can add to your order for free?

According to Business Insider, some of the best ways to get more bang for your buck is to start by ordering the burrito bowl. Not only will you get more for the same price, but you can get an actual burrito if you want it. Just ask for a tortilla on the side — it's free. Also free? Ask for extra rice, pinto beans, black beans, and fajita vegetables. Yes, that's seriously all free! So is salad dressing (but not, they note, guacamole).

They also say you can essentially get free meat by asking for half steak, half chicken. Most employees fill the scoops more than halfway, so by the time they're done piling on the protein you'll get about an extra half scoop. Sure, that might be more than you can eat in one sitting, but the rest will make a great midnight snack.

Ask for Subway's V-cut

There's no greater lunchtime frustration than biting into your sub and having it go everywhere, but we have a hack that will help you fix that problem and minimize messes on your desk. It comes thanks to Subway, and according to a conversation on Quora, Subway used to cut their sandwich rolls very differently before 2000. Instead of cutting the bread in half straight across, they cut a deep V into the roll. That left a wedge-shaped top and a more stable bottom that held up to the fillings much better.

It's not clear why they stopped cutting it this way (but it's suggested it fell out of fashion because it wasn't the best way to cut subs with patty-shaped meats), but you can definitely still ask for it at Subway or any other sub shop that bakes and cuts their own rolls. You might have to explain exactly what you're talking about, but the V-cut will change how you eat lunch.

The nugget hack

Like many fast food places, prices at McDonald's can vary a lot. We won't get into too many specifics for that reason, but we will tell you that most of the time you're better off ordering multiples of the smallest quantity of nuggets they have, and here's why.

Nuggets are priced very, very strangely, and ordering a 10-piece instead of two (or three) 4-piece orders doesn't actually give you much of a per-nugget price break. According to LA Weekly, the real benefit comes in when you start factoring in the sauce. McDonald's charges for extra sauce, but you'll get one with each 4-piece you order. In most places, that's going to shift the cost to a point where it's definitely more economical to order individual, mini-orders of nuggets, especially if you're the type that double-dips and only stretches a sauce packet to just a few nuggets anyway. Added bonus, it also makes it easier to mix-and-match all their new sauces.

Ask for a Venti water

Bottled water is crazy expensive, but that's not it's only problem. There are all kinds of issues with bottled water, from the plastic waste to the water that's wasted in the production process. It's an issue we took an in-depth look at here, and if you're the type that regularly grabs some bottled water when you're out and about, it only takes a few facts to make you want to rethink that. Add in the fact there's a super-easy trick to getting filtered water for free from Starbucks, and you'll wonder why you every bought it.

Just ask for a Venti ice water, and if you're worried about getting the stuff out of the tap, don't fret. According to Teen Vogue, Starbucks uses filtered water for their coffee, and that's the stuff you're going to be getting when you ask for a water. It'll be free, just as good (if not better) than the bottled stuff, and you'll be giving the environment a helping hand when you use your reusable container.

Fast food brunch

Timing is everything, and here's a hack that will work pretty much at any place that serves breakfast in the morning then switches to lunch later in the day. Get there at the sweet spot — the minutes around the time they're switching — and if you ask really, really nicely, they might let you order off both menus.

Let's take McDonald's, which has vastly different breakfast and lunch menus. Get creative, and you can make some seriously delicious new lunch options. Take the muffins or bagels off the breakfast menu, and replace the roll of your favorite burger. Or, try a burger topped with bacon, egg, and hash browns off the breakfast menu, add a burger or chicken patty to a McGriddle, or add a sausage patty to your favorite burger. Order some hotcakes, and instead of sausage, swap in a chicken patty. There's seriously no limit to the mash-ups you can make, but this is one hack that's completely dependent on employees — so ask nicely!

Open the ketchup cups

Ketchup has been one of America's favorite condiments for a long, long time, and even though BBQ sauce is moving up in the ranks it's unlikely to push aside the reigning champ. If you love ketchup, you've probably been to one of those places with the almost ridiculously tiny paper ketchup cups. Do you feel self-conscious loading ten on your tray, because you know how frustrating they're going to be? There's a quick fix that's almost shockingly easy — once you know about it.

In 2012, FoodBeast writer Elie Ayrouth was trying to dunk his hamburger into one of those little paper ketchup containers, and not having the least amount of luck. He says it changed his life when a friend showed him how to pull on the sides and unfold the cup so it turned into a perfectly accessible ketchup container suited to not just fries but burgers and chicken fingers too. Genius, right? Now you know, and now you can help save the planet by taking a few less cups.

Order a straw for your coffee

Coffee drinkers have their own set of problems, and one of those problems is when your coffee is too hot to drink but filled so full it splashes out of the hole in the cup lid, no matter how carefully you walk or drive. If you've picked up some coffee on the way to work and then immediately spilled it (and wondered if that was going to set the tone for the rest of the day), you know the level of annoyance. We've all been there, but there's a pretty brilliant hack for keeping your coffee hot — and in your cup — until you've gotten where you need to go.

Redditor helloreiko says a folded straw tucked into the hole of a to-go cup lid will solve literally all your coffee-related problems, and if you're a coffee drinker, you have to admit this is pretty world-changing. No more scalded legs, no more cup holders full of coffee, no more old coffee smell in your car. Best of all, it'll save every drop of that delicious sanity-preserving elixir of life.

Keep that bag warm

So, you're tasked with hitting the drive-thru and bringing home a quick and easy meal for the family. If you live pretty much any real distance from the fast food joint of choice, you're probably familiar with the taste of lukewarm fries and food. The microwave just doesn't cut it, but there are a few super-easy ways you can keep that food hot until you get home.

If this is something you do a lot, invest in a survival blanket. You know the ones, the metallic-looking silver ones? They're made for trapping the heat, and they do it so well you can even hack one to turn it into a solar oven (via Idea Hacks). And that makes it more than capable of catching all the heat that's coming off your take-out bag and keeping those burgers warm. Another option that popped up on Twitter is turning on your car's heated seats, and according to The Independent, a ton of people have confirmed that this one works. (Given, of course, that you're lucky enough to have a car with heated seats.)

Let's say you get home, your food's still hot, and the family's not quite ready. If it's only going to be a relatively short time, The Kitchn recommends you just throw it in the microwave and shut the door, and it'll still be piping hot.  

Bring your reusable mug

The amount of garbage caused just from disposable coffee cups is out of control, and in 2018, Britain's Environmental Audit Committee released the results of an entire study on how they were going to deal with the growing problem of non-recyclable, one-use, polyethylene-lined coffee cups. Even as The Independent reports the government is considering adding an extra cost onto customer's bills when they use cups, some fast food restaurants are implementing another sort of solution — a discount when you bring your own reusable mug.

Bring your mug to Starbucks, and you'll not only get 10 cents off your coffee — no matter what size — but you might also get a bit extra. They'll charge you for the cup size that's closest to what you bring in, but they won't go over. Score! Tim Hortons also gives you 10 cents off, and according to Sightline Institute, it's becoming more and more common. Seattle's Best and Peet's both started the discount, and smaller, independent coffee shops are jumping on board, too. Not only will you be doing your part to help keep the planet a little cleaner, but there's another bonus: those coffee cups aren't going to pile up in your car, so it won't smell like old coffee any more.

Freeze those condiment packets

It's a fact of life: condiment packets just sort of accumulate. Whether you order out for Chinese on a regular basis or grab more than a handful of taco sauce packets, there's a good chance you've got a drawer at least partially filled with packets you never think to use during regular, non-fast food meals. There are a ton of uses for these little packets, though, and Lifehacker even suggests freezing them to make mini ice packs the perfect size for relieving the pain of minor bumps, bruises, and bug bites. 

That's pretty brilliant, but we're talking about eating. Comments on that piece suggest other uses for those frozen condiment packets, and point out they're the perfect size for throwing in your packed lunches. They'll keep your lunch cold, and by the time you're ready to eat they're melted enough that you have taco sauce, ketchup, BBQ or dressing that's still chilled, but not too cold for your sandwich or salad.

Download the app

Have a favorite fast food joint or two, along with some extra space on your phone? Download their apps, and you'll find there's a ton of free stuff on offer.

Let's take Starbucks. Their app tracks your purchases, and you'll accumulate points you can eventually cash in for free stuff (via Insider). Dunkin' Donuts, Jamba Juice, and Panera Bread have apps for pretty much the same thing. If you're not a coffee drinker, there are still plenty of options. McDonald's has an app that lets you order and pay for your food online, and they — like Chick-fil-A — offer discounts and coupons via their app, too. Dairy Queen regularly gives away free Blizzards, and Domino's goes even further. Download their app, and you'll have a chance at winning one of their monthly giveaways of stock shares.

Some will even give you a freebie on your birthday. Krispy Kreme and Jamba Juice both do (via Money Talks News), and if you're a fan of Red Robin, you don't even have to go there on your birthday to get a free burger — just show up during your birthday month. There are a ton of other goodies in these apps, so start your download queue.