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When it comes to fast food chains, Chipotle is different. They’re fast and affordable but they also use quality ingredients that have been sourced responsibly, a key difference few competitors emulate because it’s so expensive.

They’re one of my favorite destinations and I’m always happy to see them in places dominated by low-cost options, like at airports.

As a frequent visitor, I’ve developed some tips and tricks to making the most of my meals.

Here are my best tips for eating well at Chipotle without busting your budget. (If you are overspending on fast food, you’re not alone. Americans spend a ton on fast food. Get a look at how your spending habits affect your credit with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com. And if you are looking to cut back on your food spending, here’s how you can eat for less than $6 a day.)

1. Bowls Are Bigger

Ever since I discovered the flour tortilla was 320 delicious calories, I’ve skipped the tortilla and ordered burrito bowls.

I quickly learned that by cutting out 320 calories, I replaced them with more calories in ingredients because the bowls are bigger. Chipotle representatives will probably tell you the amount of food inside a bowl is the same as a burrito – but any human being with eyes can see they aren’t.

The tortilla looks similar in size but it still needs to be wrapped up. Employees aren’t going to scoop as much because they still need to wrap it and they don’t want to risk ripping it.

The bowl is bigger, has a tough aluminum lid, and no one waits at the end with a scale. They’ll scoop quickly, because of the massive line, and you’re the benefactor of their largesse.

2. Skip the Line, Order Online

Speaking of lines, every Chipotle I’ve been to has had a huge line during lunch. The line moves quickly but why wait? You can skip the line by ordering online.

There is a tradeoff. You can’t use all the tips below since the order will be prepared ahead of time. You won’t be able to see them prepare your meal and ask for more of what you like.

You’re faced with the classic conundrum of deciding whether you prefer your time or more fixings. How much is your time worth?

After ordering online, just go to the designated area for online orders, usually next to the registers, and grab your tasty meal.

3. 50-50 on Protein

When you’re ordering, go with 50% of two different proteins. The spoon used to scoop the protein is the same. They don’t bring out a smaller one for 50-50 splits. Given the line behind you, the employee won’t be so careful as to only give you half of the regular amount. It’s usually a little more.

Don’t go overboard. Employees are supposed to give approximately 4 ounces of protein per order, so you may be putting the employee in a tough spot by asking.

4. More Rice, Beans, Salsa Please

If you don’t feel comfortable asking for “a little bit more” protein, you can always ask for the other stuff.

You can ask for more rice, beans or salsa without guilt. Unlike proteins, these add-ins have a lot less scrutiny so you’re less likely to annoy employees by asking for more.

5. Extra Taco Shells or Tortillas

When you order a burrito bowl, you can get three tacos or one flour tortilla shell for free. If you aren’t eating your meal right away, this will save your tacos or tortilla from getting soggy. If you want to prove the bowl beats burrito tip, try stuffing your bowl’s contents into a tortilla. You’ll fail.

If you ordered guacamole, you can ask for it on the side of the bowl. Get the three free hard shell tacos, break them up and you now have yourself a little side of faux nachos and guac.

6. Join Their Email List

You can join Chipotle’s email list at the bottom of their homepage. They promise special announcements, promotions and the occasional free burrito. Unfortunately, they do not promise you anything on your birthday (unlike these 101 restaurants that give you free food on your birthday). Who doesn’t like the occasional free burrito? After you sign up, you’ll be asked to list your local city so they can send you more targeted promotions.

7. Gift Card Promotions

Multiple times a year, Chipotle will offer a free burrito when you purchase a gift card.

During the graduation season of 2016, Chipotle offered a free burrito, bowl, order of tacos, or salad when you purchased at least $25 in gift cards. Present your gift card receipt before the end of June and the freebie was yours — but you had to purchase the gift card in the store in a single transaction.

Image: SchulteProductions

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