Sometimes, I get to do really cool things and call it “work.” A few weeks ago the editors at MindBodyGreen asked me if I could share a favorite chain restaurant meal for an article they were writing, 11 Nutritionists Reveal What They Order at Popular Food Chains. Of course, I have more than one, but I shared a meal that I thought would surprise some people and help them get their day off to an energizing, delicious start because I know a lot of people think that on-the-go breakfast all somehow involve bacon or sausage. So. Not. True.
As I clicked through the choices some other nutrition pros offered, it got me thinking…wouldn’t it be great to have a vegetarian version of this story? So many people ask us vegheads “what do you eat?!?” But ordering meat-free is not as hard as some imagine. Even when you’re eating fast food.
Of course, anyone can go to a burger joint and say “cheeseburger without the burger, please,” and have a meatless meal. However, finding fast food that is delicious, good for you, AND vegetarian may be a bit more of a challenge.
I decided to enlist some of my favorite veg-loving registered dietitian nutritionists to get some mouth watering ideas for meat-free foods you can order at chain restaurants around the country. Here’s what they told me they order (not all are vegetarian, themselves, but each and every one of them loves a good meat-free meal!):
“I love Moe’s. They serve tofu and I get the salad bowl (with lettuce). They are not stingy on the veggies so they load it up!”
“I also love Mellow Mushroom. It’s great when I can get a plant protein on my pizza; I add tofu to my pizza here. And I love the selection of veggies, too.”
—Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, owner Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC
One of the very few “fast food” style restaurants I visit on occasion is Maoz Vegetarian. Everything is vegetarian there! My order when on-the-run around New York is a ½ falafel sandwich on whole wheat pita. Though I basically transform it into an entire meal since I stuff it with whatever fixings I’m in the mood for that day like red cabbage salad, carrot salad, and tahini or cilantro sauce, all from their fresh toppings bar. One of the best parts…I leave there satisfied and feeling good about what I ate.”
—Jackie Newgent, RDN, chef, nutritionist, and author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook
“My favorite meat-free (and healthy) fast-casual meal is at Blaze, a Chipotle-style pizza restaurant. They make custom-built pizzas, so you have total control over how they turn out. Cheese on half? Sure. Artichokes on a third? Just one piece of basil? Okay! Seriously, they’ll do whatever your weird little heart desires. I typically order their standard thin crust with marinara, ask them to go light on the mozzarella, and then load up on veggies like artichokes, bell peppers, fresh basil, olives, spinach, and zucchini. (Top with fresh arugula on half after it comes out of the oven, please?)”
“They offer gluten-free crusts and vegan cheese, too!”
—Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, LA-based registered dietitian nutritionist and lifestyle blogger
“I eat at Panera Bread once a week with my family and always go for their “You Pick 2” menu. Panera is making some nice changes when it comes to how they produce their food: No artificial additives, no trans fats, and they’re working to take out the ingredients on their “no-no list.”
“I’ve tried a lot of their salads but the new Mediterranean (Chicken) Quinoa Salad is quite nice—I ask for it without the chicken! I also ask for dressing on the side, and then I get the Black Bean Soup as my second pick for added fiber and protein. And of course I delight in the bread, particularly dipped in the soup!”
—Rachel Gargano, MS, RD, LDN, CSSD, owner of RG Nutrition and Wellness
“If I’m stuck in an airport, Einstein Bros Bagels is one of my favorite picks. I’ll order a whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter and jelly. The healthy fat and protein keep me full and satisfied for hours. If there’s a McDonald’s nearby I’ll also head there to pick up a low-fat milk to pair with my PB&J for extra protein.”
“My other standby for healthy food on the road is Starbucks. In the morning I’ll always get an oatmeal with blueberries and a non-fat latte for a filling combo of fiber and protein. Later in the day I’ll grab a Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl. I love it because it’s jammed wit whole grains and loads of veggies that you normally wouldn’t find in a go-to salad like butternut squash, beets, peas, and roasted tomatoes.”
—Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN, New York-based nutritionist and writer
“At Chipotle, I get a salad, no dressing, made with romaine lettuce, black beans, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, and guacamole (the salsa and guac are dressing enough). It’s a reasonable 400 calories, and provides a nutrient-rich balance of veggies, lean protein, healthy and satisfying plant-based fat, and a whopping 21 grams of dietary fiber, about 85% of the minimum recommended daily target. I also like the simplicity and quality of Chipotle’s ingredients. I feel like rather than fast food it’s more like healthy food, made fast.”
—Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD, nutritionist, author, and consultant to the New York Yankees
“I like the baked potato at Wendy’s. This is the least-adulterated sounding offering on a fast-food menu. They’ll even put cheese and broccoli on it and you get 10 whopping grams of filling fiber, plus 15 grams of protein!”
—Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RDN, freelance health writer and nutrition coach
And last but not least, me! I love the lentil soup at Pret A Manger. I discovered the chain when I studied in London for a semester in college, and was so happy when they opened up stores in my home city (NYC). I get the soup with a popcorn, and I am satisfied and happy. It’s perfect on a cold or rainy day!
What are your favorite healthy, meat-free meals at chain restaurants?