So, why will people consider a fast food restaurant healthy? Notably, it needs to be a fast food or an actual chain, with more than 15 locations and a robust expansion plan. Second, the restaurant needs to be making a concerted and visible effort to serve healthy food, menu-wide. Sure, there can be a few out-of-the-way items for diners who aren’t looking to have a health-conscious meal, but across the board, the menu needs to be geared toward health-conscious diners.
Chains restaurants were awarded extra points if they make an effort to offer low-calorie items across their entire menu, and if they go out of their way to responsibly source their ingredients.
More on Healthy Chain Restaurants
Thankfully, in recent years, a whole slew of health-focused “fast-casual” chains have emerged, and the old guard has found themselves having to play catch-up.
And we’re not just talking about Panera Bread, either chains that can still qualify as startups, some with only around a dozen or so locations, are coming onto the scene to offer a fast food or fast-casual experience to health-conscious diners who are looking for a quick lunch made with responsibly-sourced ingredients. We made sure to include plenty of those types of chains in our ranking.
So read on for a pointer not only of chains that are really working to make a difference, but for a look into the future of fast food. As more and more people realize that wholesome foods with high-quality ingredients are far more conducive to a healthy lifestyle than a fried chicken sandwich and fries, expect to see some of the smaller chains on our list become as commonplace as the big guys. Read on to learn which chain restaurants are America’s healthiest.
Healthy Chains: The Freshest Fast-Food Spots
Eating on the go used to mean settling for a guilt-inducing burger and a mess of greasy fries. But now, savvy entrepreneurs are zeroing in on consumers’ desire to eat healthy, affordable food on the run.
3 Great Healthy Fast-Food Chains
No, nothing beats a nourishing, homemade meal, but sometimes jam-packed schedules just don’t allow for quality time with the cutting board and stove. This could mean settling for a guilt-inducing burger and mess of greasy fries, savvy entrepreneurs are focusing in on consumers’ desire to eat healthy, affordable food on the run.
Just like Chipotle Mexican Grill made burritos stuffed with cilantro-lime rice and naturally raised chicken a lunchtime ritual, there are now a slew of other like-minded chains churning out fresh, tasty grub. With their upbeat, modern interiors and plethora of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free selections made before diners’ eyes, these 17 burgeoning chains prove that fast and good-for-you foods aren’t mutually exclusive.
1. Veggie Grill
As its name implies, Veggie Grill’s menu revolves around plant-based foods. Instead of serving meat, the cheerful chain — CEO Greg Dollarhyde is known as the chief energizing officer — puts tempeh, soybean-wheat-pea proteins and supergrains in the spotlight. Amid the vibrant menu of tamari-marinated portobello skewers and Indian-inspired Bombay bowls with kale, cannellini beans, coconut milk, almonds, hemp seeds and cilantro-green curry sauce, splurging at this California, Oregon and Washington chain best comes in the form of crispy, orange-glazed cauliflower florets.
2. Natural Foods Café
A fast-casual vegan pioneer, Native Foods Café first flung open its doors in Palm Springs in 1994. Now found throughout Southern California, with locations in Colorado, Oregon and Chicago to boot, it’s a mecca for plant-based proteins. After plunking corn tortilla chips into avocado-kale-cashew-cheese dip, move on to the creamy chipotle tempeh tacos or “meaty” Portobello-and-seitan sausage burger slicked with pumpkin-seed pesto.
3. Protein Bar
Pop into Protein Bar — currently found in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Colorado — for breakfast and you’ll find options that include chilaquiles bowls with spicy tomatillo-lime dressing, and oatmeal and other grains with peanut butter and acai.
Founded by a former Kraft Foods employee, the growing chain focuses on protein-rich bowls, as well as mineral- and antioxidant-laden Super 6 Salad Mixes (try the Backyard BBQ with braised beef and Greek yogurt ranch dressing) and cleverly named Bar-ritos, which are burritos that shun rice for quinoa, and flour tortillas for low-calorie whole-wheat wraps. Slake your thirst with raw juice concoctions such as the gingery beet-carrot Beetbox.