Nope, Wendy’s salads still aren’t healthy, but yes, healthier fast food restaurants do exist.
As more people have gotten interested in eating better food, companies that serve quick, convenient meals have jumped in to meet the demand. There’s now an entirely new category of “healthy fast casual” spots like the salad bar stars (think Sweetgreen, Chop’t, and Just Salad) and plate-and-bowl spots like Beefsteak, Dig Inn, and Tender Greens.
But there are also spots across the country that may not scream healthy but are doing the burger, burrito, or chicken sandwich thing in a slightly more nutritious way. An important caveat: Most of these are not places you should be depending on for regular meals. Many of them do one thing better—like have way more plant-based options than you’d find at a Burger King or source all organic ingredients. That doesn’t mean everything (or even anything) on the menu is just as healthy as the kale salad you make yourself.
But if you’re on the go and are in need of a quick bite, these are a few of the healthier fast food spots you should know about.
6 Healthier Fast Food Restaurants
This spot serves slightly-elevated burgers, salads, and chicken sandwiches with a focus on keeping calorie and sodium counts as low as possible. The restaurants buy grass-fed beef and say they source “local, organic greens whenever possible.” (It’s hard to know what that really means, tbh, but they appear to be making an effort in terms of buying healthier ingredients.) There are several locations in the Midwest but others in coastal cities have recently closed, so it may have to be a spot you hit only when in Chicago, the land of deep dish.
If your favorite kind of fast food is a gyro from a street cart, Roti might be for you. The menu is based on fast Mediterranean food—think a pita sandwich with chicken kabob, tomato cucumber salad, and feta. They also make delish hummus with organic chickpeas. Find them in cities like New York, Washington DC, Dallas, and Chicago.
The Organic Coup
The Organic Coup is one of the only certified organic restaurants in the country, so you can feel really good about where all of the ingredients come from. However, breaded-and-fried chicken is not healthy even when it’s organic. The good news is they also serve grilled chicken and veggie wraps. Also, if you’re going to eat a fried chicken sandwich as a conscious indulgence, go for an organic one? Find locations in California and Washington state.
This national chain is the choice for vegetarians and vegans, especially considering most fast food places offer one sad veggie burger as a concession to non-meat eaters. Things we like: Since there’s no meat on the menu, veggies abound. Things we’re not crazy about: All of the processed fake meats and too much sodium (which is one of the biggest issues with takeout, in general). There are locations in Cali, Washington, Oregon, Chicago, and a New York City spot opening soon.
Chipotle is an industry leader when it comes to sourcing better ingredients for fast food—they do a legitimately good job stacking the menu with fresh vegetables and meat from more responsible producers and went totally non-GMO recently. The problem is in the portions: they’re massive! It’s all in the ordering: Skip the giant handfuls of cheese and globs of sour cream and try something like this: Burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, peppers and onions, salsa, guac, and romaine.
This is the option for when you’re basically anywhere in the country that strip malls exist (everywhere?) and you just need to eat. The company cleaned up its ingredient list in 2016 by eliminating 150 unhealthy ingredients like artificial flavors, preservatives like propylene glycol, and sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. When you check ingredients on current menu items, the lists still seem pretty long, but you can totally get a decent ancient grain arugula salad.