For some of us, living our best life means living a whole-food plant-based diet. And while sticking to this eating plan might be simple when preparing meals at home, it gets trickier when dining out, or downright daunting at times while traveling the great U.S. of A. As summer vacation season approaches, we take a look at vegan meal options you can pack in the cooler for the road trip ahead, or purchase along the way. Wherever your vacation travels take you—whether you’re getting your kicks on Route 66 or standing on a corner of Winslow, Arizona—we have your ultimate guide to vegan road trip meals right here.
Fast Food Vegan Road Trip Meals
Most vegans are already familiar with the Happy Cow and Veggl apps, which review vegan restaurants across the U.S., including airports, sports venues and theme parks. But as anyone who has checked these apps while in Small Town, USA, knows too well, some places are more vegan-friendly than others.
So next time you find yourself cruising the Freeway of Love in a pink Cadillac (shoutout to Aretha!) you might have to opt for one of the national fast food chains. Lucky for you, we have your guide to vegan-friendly go-to meals at several of the nation’s most popular chains.
Let’s cruise through our list!
Chipotle has nearly 3,000 locations in 49 states across the U.S., so it’s a good bet that you’ll run into one while driving across the country.
While Chipotle is one of the healthier fast food options available (they use whole foods made fresh daily with no artificial colors or preservatives and no added hormones) it’s also one of the friendliest for vegans because they offer a solid protein option. Their sofritas plant-based protein can be added to tacos, burritos or bowls. Just skip the cheese and sour cream and you’re golden.
The build-your-own concept is popular for many reasons, but when you are following a more restrictive diet, it makes total sense. Blaze takes this idea into the realm of pizza. And while they don’t have nearly the amount of locations as Chipotle does, they can be found in 34 U.S. states and several Canadian provinces.
Once you find a location, Blaze makes the rest easy. All three of its doughs (classic, gluten free and high rise) are vegan as are its red sauce and its spicy red sauce (no surprise there). They also have vegan cheese and a spicy vegan chorizo plus nearly 20 veggies to choose from for toppings.
Starbucks started rolling out its Plant-Based Breakfast Sandwiches last year. They begin with an Impossible™ sausage patty with a plant-based egg patty, topped with a vegan Cheddar-style slice all served on a toasted, whole-wheat English muffin. (Side note: While we can’t wholeheartedly endorse Impossible Burgers or Beyond Burgers, we do think they’re healthier than eating conventionally-raised feedlot beef. Learn more here.)
The plant-based offering should not be confused with the Impossible Breakfast sandwich, which is made with a plant-based sausage patty but then throws on a dairy-based cheese and animal-derived eggs. Since these sandwiches are pre-made, you can’t ask for them to remove any animal products, so the plant-based sandwich is the way to go.
Other vegan offerings at Starbucks include:
- Strawberry Overnight Grains
- Vegan Superberry Acai Bowl
- Chickpea Bites & Avocado Protein Box
- And other snacks
Subway’s menus definitely vary by location, but with over 21,000 stores in the U.S., there’s never one too far away. In 2019, the country’s largest fast food chain began offering the Beyond Meatball marinara sub at a limited number of locations. (You can learn more here and find out if there’s one available near you.) Some locales also have vegan patties, not to be confused with their vegetarian patties, which are not vegan. Or, if you’re not in need of a protein boost, you can opt for a veggie sub.
When it comes to their bread, the only vegan option available across all locations is the Italian bread, though they offer other plant-based bread options by region. These include: harvest, hearty Italian, roasted garlic, sourdough and ciabatta.
Johnny Rockets is the OG vegan burger joint. They’ve had vegan patties (which are soy-based Boca Burgers they call the Streamliner) for over 15 years, but now you can also order an Impossible patty with dairy-free cheddar and Craig’s vegan shakes. The new-ish offerings are available for a limited time, but will be added to the menu permanently if demand is high enough.
With less than 150 locations throughout the U.S., you’re less likely to run into one of these than the previously mentioned chains. But if you’re driving through Florida, California or Texas, you’ll have better luck than in other states. (You can find a location here.)
In February 2019, thanks to lobbying by some vegan organizations, Panda Express took chicken broth out of items that could otherwise be vegetarian and vegan. Then in 2021, they rolled out testing on the Beyond Orange Chicken to 70 locales across the U.S. (Again, this would not be our first choice for a nutrient-dense, healthy lunch … but it’s an option.) More readily available is the Eggplant Tofu served over brown rice with a side of super greens. Vegan sauces include: teriyaki, sweet & sour, hot mustard and their plum, chili, and soy sauces.
What’s a road trip without a sweet indulgence from time to time? We might be all about eating healthy here at Nutritious Life, but that also means we allow for occasional conscious indulgences. If your sweet tooth hits while on the road, you can stop into one of over 2,500 BR ice cream shops across the country for your sugar fix. Flavors vary by location, but most venues offer 2-3 non-dairy options, including non-dairy mint chocochunk, non-dairy salted fudge bar and daiquiri ice.
Make-Ahead Vegan Road Trip Meals
Of course, the healthiest way to eat vegan is to prepare your own meals at home and take them with you for the ride, Sally ride. Here are a few recipes we wholeheartedly recommend.
These vegan burritos are a go-to meal for Venus Williams when she needs some energy to get through her workouts. This makes them the absolute perfect vegan road trip meal for when you need a burst of momentum to get you across the endless plains of Nebraska or maybe through the swampy Florida Everglades!
We can promise they’ll be delicious, satisfying, and nutritious. Unfortunately, we can’t promise they’ll improve your serve.
Stuffed mushrooms are perfectly bite-sized so you can grab one and pop it in your mouth politely, without barely pausing a conversation.
Our version of the popular appetizer is particularly nutrient-dense. You get fiber and protein from the farro and antioxidants from onion, garlic and tomatoes. To top it off, the micronutrients in the broccoli rabe fight inflammation, support heart and bone health and strengthen the immune system. How’s that for healthy road trip fare?
Chewy bulgur is your base in this kisir recipe, which is similar to Mediterranean tabbouleh but with a kick. Fresh veggies and avocado oil plus spices and fresh lemon juice are all you need to make this hearty meal your go-to before you hit the road, Jack.
Pro tip: For a gluten-free version, you can substitute grains such as quinoa or gluten-free oats for the bulgur.
Eggplant and mushroom have a hearty, earthy heft to them, making them a great stand-in for the traditional beef, especially in the summer when eggplants are in season and you’re looking for a lighter dish. This is also fabulous on pasta alternatives, such as spaghetti squash.
You can take the bolognese with you in the cooler and then boil some pasta or spaghetti squash en route to your next destination and, voila, you have a nutrient-dense vegan meal at the ready.
Here’s an idea. Take this versatile vegan condiment along for the ride and you’ll never be left wondering if that restaurant sauce has animal products in it (because you’ll have your own!).
Pesto is not just for pizza. Need something to spread on a sandwich, pour over pasta or rice and veggies? We got ya! You can even spread it on your breakfast eggs for some morning zing.
The beauty of this recipe is that the protein-packed, plant-powered tempeh can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days after cooking. Then, just pull it out when you’re ready to hit the road. To reheat, drizzle with olive oil in a sauté pan or zap it in a microwave.
“Think of [tempeh] as tofu’s cooler, more nutrient-dense cousin,” says Erin Parekh, who created the recipe. For more on why you should cook tempeh and how to do it, read her tutorial, here.
Time to Hit the Road
Wherever the long and winding road takes you this season, you’ll be ready to rock and roll with this handy list of vegan road trip meals (and our bonus road trip soundtrack!).
And if you’re looking for lighter snack foods to get your munch on, we’ve got you covered too. Check out our Vegan Snacks to Pack for the Perfect Road Trip.
Your Nutritious Life Road Trip Playlist