The Healthiest Meals You Can Get at 11 Quick-Service Restaurants
Sandwiches have long been the standard for lunch, especially on the go and during the workday. But fast-casual restaurants have been moving away from something-between-two-slices-of-bread toward bowls, salads, and protein-focused plates. The result? Healthier, lower carb choices when you're on the go.
The Scoop: This cool salad spot, with locations nationwide, offers fresh, seasonal ingredients with a hip aesthetic. (Their New York locations recently partnered with hipster fave Mission Chinese to create a modern take on the Chinese chicken salad.)
What to Get: “A Sweetgreen salad can hold four servings of vegetables, more than half the recommended amount,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author and founder of The F-Factor Diet. She also likes the new tiger bowl. “It contains fiber from the spinach, wild rice, kimchi, carrots, pears, and seeds and uses the new Tiger Dressing, which has only 10 calories per serving and a bold ginger flavor.”
The Scoop: Proud of its local and artisan sourcing, Chopt, with locations on the East Coast, has both pre-set salads inspired by destinations (such as a Mexican street corn-inspired Caesar), and offers the option of picking your own ingredients and having them tossed together.
What to Get: The Palm Beach Salad with grilled chicken has only 320 calories with a whopping 12g of fiber and 35g of protein. Just be sure to avoid these salad mistakes that will make you gain weight.
The Scoop: Roast Kitchen, based in New York City, offers a mix of hot “roast bowls” and cold “salad bowls,” with rotisserie chicken that works equally well in both. In the morning, there are quinoa bowls and egg platters as well as a juice bar.
What to Get: The Green Rocket salad with herbed grilled chicken. “You get the fiber from the arugula, farro, sprouts, zucchini, and cucumbers, plus avocado for some heart-healthy fat, and grilled chicken for lean protein,” says Zuckerbrot. She also recommends the hot bowls, but with a caveat: “Get the sauce on the side so you can control how much you are putting on your meal. Sauces and dressings can be loaded with sugar and oil so be mindful when adding them to your meals.”
The Scoop: This veggie-focused spot, with locations in Boston, New York City, and suburban New York, embraces the food ethos of the moment, partnering with farms and embracing not only seasonal and local, but made-from-scratch too.
What to Get: Dig Inn is an excellent option, and you don’t need to just stick with poultry or fish, you can choose beef as well, explains Beth Clayton, a New York-based health and lifestyle coach and owner of Soul Body Life. When choosing red meat or cold-water fish like salmon, you just want to make you are mindful of the fat, as they tend to have higher fat content. Dressing choice, however, is key: “Stay away from fruity or berry vinaigrettes as they are high in sugar and will bring up carb count,” she says. Look out for these other “healthy” foods that you should actually stay away from.
The Scoop: Famed chef Jose Andres’ fast casual venture, with locations in Washington, D.C, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, isn’t vegetarian, but with the motto, “Veggies unleashed,” it is very veggie-focused, with veggie bowls, salad bowls, soups, and burgers.
What to Get: If you order off the traditional menu, Beefsteak has a ton of great options, says Clayton, who particularly likes their create-your-own veggie bowls. “Choose a dark leafy base over grains and add chicken sausage, salmon, or a poached egg for extra protein. All of the sauces are fair game, as well as their fresh toppings, including sunflower seeds, sesame seeds or seaweed instead of cranberries, pretzels or fried onions.” The only thing to watch out for would be the burger with brioche roll, which equals refined carbs, unless you are looking to indulge.
The Scoop: A mainstay in Hawaii, this mix—traditionally of raw tuna with algae and kukui nuts—is now often seen with sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions, and Maui onions. At Poke Works, with locations along the East Coast, plus California and Canada, you can get it as a bowl, burrito, or salad with tuna, salmon, scallops, shrimp, or even tofu and toppings ranging from mango to seaweed and avocado.
What to Get: The best option on the menu option for weight loss is the poke salad. “However, you can also pick a poke bowl and burrito if you stick with brown rice,” shares Clayton. Here are more of the best restaurant meals for weight loss.
The Scoop: This vegan restaurant, with locations in New York City, Boston, Providence, Los Angeles, and London, offers comforting and satisfying meat-free fast casual options that are delicious and savory, from the expected (kale salads and avocado toast, naturally) to the creative (matcha kelp noodles, anyone?).
What to Get: “You can’t go wrong at this vegan restaurant,” according to Clayton. “Every dish contains fresh veggies and whole grains and contain heart-healthy fats like olive oil, tahini, and pumpkin seeds. Those that contain beans or quinoa are especially good to cover your bases with protein.”
The Scoop: A New American chain with locations in the Midwest, California, and Canada and a focus on sustainability and community, the menu here is—like many of the others—includes bowls and salads, though there are also flatbreads, soups, tacos, burgers, and quesadillas.
What to Get: The Farmhouse Salad, Grilled Veggie Salad, and the Quinoa Crunch Bowl are top choices. “You can add chicken, mahi-mahi, or garlic lime tofu for extra protein and get dressings on the side,” Clayton says. But steer clear of options with white flour and bread, which are refined carbs. Nutritionists also stay away from these 9 unhealthy foods when they go out to eat.
The Scoop: Focused on South African-style peri-peri chicken, this international fast casual hot spot with locations in the Washington, D.C. area and Chicago, has a buffet of sauces you can choose from, depending on the level of heat you prefer.
What to Get: Choose the quarter or half rotisserie chicken, the boneless chicken breast, or the thigh skewers, suggests Clayton. “Skip the regular sides of fries, corn on the cob, bread, or rice and opt for one of the side salads, roasted Brussels sprouts, or roasted vegetables. Hot sauce is a great condiment to add, as it has a ton of flavor and almost no calories.” You can also try these 20 tricks to eating healthy while eating out.
The Scoop: There are healthy choices on the Mediterranean-inspired menu, at Cava, with locations in East Coast, Texas, and California, but you do need to choose wisely.
What to Get: The salads or grain bowls are great choices. All the proteins are fair game but if you go with lamb or beef, go easy on the dressings, as they all contain fat. Beans pair nicely with the salads but don’t mix them with grains or your meal will be carb-heavy; ditto on hummus and eggplant dips.
Latin Beet Kitchen
The Scoop: This Peruvian and Colombian spot in New York City has Peruvian-style organic rotisserie chicken, as well as anticucho steak and ceviche.
What to Get: “Similarly to the other restaurants, they have awesome build your own bowls here,” says Clayton. “Choose greens or zoodles, your choice of chicken, steak, or fish. Then add roasted veggies and your choice of slaws, salsas, and sauces.” You should also know the healthiest things to order at 25 fast-food restaurants.