6 Plant-Based Fast Food Options That Taste Delicious
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Dig into these nutritionist-recommended picks to satisfy your cravings.
To probably no one’s surprise, plant-based eating is a growing trend. In the past year, 6 percent of Americans reported following a plant-based diet, according to the 2020 International Food Information Council Food & Health Survey. This number increased by 1 percent since 2019. “Being a lifelong vegetarian, I’m excited to see more plant-based fast food options,” notes Vandana Sheth, RDN, in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
(Here’s how to start a plant-based diet.)
Today, you’ll find plant-based options on many—if not most—fast food menus. “The message to add plant-forward foods such as beans, soy, fruits, veggies, and grains has been gaining momentum for years,” says Jennifer Lease, RD, a culinary dietitian in Denver. “A potential benefit of this is having different options available to suit more members of the family,” she says.
It’s still very easy to order a thousand-ish calorie plant-based fast food meal with just as much sodium and a whole lot of saturated fat. So, to help you navigate this conundrum, we chatted with registered dietitians about healthy—yet delicious—plant-based options to dig your fork into.
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Healthy plant-based fast food orders
Chipotle Vegetarian Salad
“One of my favorite plant-based fast food meals is the Chipotle vegetarian salad made with a base of lettuce, black beans, pinto beans (or both!), fajita vegetables, salsa, and guacamole,” says Samantha Cassetty, a nutrition and wellness expert in New York City and co-author of Sugar Shock.
“This meal stands out for taste, nutrition, and for being super filling. With a scoop of both black and pinto beans, it delivers 20 grams of plant-based protein and 25 grams of fiber—more than what most Americans eat in a day! The salsa and fajita veggies add loads of flavor, as well as protective plant compounds, and the guac adds creaminess and anti-inflammatory fats,” she says.
(Try out these healthy salad dressing recipes.)
Taco Bell Power Menu Bowl Veggie
“Here’s a mainstream Mexican fast food chain that is famous for its plant-based offerings, which have increased over the years,” says Sharon Palmer, author of California Vegan.
“Taco Bell even has a certified vegetarian menu, with lots of vegan offerings, too. My favorite is the Taco Bell Power Menu Bowl Veggie, with no cheese or sour cream. It’s a satisfying meal in one: rice, beans, guacamole, tomatoes, and lettuce. I know I can always get a healthy, completely plant-based meal when I’m on the go—whether on a road trip, traveling, or just wanting a quick fix,” she says. Sans cheese and sour cream, the meal is vegan.
(Here are some vegan diet health benefits.)
Burger King Impossible Whopper
Many plant-based burgers taste surprisingly like the real thing, which is why so many restaurants are partnering with brands like Impossible and Beyond Meat.
“Plant-based burgers are on nearly every fast-food menu now,” says Ginger Hultin, RDN, author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep. “Though they are often similar in calories and saturated fat to regular beef burgers, they are completely free of animal products and are vegetarian and vegan friendly. Ask for extra lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions to boost up the flavor, nutrients, and fiber in this order,” she suggests.
Tip: The Burger King Impossible Whopper has 25 grams protein. The sodium content—1,078 milligrams, nearly half of the daily value—is very high, so limit your sodium intake during other meals throughout the day and drink plenty of water. (These are the best plant-based protein sources.)
Panera Bread Mediterranean Veggie
“One of my favorite picks for plant-forward meals would be Panera’s Mediterranean Veggie sandwich,” says Keri Gans, RDN in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet. “Plant-forward doesn’t only mean salads—it could be a sandwich packed with veggies. The best part of this sandwich is the hummus and feta cheese, which helps provide 21 grams of protein,” she says. (You can also make your own hummus at home with these hummus recipes.)
Starbucks Lentils & Vegetable Protein Bowl with Brown Rice
“When veggie bowls are available, I am a big fan of ordering those,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, a diabetes specialist in Sparta, New Jersey. “They’re such an easy way to boost your intake of plant-based protein, fiber, and antioxidants. And the flavor combination makes me feel energized after eating it.” Starbucks’ Lentils & Vegetable Protein Bowl with Brown Rice is certified vegan and is packed with 23 grams plant protein. Plus, who can resist lentils paired with butternut squash, brown rice, and lemon-tahini dressing?
(Here are the best recipes for dry lentils.)
Smoothie King Vegan Mango Kale
Smoothies packed with fruit and veggies are a delicious way to drink your nutrients.
“I’m a fan of Smoothie King’s plant-based smoothies for a fruit-and-veggie-packed meal replacement—since most Americans aren’t meeting their recommended produce targets,” says Cassetty.
“A favorite is the 20-ounce Vegan Mango Kale Wellness, which has bananas, mango, and kale as well as 10 grams of Sun Warrior Organic Plant-Based Protein. It also supplies 6 grams of much-needed fiber. Though this blend is sweetened with 100 percent fruit juice—which has no added sugar—you can customize your smoothie and skip the juice if you want. This smoothie is identical to something I’d make at home, so it’s a great option when you need a meal on the go,” she says.
(Also, try these healthy fruit smoothies for breakfast.)
Plant-based meals to avoid
When it comes to ordering plant-based, there are many ways to go right—and so many to go wrong. “Now that plant-based veggie burgers are so ubiquitous, they almost have a health halo,” says Palmer. “One of my favorite local restaurants has one stacked so high with ooey, gooey toppings and sauces that it is just packed with calories, sodium, and saturated fat,” she says.
Other veggie burgers may come with zero veggies—meaning you’re missing out on all the vitamins and minerals you get from vegetables such as lettuce, tomato, and onion.
Also, while it’s completely OK to drizzle sauce onto a burger or to use one as a dip for fries, don’t get fooled into thinking they’re healthy. “Plant-based sauces and cheeses can have just as much oil, salt, and sat fat as conventional sauces,” says Palmer.
You’ll also want to make fried vegetarian fare a once-in-awhile indulgence. “The plant-based options I try to limit to an occasional treat are fried veggies, such as French fries and deep-fried onion rings,” notes Palinski-Wade. Fried food tends to contain extra fat and sodium, which can leave you feeling sluggish.
(Like tofu? Try this high protein vegan recipe with tofu.)
The last word
Plant-based fast food can be healthy and still tasty if you consider the ingredients and nutritional facts. You can always check what your local chain restaurants offer on their website, if available. This can also help you to avoid making impulse decisions at the drive-through. But remember, a little indulgence once in a while, such as French fries, is still OK.
Next, try these plant-based swaps.
- 2020 International Food Information Council Food & Health Survey
- Jennifer Lease, RD, a culinary dietitian in Denver
- Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian in Rancho Palos Verdes, California
- Samantha Cassetty, a nutrition and wellness expert in New York City and co-author of Sugar Shock
- Sharon Palmer, MSFS, author of California Vegan
- Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep
- Keri Gans, RDN, a nutritionist in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet
- Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, a diabetes specialist in Sparta, New Jersey