As a dietitian and longtime vegetarian, I find that people are often surprised to hear that I do sometimes eat fast food. But these days, there are some tasty, balanced vegetarian options at restaurants like Subway, Chipotle, and Panera. Here are some of my healthy favorites, and picks from fellow vegetarian and vegan dietitians.
Subway: Veggie Delite Salad + Egg Patty
This is my off-the-menu go-to: I top a Veggie Delite Salad with an egg patty. I request a base of spinach and add a ton of veggies: tomatoes, green bell peppers, red onion, cucumber, banana peppers, and jalapenos. I top the salad with sprinkling of shredded cheese, as well as dried oregano and red wine vinegar. I love that Subway sells apple slices, so I’ll usually grab a baggie of those, as well.
Taco Bell: Fresco Bean Burrito
“I’ve been eating this for years on road trips,” says Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, blogger at Whole Green Wellness. “Fresco means replacing the sour cream and cheese with pico de gallo.” You can also add extra veggies — like lettuce, tomatoes, and jalapenos — for a little bit extra.
McDonald’s: Fruit & Maple Oatmeal
McD’s now serves breakfast all day, which means you can pick up this vegetarian oatmeal anytime. “It’s easy to go overboard on sodium if you choose the breakfast sandwich route,” says Meredith Harper, MS, RDN, owner of MeredithRD.com. “Many contain at least half the daily recommended limit, but this oatmeal has only 140 milligrams of sodium.” Order it with a slight modification: “I recommend choosing to get it without the brown sugar — it’s sweet enough as is,” says Harper.
Chipotle: Burrito Bowl
Load up a customized bowl with veggies, as does Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, owner of ChampagneNutrition.com. “I get every type of veggie Chipotle offers, including fajita veggies and all types of salsa,” says Hultin, who requests both pinto and black beans. Note for vegans: The Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette contains honey, so opt instead for guacamole as a topper.
Panera: Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa
This is a favorite of Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, owner of NutritionalaNatalie.com. “The salad has 510 calories and11 grams of protein, and it’s a heart, filling, and tasty lunch,” says Rizzo. “I usually opt for an apple as my side to keep the calories to a minimum and increase my fiber intake.” You can also order a half portion and pair it with cup of soup or a half sandwich.
Panda Express: Eggplant Tofu
“It’s so hard to find vegetables in fast-food choices, so this dish is great,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. Veggies add filling fiber, and this dish is a good source. Palmer suggests pairing it with steamed brown rice for additional fiber.
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ. She’s a regular contributor to many publications, including ReadersDigest.com, Shape.com, FitnessMagazine.com, Dr. Oz the Good Life, Runner’s World, and more—as well as WeightWatchers.com, where she was a longtime editor. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy’s Eat List.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.