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Nixing the meat doesn’t always make your meal diet-friendly.

Arielle Weg
May 01, 2018

Dining out when you’re a vegetarian is always tricky. Even though many restaurants are adding plant-based items to their menus, it’s easy to take one look at the options, give up, and say, “I’ll just have the fries.” But, not anymore.

We gathered information from some of the top fast food and fast casual restaurants to determine how their vegetarian options stacked up. We broke down some of the options and picked our favorite, so the next time you’re on the road you’ll have a game plan.

Always be sure to consider your own dietary preferences. Some vegetarians avoid eggs, foods fried in the same space as meat products, seafood, and dairy. Always ask a manager for additional information. Our picks here are for vegetarians who include dairy and eggs in their diet. If cutting out meat isn’t necessary, be sure to consult our guide to the Healthiest Meal Choices at 35 Popular Chain Restaurants.

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Taco Bell

We’ve already mentioned that we’re big fans of Taco Bell’s vegetarian options. But, as per every Mexican-style fiesta, it can be pretty easy to go overboard here. The XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito without beef clocks in at 730 calories, 10g saturated fat, and 1620 mg of sodium. Yikes. In fact, many of the “healthy” choices from the Fresca menu are still pretty high is sodium.

What to order: Two Fresca soft tacos with black beans.

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Burger King

BK has a special place in our hearts as the original fast food chain with veggie burgers. They offer Morning Star Farms veggie burgers for only 350 calories, so as long as you skip the fries (and the 280 additional calories) you’ll be good to go.

What to order: The veggie burger. Want to slash sodium even more? Drop the pickles or mayo.

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Wendy’s

There’s not a vegetarian main in sight here, but with a little creativity, you can come up with something. You can typically order any main salad without chicken, but nutritional information isn’t available for that option. The best combo we can find is the 270-calorie baked potato and 250 calorie garden side salad—a duo that doesn’t sound super appetizing.

What to order: The Apple Pecan Chicken Salad without the chicken. It’s hard to give the exact nutritional information on this one, but our dietitian liked it in our taste test.

Ramin Talaie

McDonald’s

This is yet another fast food giant lacking vegetarian main options. You can usually swap out chicken in the salads for a meat-free meal, but they’re lower in protein so they won’t keep you full for very long.

What to order: Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad without chicken. This was a runner-up in our taste test, so snag a bag of apple slices or have an additional snack later to round out the meal.

Starbucks

There are a handful of healthy lunch options at Starbucks. The vegetarian snack boxes range from 450 to 520 calories and 7 grams to 13 grams of saturated fat. It’s definitely not snack size, but they can be lunch appropriate. Your better bet is the tomato and mozzarella sandwich, which hits around 350 calories. You can also always make your own version of the bistro boxes.

What to order: A protein box or the tomato and mozzarella sandwich.

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Subway

Subway’s customization can be good and bad for your health. Though a 6-inch Veggie Delite sandwich is listed on the website as only 230 calories, they’re expecting you to pile a 9-grain roll with low-calorie veggies and skip the sauces and cheese. Be warned that the salt creeps up on you big time, especially if you add those extras, and there’s 900 mg of sodium in just the 6-inch sub.

What to order: 6-inch Veggie Delight on 9-grain wheat bread. Skip the sauces and cheeses, and order it with avocado.

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Dunkin Donuts

Though they’ve recently cut down their menu, Dunkin Donuts has options if you tread carefully. The egg and cheese on an English muffin is in a healthy nutritional range at 340 calories, and it’s really the only option that fits. Here’s where it gets dicey: If you swap the English muffin for a croissant, you’ll reach 500 calories and 13 grams of saturated fat. Also, the innocent-sounding everything bagel with cream cheese has 460 calories and 830 mg of sodium. No thanks.

What to order: Egg and cheese on an English muffin

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Chick-fil-A

This restaurant’s claim to fame is “Eat More Chikin,” so it’s not exactly vegetarian-friendly. Ask for any of the salads without meat for a fairly nutritious meal, but keep in mind they’ll all come in below 350 calories.

What to order: We ranked the Chil-fil-A salad as our favorite in a taste test, so swap out the chicken and snag a fruit cup on the side to keep you full.

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Panera Bread

You would think a restaurant that’s all about clean eating would be at the top of our list, but it actually isn’t all that healthy. Before even considering the side of bread, many of the mains are super high in sodium. The two highest vegetarian options are the large mac n’ cheese at 2450 mg sodium and a bowl of the summer corn chowder hits 1310 mg sodium.

What to order: Use the You Pick Two option to your advantage by pairing a half Mediterranean Veggie sandwich with a salad. You can also check out our picks for the healthiest sandwich choices and healthiest soup choices.

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Chipotle

Ingredients like sour cream, cheese, and guacamole can really pack on saturated fat and calories, so choosing one of the three (or skipping them entirely) may be your best best. Be aware if considering sodium: The vegetarian sofritos pack an extra 560 mg on their own

What to order: Vegetarian burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, lettuce, and corn salsa. You can also see our tips for eating healthy at Chipotle.

Courtesy White Castle

White Castle

Two veggie sliders with Thai sweet sauce come out to just 320 calories and 640 mg sodium. The honey mustard and ranch options bump that up significantly, so beware of your toppings. Also, White Castle recently announced the Impossible Burger to join the menu. Two of these sliders are a whopping 600 calories, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 1740 mg of sodium. So, we’ll pass.

What to order: Two veggie sliders