Vegetarians and vegans likely remember the days of dining out at a fast-casual restaurant meant French fries and a grumbling stomach. No more! “Eating vegan at fast-food restaurants is getting easier and easier,” says Whitney English, MS, RDN, author of The Plant-Based Baby & Toddler. She suggests, in addition to plant-based menu items that are promoted as such, you should also peruse the sides menus and look for ingredients that are just naturally vegan like vegetables and beans.
Holly Klamer, MS, RDN, writer at My Crohn’s and Colitis Team, advises, “always ask the server or a manager to make sure certain items are vegan. Don’t assume things that appear vegan, like a salad or bagel, are vegan. They could hide animal-based ingredients.” She adds, “know that fried foods, like fries, may be vegan but are probably fried in oil that has been used for meats or other animal-containing foods.”
With that being said, whether you’re 100 percent vegan or simply looking to incorporate more plant-based dishes into your diet, there’s a lot to love at your local fast food or fast-casual haunt. Below, nutritionists share their favorite vegan eats from Chipotle to Chick-fil-A.
Vegan Fast Food Options
Burger King Vegan Options
Yep, even Burger King has jumped on the plant-based craze. “Burger King has a meat-substitute option from Impossible Foods,” says Lubeck. “There are also some naturally vegan menu items, plus ones that just need a little tweaking to become vegan.”
“This filling sandwich option uses the soy-based, vegan Impossible burger meat alternative. Burger King also will take the vegan option one step further with a non-broiler method of preparation, but if you want this cooking method you need to ask for it when ordering,” says Klamer. “This helps avoid cross-contamination with beef patties cooked on the broiler. Also, make sure to ask for no mayo to make it completely vegan.”
“This simple salad option should be ordered without cheese and with a vinaigrette-based salad dressing to be vegan,” says Lubeck. “That way, the Garden Salad from Burger King is a great choice for increasing vegetable intake for the day.”
French Toast Sticks
For a sweet breakfast without animal products, try this spin on traditional French Toast. “Unlike real French toast which is made with eggs and milk, Burger King French toast sticks surprisingly do not contain either of these foods and are considered vegan,” says Klamer.
OK, OK, you likely already know this one, but we’ll give you Lubeck’s take: “Made of only vegan ingredients, French fries can be a good snack or side option. Customers can opt for a size small if trying to cut back on calories, but French fries are French fries…so enjoy!”
McDonald’s Vegan Options
A meatless burger is expected to arrive at McDonald’s this year, but until then…Slim pickings, friends. But if you find yourself at Mickey D’s, here’s the scoop.
FYI: “McDonald’s fries and hash browns are not vegan-friendly in the U.S., as they contain some milk ingredients.” So if you’re fully plant-based, you’ll want to skip both of these offerings.
Fruit and Maple Oatmeal
“The fruit and maple oatmeal is vegan if ordered without cream,” offers Klamer, also noting that McDonald’s Apple Slices get the green light for vegans. Ditto for the Pineapple Stick.
Starbucks Vegan Options
If you’re getting a bite to eat at the omnipresent coffee chain, it’s easier than you think to eat vegan. Also, they’ve got plenty of non-dairy milk options to keep your beverage order vegan as well.
Sprouted Grain Bagel with a Side of Avocado Spread
“Packed with carbs and a nice punch of protein, it’s a re-energizing breakfast after a morning workout,” says Newgent, who recommends ordering a beverage to rehydrate post-workout, too.
Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
We’ve yet to meet a chocolate and peanut butter combo we don’t like, and if you haven’t tried Justin’s consider pairing it with your A.M. cup of Joe — the ideal opportunity to be acquainted. “If you want to grab a sugary treat, you may as well make it one that’s USDA certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified featuring Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate [like this choice is],” says Newgent.
Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal
“It’s filled with heart-protective soluble fiber, though not a satisfying amount of protein,” says Newgent. “So, order this warm cereal with [an] extra nut medley for more plant-based protein.” Hold the agave syrup to cut back on added sugars. FYI: Starbucks’ Classic Oatmeal is also vegan.
Chick-fil-A Vegan Options
We won’t lie, there aren’t a ton of options at this chicken-centric restaurant for vegans and vegetarians. But until the day comes when they’re offering plant-based chicken, try the below choices.
Market Salad (without Chicken and Cheese)
Order this salad without chicken and cheese for a solid salad option, says Klamer. “This salad is more than just basic salad greens; it has strawberries, blueberries, almonds, and harvest granola,” she says. “Make sure to request the light balsamic to make the dressing vegan-friendly.”
Waffle Potato Fries
“Chick-fil-A’s waffle fries are vegan-friendly and can be paired with a salad to make a more filling meal or splurge,” says Klamer. To mix things up from regular ketchup, dip your fries in the vegan-friendly Polynesian Sauce or Barbeque Sauce.
We know cookies are hard to pass up, but fruit should satisfy a hankering for something sweet without the calories, added sugar, or animal products. “This simple side is vegan-friendly and healthy and provides a source of antioxidants and vitamins,” says Klamer.
Dunkin’ Vegan Options
With the summer heat, we’ll never turn down an opportunity to guzzle an iced beverage. And in cooler months, a warm cuppa hits the spot, too. “Dunkin’ offers many drink options, like a latte, that can be made vegan by choosing oat milk instead of cow’s milk,” shares Klamer. “These vegan-friendly drinks can be paired with several breakfast options for a satisfying start to the day.”
Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich (without Eggs or Cheese)
“[This] can be a high-protein vegan breakfast choice,” says Klamer. Meat eaters will also be amazed at how close to sausage this plant-based breakfast patty tastes.
“Dunkin’ bagels, except the white cheddar bagel twist and multigrain, are vegan,” says Klamer. “The multigrain bagel is tricky because it seems like it would be vegan, but it contains honey,” she continues, adding that Dunkin’ does not currently have vegan bagel toppings, so bring your own bagel toppings if you’re taking it to go.
They don’t call ‘em “heaven toasted” for nothing. “Dunkin’ hash browns are vegan and contain no top food allergens,” shares Klamer. “Eaten alone will not keep you full very long, as a serving of six hash browns provides 130 calories. It can be a vegan snack option or paired with the beyond breakfast sandwich for a more filling meal.”
Chipotle Vegan Options
Vegan offerings at this fast-casual Mexican eatery are plentiful. Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, a plant-based registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based Eats in Stamford, CT, shares her favorites on the build-your-own tacos, salad, and burrito or burrito bowl front.
“I love the customization aspect of Chipotle! For a vegan meal, you can go with tacos with Sofritas, black or pinto beans, guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, and romaine lettuce,” Gorin says. FYI: Sofritas is Chipotle’s organic, shredded tofu dish with chipotle chilies, roasted poblano peppers, and spices.
“You can get a really protein-rich salad at Chipotle. I would suggest going with Sofritas, black or pinto beans, guacamole, fajita veggies, and salsa,” Gorin suggests. Worth noting: The Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette contains honey, so it’s not strictly vegan.
“If you want a heartier meal, a burrito bowl will do the trick. Go with Sofritas, beans, brown rice, salsa, fajita veggies, and guacamole,” says Gorin. Filling, flavorful, perfection.
Dig Vegan Options
This growing “mostly vegetables” chain offers seasonal menus and tries to source their food as locally as possible, buying their food from minority-run and small-scale farms as well as their own farm in upstate New York in Orange County at the foothills of the Catskills. This summer, add their Spiced Persian cucumbers and Lemon-Basil Summer Squash sides to your must-try list. Dig also has a variety of vegan condiments such as Garlic Aioli, Pesto, Sriracha, Rosemary Vinaigrette, and Tarragon Mustard, so be sure to try a few out to add more flavor to your order.
Kale Caesar Salad
If you’ve recently gone vegan, you know that giving up Caesar salad is no easy feat. Don’t worry if you’re at Dig (formerly known as Dig Inn). “I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of Caesar salads. But it’s hard for vegan eaters to get their hands on good ones because most Caesar salad dressings contain anchovies!” offers Gorin. “This one is made with a cashew Caesar dressing and also contains a base of kale, romaine, and shaved cauliflower.”
Magic Mushroom Bowl
“This meal looks is a mushroom lover’s dream! It has a bed of quinoa and then you also get a slew of veggies, including mushrooms, potatoes, kale, and butternut squash,” says Gorin.
Grilled Tofu Marketbowl
“One of my favorite things about Dig Inn is that you can really customize your meal. And they make delicious tofu!” says Gorin. Try pairing their tofu with a slathering of their Tarragon Mustard.
sweetgreen Vegan Options
Katie Dodd, MS, RDN, CSG, LD, FAND, a.k.a. “The Geriatric Dietitian,” shares her favorite selections at this grain bowl and salad hotspot whose mission is to “reimagine fast food for a new era.” Note that the sweetgreen website has a very helpful FAQ page with a link to a PDF to help you determine the exact ingredients and allergen information for their menus.
“This vegan warm bowl is full of fiber and jam-packed with vitamins and minerals,” says Dodd. We’re big fans of their roasted sesame tofu, and the spicy sunflower seeds add a nice crunch, all balanced wonderfully by the miso sesame ginger dressing.
Super Green Goddess Salad
“Swap out the green goddess ranch dressing (contains mayo and yogurt) for miso sesame ginger dressing for a fully vegan salad,” suggests Dodd. Bonus: The black lentils, chickpeas, and roasted sweet potatoes pack a hefty punch of protein and fiber to stave off cravings between meals.
Guacamole Greens Salad
“Hold the chicken on this salad and you have a delicious vegan salad full of flavor and veggies,” suggests Dodd.
Taco Bell Vegan Options
Headed to Taco Bell? You’ve got options, dear readers. Plenty of stellar choices await at this popular Mexican fast-food eatery. “Mexican food restaurants are often a great choice since they always have plant-powered beans,” notes English. In general, at Mexican restaurants, make sure beans aren’t cooked in lard before ordering, which is a fat made from pork.
Bean Burrito, Fresco Style
When you “make it Fresco” at Taco Bell, you replace dairy and mayo-based sauces with tomatoes, and it’s pretty darn delicious if we do say so ourselves. “This simple, classic menu item is easily made vegan by just including beans, tomatoes, and the tortilla. Top it off with some guacamole to add in a little healthy fat,” says English.
Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme, Fresco Style
Ordering this Fresco Style removes the sour cream and nacho cheese sauce from the mix, but you still get a tasty meal and serious crunch factor. “Remove the dairy from this tasty item, and you’ll have a satisfying vegan option that’s high in plant protein, fiber, and flavor,” says English.
Black Beans and Rice
Why haven’t we thought of this one before? “This is the ultimate vegan hack: Simply order black beans and rice from the sides menu with a side of guacamole and a sprinkling of hot sauce for a balanced bowl that is nutritious and dirt cheap,” says English.
Sweet tooths, rejoice. These sweet morsels are made with wheat flour, yellow cornmeal, rice flour, salt, and a cinnamon-sugar blend made with a handful of ingredients. “As one of the [restaurant’s] only certified vegan menu items, the cinnamon twists are a yummy, sweet treat,” says Brittany Lubeck, MS, RD, nutritional consultant at Oh So Spotless. “They are fairly low in calories, so treat yourself!”
Panera Vegan Options
“Panera has a helpful page on their website about eating vegan at their restaurants. There are vegan options on the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, and many of these are packed with nutrition,” offers Lubeck. “They also have some vegan sides for quick snacks,” she adds.
Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries and Pecans
“Oatmeal is my go-to healthy vegan breakfast option when eating out,” shares English. “Skip the cinnamon crunch topping to reduce your sugar intake and enjoy the natural sweetness from the berries.” (If you’re eating this dish at home, add a few sprinkles of cinnamon and turmeric before digging into your bowl.)
Baja Bowl (without Greek Yogurt and Feta)
Avocados, bean and corn salsa, grape tomatoes, and salsa verde over a bed of cilantro lime brown rice and quinoa sounds pretty darn good to us. “This flavorful southwestern bowl is easily made vegan by skipping the dairy,” says English. “It’s a balanced meal thanks to the protein and fiber-rich beans and corn and healthy fat from the avocados.”
Mediterranean Bowl (without Greek Yogurt and Feta)
“Just order this filling bowl without Greek yogurt and Feta—and request extra hummus for a protein boost. Keep in mind that this bowl is high in sodium,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, plant-forward chef, nutritionist, and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook.
Strawberry Poppyseed Salad (without Chicken)
We’ll gladly admit that any dish with poppy seeds in it makes us happy, and this one delivers on the satisfaction front. “This salad is extra nutritious because of the addition of antioxidant-rich berries, oranges, and pineapple,” says Lubeck. “The romaine lettuce is mineral-rich and the pecans contain healthy fats and protein to keep vegans full.”
Ten Vegetable Soup
A seasoned vegetable stock sets the canvas for vibrant veggies to delight in this soup filled with tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, onions, corn, carrots, celery, and more. “This scrumptious soup is naturally vegan and a great way to get your daily dose of veggies,” says English.
While not all of Panera Bread’s smoothies are vegan, Julie Harris, RDN, LDN, CPT, recipe developer and blog writer for AngryBBQ.com, points to two plant-based options: the Peach and Blueberry Smoothie with almond milk and the Green Passion Smoothie. “No need to ask for substitutions,” she says, which as any vegan knows, is a veritable joy when ordering food.