It wasn’t so long ago when “healthy chain restaurants,” or, more specifically, “healthy fast food,” was considered an oxymoron. Sure, chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s have offered salads for quite a while now, but making an effort to be healthy via a few token menu items does not a healthy restaurant make (as they say, you can put lipstick on a pig…). However, in recent years, chain restaurants have emerged that are legitimately healthy, and these are the top 10.
So, what makes a chain restaurant “healthy”? First of all, it needs to be an actual chain, with more than 15 locations and a robust expansion plan. Second, the restaurant needs to be making a concerted and visible effort to serve healthy food, menu-wide. Sure, there can be a few outlying items for diners who aren’t looking to have a health-conscious meal, but across the board, the menu needs to be geared toward health-conscious diners. Chains were awarded extra points if they make an effort to offer low-calorie items across their entire menu, and if they go out of their way to responsibly source their ingredients.
Thankfully, in recent years, a whole slew of health-focused “fast-casual” chains have emerged, and the old guard has found themselves having to play catch-up. And we’re not just talking about Panera Bread, either (which has certainly been taking market share away from established fast food and fast-casual chains); chains that can still qualify as startups, some with only around a dozen or so locations, are coming onto the scene to offer a fast food or fast-casual experience to health-conscious diners who are looking for a quick lunch made with responsibly-sourced ingredients. We made sure to include plenty of those types of chains in our ranking.
So read on for a glimpse not only of chains that are really working to make a difference, but for a look into the future of fast food. As more and more people realize that wholesome foods with high-quality ingredients are far more conducive to a healthy lifestyle than a fried chicken sandwich and fries, expect to see some of the smaller chains on our list become as commonplace as the big guys. Read on to learn which 10 chain restaurants are America’s healthiest.
#10 Noodles & Company
Noodles and Co.
Only soybean oil is used for sautéing at this chain, and lean proteins include hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, and shrimp and organic tofu. Whole-grain linguine makes for a healthy noodle option, and many small soups and salads contain 250 calories or fewer per serving.
Photo Modified: Flickr/ Earl/CC4.0
Subway’s website is also a great resource for those looking to eat healthy at the chain. Full nutrition data is available, along with allergy info and a full ingredient guide, and there’s even an “Expert Advice” section run by their corporate dietitian, full of articles about how to live and eat healthier.