While I normally eschew fast food, there are times when I am forced to eat it; read, road trips, family lunches out, when I’m too sick to cook or I am rushing through airports.
And there are other times when I am just shamefully lazy and I want someone else to whip up something fast I can stick in my gullet and get about my day.
In those cases, these are my fail safe options. I won’t call them healthy—there are things which occurred in the making of each and every one of them which should probably be illegal. But at least I’m not eating factory farmed animal misery and sometimes that’s enough.
Six inch veggie max, toasted, no cheese. I get this with spinach, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, lettuce, and jalapeño peppers with seasonings and spicy mustard. You can obviously skip the veggie patty and just go with real veggies, which would be healthier, but their veggie burger is surprisingly tasty and I can never resist.
Vegetarian burrito. I order this one with rice (no beans,they’re cooked in chicken broth), peppers and onions, hot and mild salsa, lettuce, corn and guacamole. It is huge, filling and great hangover food—not that I ever drink too much.
Noodles and Company
Indonesian Peanut Saute or Japanese Pan Noodles. Both of these dishes have nice exotic flavors, and if you get a green salad on the side they make a well rounded meal.
The soups change depending on which Panera you go to and the day of the week it is, but you will often find either Black Bean soup or Garden Vegetable Soup with Pesto, both of which are decent. Order it as a “You Pick Two” and pair with a green salad. It comes with a nice hunk of bread or a crisp green apple too.
The Mediterranean Veggie sandwich with no feta cheese and extra hummus is also delicious, and comes with chips or an apple.
Corner Bakery has this gorgeous new sandwich; Roasted Veggies on Potato Thyme Bread. Just ask them to leave off the goat cheese and load on some hummus and you’ll be in fast food heaven. You can choose a pickle, carrots or chips as a side.
They also have a good tomato mozzarella sandwich, which you can order with no cheese, and numerous salads you can easily tailor to be vegan. The staff here is always friendly and accommodating.
I love to get the Veg Out on a garlic or salt bagel at Einstein’s. It’s already vegan so you don’t have to special order it and it’s a whole bunch of tasty. All sandwiches come with a choice of side—I just get the pickle. The coffee here is pretty great too, and they have tons of fresh fruit you can also purchase if you’re extra hungry.
Number six, The Vegetarian. Order this on whole wheat bread with no cheese or mayo. Double the guacamole, double the veggies and ask for oregano. This is not a typical order for Jimmy John’s and they will be confused. Be patient. They just have to hit a dozen buttons on their computer to get you what you’ve asked for. Try one of their authentic deli pickles on the side as a low calorie treat.
Grilled Vegetable Sandwich on Foccaccia, hold the havarti. Portillo’s is a mecca for meat eaters, and you’ll be surrounded by the sights and sounds of roasting flesh. If you can tolerate that, this sandwich is pretty darn good, although I suspect the veggies are grilled on the same surface as the meat which might be reason enough to steer clear.
Any pizza place
Pizza is as much a part of American lives as the Tea Party and the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, I think they are trying to ratify a law that makes pizza eating mandatory for all Americans at least once a week. Well, if we must, we must.
Hold your head up high, march into any pizzeria and order your pie with no cheese, but loaded with veggies. Yes, you’ll get some cross eyed looks, but who cares? You’ll be surprised at the yum factor and you can walk out of there with your conscience clear.
I realize I have an inordinate amount of sandwiches on this list and that I have not touched on salads much at all. My reasoning is that salads are pretty simple to customize and you don’t need me telling you how to do it. Not necessarily so with a sandwich, where all sorts of things can sneak in and mess up your purpose.
I also realize that a couple of these fast food chains are indigenous to the Midwest, but I have tried to include as many nation wide picks as possible.
Maintaining a vegan diet is an ongoing challenge, but a worthy one. Sometimes you might have to carb load or eat a slightly less satisfying meal that you’d like in order to stick to your goals. That’s okay. If your dietary priority is to be kind, there are many ways you can tinker with fast food menus to suit you.
The biggest challenges will be at McDonald’s and similar “old school” places, where you can’t even get a potato that hasn’t been soaked in beef fat. In these cases you’ll just have to go with a blah salad as vegans have been since the dawn of fast food itself.
The good news is that veganism is not so rare anymore, and generally speaking, you’ll be able to get what you need and what you want with minimal ruckus.
Good luck out there, and bon appetite!
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Ann Halsig