Living a balanced life with lots of creative food, exercise and exploration!

Vegetarian’s Guide to Fast Food and Casual Dining

on January 31, 2012

It Happens.  You’re in a rut and you want something fast.  Or, you’re in a remote place (like where I live), and there just aren’t really vegetarian options.  What do you do?  Here are my recommendations and ratings.  This is also a handy guide for my meat-eating readers, to help you be able to make accommodations around vegetarians so everyone can win!

*Note – there is something to be said for those vegetarians that won’t even eat at these places, whichare well known to depend on factory farming.  While I applaud this effort, sometimes, you have to eat, which can be especially difficult when you don’t live in a city and/or are surrounded my mostly carnivores.


Good and/or varied vegetarian options

You can survive, but, maybe pack a lunch

Better just either stick with desert, or head to a grocery store nearby

Fast Food

I try not to eat fast food, but sometimes, you have no choice.  So, here are my go-to’s.

Subway – not a bad option actually.  I enjoy their veggie delight sandwiches.  It satisfies my desire for a sandwich, which is hard to do as a vegetarian.  Some of them have a veggie pattie, but honestly, I’ve never tried it (doesn’t look that appetizing).  Instead, I load up on Spinach, Tomato, lettuce, banana peppers and Chipotle sauce.  Yum!

Burger King – brace yourself folks, Burger King (or at least most of them) have a Gardenburger on the menu!  You Should be able to order any of their burgers as a veggie burger.  Downside – can’t get it off the cheap menu (my preference), but, it satisfies that desire for a burger AND doesn’t inconvenience anyone you’re with who may be getting a burger.  I also like that you can build your own on their website and get exact calories and nutrition.

Chipotle – Easy to make vegetarian.  Get a bean burrito with lots of veggies, or ask for a single soft taco.  I tend to go for the kids meal (don’t judge!).  It’s one soft taco with a small amount of chips and some rice.  Keep in mind the chips and the burritos are calorie bombs, so be careful when ordering!  Sour cream, cheese, and guac seriously crank up the numbers.

I do have to make a shout out for Chipotle, in reference to my note above.  I actually like supporting the chain, even though it serves meat, because the chain itself strives to do so in a humane manner.  Check this out: Chipotle’s “Food With Integrity” commitment.  Basically, the company uses organic and local produce, no hormones or antibiotics are given to the animals, and the animals themselves are not factory farmed.  They are “naturally raised,” meaning “raised in a humane way, fed a vegetarian diet, never given hormones, and allowed to display their natural tendencies.”  Chipotle admits that not quite 100% of their meats are naturally raised, but I appreciate this candor, and it gives me hope that perhaps they really are trying to achieve this goal 🙂

Baja Fresh – easily make vegetarian burritos or tacos.  AND every order comes with free chips.  AND they have $1 churros.  But, both these things aren’t exactly good for you…oh well, you can definitely eat here meat free!

Taco Bell – Now, Taco Bell doesn’t get a green because of health purposes, but it is fairly easy for a vegetarian.  Cheese quesadillas, bean and cheese burritos (careful though – SUPER high in calories, it’s deceiving!), nachos, and what I usually get, the potato soft taco. 

Wendy’sonly options really are the side salad and frosty’s.  NOT that I’m knocking frosty’s – yum – but, not exactly a meal.  Their Chili has beef, so that’s off the table.  But, Wendy’s get’s a yellow because they at least have a baked potato which, with a side salad, can form a meal in a pinch.

Popeye’s the only reason Popeye’s doesn’t get a red is because it at least has varied sides, albeit no entree options.  However, they’re horrible for you.  Much to my sadness, ONE biscuit is 260 calories with 15g of fat.  EEK.  They also have fries, cole slaw, cajun rice, red beans and rice (though I can’t guarantee any of these don’t contain meat ingredients and broths, I can’t find the ingredients list), mashed potatoes (but, can’t get gravy), and some semblance of green beans.  Better to stick to a soda.

KFCpretty much the same as Popeye’s.  Add in Mac n cheese.

Arby’s No choices, except maybe the curly fries.  Not even great desert options.

McDonalds Other than breakfast, pretty much no options here.  Their breakfast, you can at least get an egg and cheese sandwich (on whatever bread you like), but that’s the same as all the other places that offer breakfast.  McDonalds does get points for having the largest salad menu, but they all have meat.  Ask for it without and you can atleast eat something!

With any – if you’re going for nutrition…probably keep driving.  Or get a dressing-less side salad.  If you want to indulge a bit, keep in mind even the SMALLEST size fries (kids/value) usually carries about 250 calories and 10g of fat.  Small?  You’re up to 340 calories and 15g.  Ouch.

Casual Dining:

Red Robin – will make any of their burgers with a veggie patty.  Since this place is known for their large variety of burgers, this is totally a fun place to go!  Plus, I actually enjoy their food, Special Red Robin Seasoning anyone? Yum.

Anything Mexican, Thai, or Indian – pretty much easy to do these types of food.  Always have veggie options, and often different types of proteins (tofu, beans, etc)

Ruby Tuesdays -their salad bar is a big plus, but they severely lack in entree options.  The only one really is the Zucchini cake mini burgers.  They’re pretty tasty, but fried.  And they’re prepared differently depending on which franchise you go to.  They do, however, have a lot of great vegetable sides. (Zucchini, spaghetti squash, broccoli, mashed cauliflower, and asparagus)  I struggle with whether this should be green because of these options, but you can’t just eat sides!

Applebee’s – no vegetarian options to speak of.  I wanted to go here with my family because they like the Weight Watchers menu, but there just wasn’t anything I could eat except maybe mozzarella sticks.  Their salads are also way overpriced to just order without meat.  Fail.

Most American restaurantsSorry US, but you just don’t serve vegetarians well.  America seems to be very meat centered, and most people here are brought up thinking its not a meal without meat.  Well, good excuse to expand your culinary horizons!

Do you have any additions or suggestions?  I’d love to know!  It’s easy to find good eats in cities, but once you’re outside of them, it certainly get’s more difficult.



2 responses to “Vegetarian’s Guide to Fast Food and Casual Dining

  1. Conor says:

    Wait a minute. Chicken’s not vegan? I thought vegetarians just borrow in their bunkers..only to venture out when the trees spawn fruits and meander the forests in search of raw berries. No? I like your list. Although if you grew up in a desert, you would know that dessert is spelled differently!!!! Yesh, we need to work on your grammar. I think you missed a big one for people in cities and that is Whole Foods. Tons of peeps eat here and they have awesome variety. Also meditteranean generally has good fallafel/salad type stuff.

  2. Alright Alright, yes I get those two stupid words confused. Anyway, according to your blog, you’re a vegetarian too, and I doubt you burrow!

    Good call on Whole Foods and Mediterranean 🙂

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