Some of the restaurants below are traditional fast food joints for when you need sustenance right off the exit ramp. Others are newer chains that cater directly to health-conscious customers. All have at least 400 locations throughout the US and menu items that cater to specific health concerns.

Panera Bread

Panera’s menu is full of options for a healthy meal. It lists nutritional information on the menu, and you can often find locations not far off freeway exits. You can order salads with a variety of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, as well as “pick two” dishes from a menu of soups, salads and sandwiches. Just be aware of dishes that are excessively cheesy, creamy or sugary, and choose whole-grain bread when possible. You can also choose an apple as a side rather than chips or a baguette.

Chipotle

Chipotle allows customers to build their own meals. You can create salads or burrito bowls with lots of protein, fiber and not too much fat. Queso, sour cream and chips all add significant calories and fat, but you don’t have to deprive yourself. Smaller portions help, or you can skip the chips entirely.

Starbucks

Starbucks created several healthy options in recent years, including steel cut oatmeal, egg white wraps and egg bites, and it offers a variety of protein boxes that feature fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, whole-grain crackers and nut butter.

Sweetgreen

Sweetgreen may not pop up often on freeway signs, but with locations in 21 states, it’s widely available in certain areas. The chain offers warm bowls with wild rice or quinoa as a base, as well as salads on a bed of kale, romaine lettuce, arugula or spinach. Toppings include nuts, seeds, beans, a wide variety of vegetables and proteins, and a choice of 15 dressings or sauces. Build your own bowl or choose one of the brand’s pre-made menu items.

CAVA

CAVA is another fast-casual restaurant with customizable hot bowls, salads and pita wraps. The menu leans Mediterranean with options like roasted eggplant, falafel, grilled meats, hummus and tahini dressing. The brand’s RightRice is made from a blend of lentils, chickpeas, green peas and rice. According to the company, RightRice contains double the protein, five times the fiber and 40% fewer net carbohydrates than a standard portion of white rice.

Noodles & Company

At Noodles & Company, you can order a noodle bowl with vegetables, a choice of sauce and proteins that include Impossible “chicken,” tofu, shrimp, grilled chicken, meatballs or beef. The chain also offers an option to substitute regular pasta with zucchini noodles, gluten-free shells or high-protein noodles called LEANguini. Soups and salads are available as well.

Wendy’s

Unlike many traditional fast food restaurants, Wendy’s has four mainstay salads on its menu—the cobb, apple pecan, parmesan caesar and taco salads—all of which can be ordered vegetarian. Just be aware of ingredients like cheese, tortilla chips and heavy dressings that can add extra fat and calories. Wendy’s also offers a grilled chicken wrap, baked potatoes and apple bites that can be ordered as a side.

Burger King

For vegetarians, Burger King carries Impossible burgers, but it’s important to note that there’s only a 40-calorie difference between a Whopper and an Impossible Whopper, and all burgers are grilled on the same broilers. Skipping the mayonnaise and cheese or ordering any burger on a lettuce wrap helps cut simple carbohydrates and saturated fat.

Smoothie King

Smoothies can be a good option when you’re low on time and in need of a boost. Smoothie King—and other shops like Robeks, Jamba Juice and Nekter—create blends with a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy and plant-based milks, protein powders, fiber, probiotics and caffeine from sources like coffee and green tea.

However, smoothies can be less satiating than a meal of whole foods. Also be careful to check the calories in any smoothie you drink regularly. The large sizes can be surprisingly high in sugar, with over 800 calories per drink.

Panda Express

Panda Express offers “Wok Smart” menu items that are guaranteed to have at least 8 grams of protein and contain fewer than 300 calories. The chain also offers steamed brown rice, super greens and several tofu dishes, as well as grilled shrimp and chicken entrees. It also has kids’ meals that come with apple crisps and a bottle of water.

Heads up for gluten-free folks: Everything on the Panda Express menu contains gluten except the brown and white steamed rice.

10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants (2024) – Forbes Health

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