Eat: Top 5 Healthy Fast Food Chains

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hey guys!  Have you guys ever been out and about running errands, on campus, on a road trip or somewhere else where your only choice for food was a fast food restaurant? I know it happens to me on occasion when I'm running from work to class and didn't have time to pack a lunch the night before. It's always hard to make a "good" decision when choosing which fast food place to pick - big greasy burger or skimpy over priced salad? Neither sound too appetizing if you ask me.

I was interested in finding out some more options than hitting up a Subway or grocery store, so I turned to google.  Well, the next time your only choice is fast food, keep in mind these 5 restaurants and choose from one of their healthier and more satisfying items.

(via - ranked using criteria that was created with the help of an expert panel, chains scored on such factors as the use of healthy fats and preparations, healthy sodium counts in entrees, availability of nutritional information, and the use of organic produce)
top: au bon pain - noodles & company
middle: corner bakery cafe

Over 1,230 locations nationwide (and in Canada)

This bakery-cafe-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal. “Variety makes it easy for everyone to choose healthy,” praises registered dietitian and panelist Marisa Moore. What does that mean for you? For starters, you can pick from two whole-grain breads for your sandwich and have an apple with it instead of chips (though the chips are fine, too—they can be baked!). Half-size soups, salads, and sandwiches make it a cinch to control portion size. Also, most of the chicken is antibiotic- and hormone-free, a rarity for large chains.

Panera also won top honors for kid fare, dishing out RD-approved crowd-pleasers like squeezable organic yogurt, PB&J (with all-natural peanut butter), and grilled organic cheese on white whole-grain bread.

We love: Delicious, nutrient-packed combos like a half–Turkey Artichoke on focaccia bread with a bowl of black bean or garden vegetable soup.
Danger zone: Sticky buns and cheese danishes are on display at the counter.

206 locations in the West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South

How did this up-and-comer snag second place? Largely because of its devotion to organic food: About one-fifth of all its ingredients are organic, from blue-corn tortilla chips and whole-wheat wraps to field greens and spinach. Plus, its creative salads—like the Nutty Mixed-Up Salad with organic field greens, grapes, chicken breast, feta cheese, walnuts, dried cranberries, pumpkinseeds, raisins, and organic apples—make you actually want to order the greens.

Our judges applauded the portion-control option: Reduced sizes of, say, a stuffed baked potato, are $1 less. Jason’s menu also highlights ultrahealthy sandwiches and provides the nutitional info.

We love: Being able to build any sandwich on an organic whole-wheat wrap.
Danger zone: High-sodium counts on some sandwiches; if sodium is a concern, stick to the ultrahealthy choices.

280 locations nationwide

A pioneer in healthy fast food, Au Bon Pain serves up sandwiches, soups, salads, and hot entrees made with whole grains, veggies, and hormone-free chicken.

New this year: Portions, a 14-item menu of nutritious small plates—from appetizers like apples, blue cheese, and cranberries to salads like chickpea and tomato—all of which are less than 200 calories. Another impressive feature: Au Bon Pain provides on-site nutritional information via computer kiosks, so before you even order you know each option’s calories, fat, and sodium. “It’s a great way to empower customers,” praises judge Amy Jamieson-Petonic.

We love: Yummy low-cal soups, from Jamaican Black Bean to Fire Roasted Exotic Grains and Vegetables.
Danger zone: The sodium counts can get high if you don’t pay attention.

204 locations in West, Midwest, South

Noodles and Company isn’t your typical greasy Asian food-court joint. In fact, it goes beyond Asian fare and cuts out the grease (only healthy soybean oil is used in sauteing). Here, you choose from three food types: Asian, Mediterranean, or American, then within each style, pick from four noodle bowl options. Lean proteins—hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp, and organic tofu—can be added, too.

The result? Tasty combos like Japanese Pan Noodles with broccoli, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, Asian sprouts, and sauteed beef. Also key: “You don’t have to chow down on a giant bowl of noodles. You can opt for a small portion,” says judge Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, Health’s Senior Food and Nutrition Editor. The small Bangkok Curry bowl has just 250 calories.

We love: The whole-grain linguine—usually hard to find when eating out.
Danger zone: The desserts. The only options are two kinds of cookies and a Rice Krispy Treat bar that checks in at 530 calories and 19 grams of fat!

111 locations in West, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, South

What sets Corner Bakery apart? A fantastic breakfast menu, which is rare in the quick-serve world. We love the Farmer’s Scrambler: eggs scrambled with red and green bell peppers, red onion, mushrooms, potatoes, and Cheddar cheese. (It’s only 260 calories when ordered with egg whites.) There’s also Swiss oatmeal, a chilled European breakfast cereal made with rolled oats, green apples, bananas, currants, dried cranberries, low-fat yogurt, and skim milk.

But Corner Bakery also has healthy salads, sandwiches, and soups made with whole grains, fresh, lean meats, and vegetables, as well as great portion-controlled combinations that make limiting calories a no-brainer.

We love: Healthy oven-roasted chicken that comes on most pastas and salads.
Danger zone: You have to go to their Web site to get nutritional info.

So guys, what's your go-to on the go meal? 
What fast food chain can you not get enough of?


jillian :: cornflake dreams. said...

great post! i try to avoid fast food bc it makes me sick but i ALWAYS want panera. i really like their turkey sandwiches on sour dough + chicken noodle soup. i also like chipotle-- but i get the burrito bowl. no cheese, sour cream or guac. just lots of veggies, salsa, beans, meat and only a half scoop of rice. the calorie count isnt bad at all and its super tasty. xo

Olivia.Dee said...

LOVE the panini's from Corner Bakery! MMMM... if my throat wasn't killing me I'd have one today!

angelica said...

I love Panera Bread! We only have that and Jason's Deli where I live. Now I'm hungry!

kaity said...

I love Au Bon Pain, but I've only ever seen it in airports...obviously I live in the wrong city. :]
and Noodles & Co is delish as well! I always have the hardest time choosing something to eat.

Elysie Piecie said...

I love Au Bon Pain. The only one in Atlanta is in the airport now...the other closed down. And I have yet to find one in St. Louis. So the only one we have is Bread Co aka Panera Bread. Great post.

Michelle (Confessed Travelholic) said...

There's a chain called freshii in Canada that's amazing. I recommend it if youre in the country :)

Brittany said...

I love me some corner! Harvest salad is to die for!

dimpleresta said...

Bombay’s Dimple Talk Restaurant is the one of the best healthy fast food restaurant , All type of fast food items are available in the restaurant.
healthy fast food

Healthy fast food restaurant said...

Really very great post and thanks for sharing with us
<a href="”>Healthy fast food restaurant</a>

Design by Studio Mommy (© Copyright 2015)