The 6 Best Fast Food Chains With Plant-Based Options on the Menu
It used to be that if you were a plant-based eater, you had to resort to a lame salad when you found yourself at a fast-food restaurant. You may have paired it with French fries, apple slices, or a drink and hoped you wouldn’t be starving in an hour. But fast-food restaurants have finally got the memo that their customer base isn’t just coming through for a burger, fried chicken, or a beef taco. Many now have plant-based foods and are coming up with creative, delicious ways to get more greens on the menu. Some of the ways they are adding plant-based meat alternatives are through the companies providing them with the products: mainly Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Here, Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Game Changers shares her thoughts on some of the newest developments you’ll see on national fast food restaurant menus as well as what to skip and what to try.
“I think it's great that there are more of these options available for people who want to eat a more plant-based diet--especially for people who travel a lot for work or live in areas where there may not be a lot of options other than fast food establishments,” says Cording. Just keep in mind with all of these menu items that just because something is plant-based, doesn’t mean it's healthy, she adds.
1. Burger King
Turns out there’s a lot more to rely on than a salad if you’re eating plant-based.
- Veggie Burger: This meat alternative burger is made with a Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Patty, topped with vegetables, and served on a toasted sesame seed bun.
- Impossible Whopper (available in select cities): The Impossible Whopper is just like the classic Whopper® but made with an Impossible™ patty. That “meaty” plant-based patty is made with soy protein, potato protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and heme (a form of iron). Make sure to remove the mayo for a dairy-free meal.
“You still want to be thinking about having a balanced meal because one thing that is really important for promoting overall health is having stable blood sugar,” says Cording. “So if you’re eating French fries and hash browns, they're vegetarian, they're plant-based, but you're not really giving your body a whole lot besides carbs to work with.” With a MorningStar Farms burger, you’re getting protein from the burger and carbohydrates from the bun, so you probably don’t need fries, suggests Cording. Stick with a side salad instead.
2. White Castle
Known for its mini square-shaped sliders, this hamburger chain jumped on the plant-based bandwagon at some participating locations.
- Impossible Slider: These look the same as the original sliders but are made from Impossible Foods burgers and clock in at 11 grams of protein. White Castle informs customers that “The Impossible Slider does not taste like our Original Slider and that wasn’t its intent. Its purpose is to offer our customers a plant-based slider that replicates the taste of beef, but it does not taste like our core White Castle slider.” You could also make this meal vegan by holding the cheese.
“I think the brands like Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat are a step in the right direction,” says Cording. “The fact that they're becoming more widely available is good. I think the people who like to eat those products at home will like that they can find them in more establishments. And in terms of taste, texture, I think that they're definitely a step above some of the older generation of veggie burgers.”
3. Taco Bell
This fast-food restaurant may have been one of the first you frequented while transitioning to plant-based eating. That’s because Taco Bell has eight million vegetarian combinations and sells 350 million vegetarian items a year through menu substitutions or ordering off their vegetarian menu. In fact, they were the first quick-service restaurant to offer American Vegetarian Association (AVA) certified food options.
- Black Bean Burrito: You knew a bean burrito was going to make this list. This wrap consists of seasoned rice, a three-cheese blend, black beans, and sauce. Remove the cheese and sub guacamole for a vegan meal.
- Spicy Tostada: Enjoy a snack with a kick when you order this open-faced menu item on a crispy shell topped with refried beans, real cheddar cheese, tomatoes and lettuce, red sauce, and chipotle sauce.
- Cinnamon Twists: This certified-vegan dessert is just puffed wheat, corn, and rice rolled in cinnamon sugar. It only rings in at $1 so its a great add-on to any order if you're craving something sweet.
Be wary of vegetarian menu items that consist of a lot of cheese and rice, says Cording. “I usually tell clients that if they are eating plant-based at Taco Bell to create a power bowl with black beans and doctor it up with some guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa for a good combo of protein, fat, and carbs.” Tragically, Taco Bell recently removed potatoes from the menu, but fear not because they promised vegan meat will be added to next year's menu.
4. Carl’s Jr.
Another brand synonymous with beef burgers, Carl’s Jr. offers several plant-based options for veggie and plant lovers.
- Beyond Famous Star Burger: Made with Beyond Meat, the team at Carl’s Jr. says it tastes “beyond belief.” This burger packs 30 grams of protein with 20 of those coming from the plant-based patty. You can make any burger or sandwich on their menu “Go Beyond” by substituting this Beyond Burger patty for $2 more.
- Guacamole Thickburger: More like a guacamole sandwich than a burger, this is like eating a burger with all the toppings—but the main protein fell off the bun. Instead of meat, it’s made with guacamole, Pepper Jack cheese, and veggies on a bun. Remove the Pepper Jack for a dairy-free option.
“I think having an option of all the fixings without the burger like in their Guacamole Thickburger is a good workaround, especially if someone doesn’t want to eat a soy-based burger,” says Cording. “I'm not saying it's a healthy option necessarily, because it's still a very caloric meal and high in sodium, but that said if someone wants to skip the burger but they still want to have that burger experience and all of those flavors, this is a creative option.”
5. Del Taco
This was the first national Mexican fast-food chain to offer Beyond Meat at the company’s 580 restaurants across the country.
- Beyond Avocado Taco (vegan): This is made up of Del Taco seasoned Beyond Meat plant-based crumbles, topped with avocado, lettuce, and tomatoes in a crunchy shell.
- Epic Beyond Original Mex Burrito: Loaded with Beyond Meat, slow-cooked beans made from scratch, cilantro-lime rice, fresh guacamole, and handmade pico de gallo in a flour tortilla, this burrito is 100% vegan.
- Avocado Veggie Bowl: If you're looking for a lower-carb option, this bowl features sliced avocado, seasoned black beans, diced onions, fresh diced tomatoes, and fresh romaine and iceberg lettuce blend, served over cilantro lime rice.
“With any of these menu items, know that you’re getting a very high sodium meal,” says Cording. “So, see where you can be mindful of reducing your sodium intake the rest of the day.”
From the time it started offering breakfast sandwiches in 2006, the coffee conglomerate became a competitor in the fast-food space. You can get your favorite hot and cold beverages made with almond, coconut or oat milk but there are also plant-based food options available.
- Baja Black Bean Veggie Wrap: This cold menu item makes for a hearty lunch with seasoned black beans, salsa slaw, and mixed veggies, wrapped in a spinach tortilla wrap with paired jalapeño cream-cheese spread.
- Bagel with Miyoko's Non-Dairy Cream Cheese: If you're lucky enough to live in the Washington area, you may be near a Starbucks that is testing Miyoko's non-dairy cream cheese in the flavors Cinnamon Raisin and Everything. Hopefully, this will become a permanent menu item available nationwide in the coming months.
- Impossible Breakfast Sandwich: Although this breakfast sandwich could be veganized by only getting the Impossible patty on the ciabatta bread and adding ketchup, this sandwich does have a not-so-plant-based egg and sharp cheddar slice of cheese.
“I don't think [any] of these fast food plant-based products should be the backbone of your diet and they shouldn’t be part of a daily diet because they are processed foods,” says Cording. In general, Cording says you’re better off basing your plant-based diet on natural, whole foods but when you’re in a rush or have limited options on-the-go, these menu items can help you stick to your plant-based lifestyle when you’re running limited on time or healthy eating options around you.