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Top 15 Fast Food Restaurants for Vegetarian Kids

If you are one of those people who are wholly opposed to feeding kids fast food, now would be a good time to find the little black “x” in the corner and close the window. The fact of the matter is that fast food is essential to our scheduling. My kids just wouldn’t eat at least once per week if I weren’t willing to sit in a drive thru lane and pay next to nothing for a questionable meal, except that it’s usually not all that questionable because skillz. I haz them. And by that, I mean I’ve been doing this vegetarian thing for nearly 30 years. I’ve kinda sorta figured out how to navigate the world.

More importantly, I’ve learned how to navigate fast food with kids who are vegetarians. I’ve got one teen who is all about the healthier choices while the other one (aka the preschooler) would be content with French fries and milkshakes. They have both dabbled in meat, but have, on their own, come back to vegetarian. I think maybe it’s meant to be? We shall see.

It seems that more and more of Alexis’ friends are starting to try out vegetarian as a way of life, so it makes sense to share a little knowledge. Thus, here’s our ranked list of fast food chains when it comes to vegetarian selections.

THE UGLY – These are the places that don’t deserve to be in the top 10, or really even the top 20. They just plain suck at accommodating vegetarians.

15. Arby’s, Chick-fil-A, In-N-Out, White Castle – Avoid like the plague. These are the places that leave a vegetarian with fries and a milkshake, which would be fine except it’s probably not real food. Also, there’s a good chance the fries will taste like chicken because they’re sometimes cooked in the same oil.

14. Sonic, Steak-n-Shake, Culver’s – See above, but add grilled cheese sandwiches to the mix. It’s not the end of the world, but if you don’t want grilled cheese, maybe it is.

13. Five Guys, Firehouse Subs – These two have a grilled vegetable sandwich menu choice that tastes shockingly like the other, which is probably because neither one of them cook the vegetables separate from where they cook the beef. For real, in a blind taste test, I couldn’t tell these two apart. They’re a passable choice, but not a good choice.

THE BAD – You can get by at any one of these places, but it’s not like you’re going to be happy about it.

12. KFC – If you want mac-n-cheese and potato wedges, cool. You’re in luck. You might be able to add a biscuit and some corn to the mix as well.

11. Wendy’s – Baked potatoes make for an interesting change from the usual fries.

10.McDonald’s – Considering the diversity of McDonald’s menu offerings, you’d think they would have a vegetarian option, but they really don’t. We typically either go with breakfast foods (egg and cheese biscuit or hotcakes are favorites) or a cheeseburger Happy Meal without the meat. It sounds weird, but it’s really just a grilled cheese. At least it comes with a toy.

9. Starbucks – Starbucks has been trying to get in on the food thing, particularly with lunch choices, but they’re pretty bad. The tomato and mozzarella panini is good (Alexis agrees), but the protein boxes look and taste like they were put together last week. Mila says skip it.

8. Subway – Veggie subs are always an option, and some stores offer a veggie patty. It’s a pretty solid take on a gardenburger, so Subway ends up being a decent choice. That said, they really need more variety in the vegetables to get kicked above Jimmy John’s. Also, they need to train their staff to not cut a meat-filled sandwich with a knife and then use that same knife, without cleaning it, on a veggie sub. It may sound petty, but it’s really gross how often the workers there cross-contaminate foods.

7. Jimmy John’s – The #6 is REALLY good, but it’s the only vegetarian choice. There’s only so much a sub place can do with bread, cheese, and lettuce, y’know? At least they don’t seem to wipe grimy knives all over the food, though.

THE GOOD – There is no shame in these games.

6. Burger King – Now things are starting to get interesting. Burger King introduced Gardenburgers years ago, and they seem to still be available at nearly every store. The only thing is that they’re “flame-grilled,” which I swear is code for “burnt to a crisp.” I prefer to order a “Veggie Whopper with cheese” which is usually a Whopper without the meat, aka all the condiments and cheese on a bun. It’s REALLY good. Alexis sticks with the Gardenburgers and thinks they’re ALL THAT.

5. Chipotle, Moe’s, Qdoba – Of these, I think Moe’s is the best for vegetarians because their tofu works well in nearly everything. Chipotle and Qdoba tend to stick with grilled vegetables, but that can vary by store. You have to watch the rice and bean choices; not all are vegetarian.

4. Panera – Panera has a long list of available vegetarian options, from soups to sandwiches to mac-n-cheese. It’s almost overwhelming how many choices are available, and they’re clearly marked on the menu, making everything even easier.

3. Noodle’s & Co – Same. The menu is clearly marked and there are a ton of choices. Good luck.

THE CHAMPIONS – Cue Queen because these are the two places that are absolutely always an excellent choice.

2. McAlister’s Deli – COULD WE PLEASE GET A MCALISTER’S IN PITTSBURGH? PLEEEEEASE? It would be my #1, if only I didn’t have to travel to get to it. They have veggie chili, baked potatoes, sandwiches, salads, and and and and and and … so many choices.

1. Taco Bell – Look. I know. You think Taco Bell is garbage, but YOU ARE WRONG. Taco Bell has always been the best about allowing substitutions, which makes their menu absolutely delightful for a vegetarian. You can stay on script with a bean burrito, cheese quesadilla, veggie power menu burrito or bowl, black bean burrito, cheesy roll-up (Mila’s favorite), or any other of the dozen or so vegetarian menu items, but you can also go crazy by substituting beans in place of meat on almost any menu item. Tacos. Burritos. Crunch wraps. IT’S ALL HAPPY. Alexis’ favorite is a crunch wrap with beans in place of meat, and she will fight you if you say anything bad about her bestest fast food friend. I tend to go with crunchy tacos with beans in place of meat because every day should be Taco Day.

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Reader Comments (3)

Impossible burgers at White Castle have to move it to the top 10!

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Subway’s nasty knives isn’t even about meat vs vegetarian for me. Its about me not wanting my sub to taste like whatever sauces the person in front of me ordered. Once that person happened to have three different sauces all of which I was not interested in and when I ask the sandwich artist to clean the knife you’d have thought I’d asked him to go forge a new one considering how very put out he was about it.

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Hey, In-n-Out is a veggie fast food STAPLE in California! Vegetarians order the grilled cheese (everything but the meat), non-dairy people can get a veggie sandwich with spread, and vegans get veggie sandwiches no spread but add all the veggies. And they don’t use their fryers for chicken (they don’t serve chicken) and the onions are cooked on an onion side of the grill. My go to order here is two veggie sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, pickles, and mustard. Ketchup is also available. And of course fries! It’s not the highest protein option, but it’s delicious and the veggies are always incredibly fresh. Long time lurker, first time commenter. I’m all about that vegan In-n-Out!

February 18, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAlison
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