Fast food isn’t ever a great life choice. It’s generally unhealthy, creates a ton of waste and usually doesn’t taste too great either (compared to home-cooked meals). But sometimes ish happens. Sometimes you need a quick meal for cheap. Sometimes you have to ignore your better instincts and simply put some food in your belly. In this post, I hope to be able to give you some options for when you’re stuck in a fast food pinch. It’s exciting to see more and more options becoming available for vegetarians (technically I’m a pescatarian but would NEVER EVER eat fish from a fast food restaurant). Here are some of my favorites for when I find myself needing a little sustenance without alot of time or money.
This option may not seem very surprising considering the variety of menu options at Taco Bell. But let me tell you something you may not have known before – you can substitute the beef in other items for beans. For example, that Crunch Wrap you used to love so much? Substitute the beef for extra refried beans. My personal favorite is to order the crunchy tacos and substitute the beef for black beans. This gives you a taco with a similar consistency without all the, ya know, meat. Taco Bell is also great because of all the items they offer that have beans in them. Beans are a great source of protein and are a major staple in a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet. They also offer a complete vegetarian menu on their website and are probably one of the more healthy (and cheap!) fast food options out there.
Carls Jr. Beyond Famous Star
Starting in 2019, Carl’s Jr. began offering their Beyond Famous Star with the Beyond Meat patty. I used to like their Famous Star burgers so I was incredibly excited when I learned that they are now offering a meat-free version. I’ve loved all of the Beyond Meat products I’ve tried so far, and this patty (also available in grocery stores to cook at home) is no exception. The texture is very similar to a traditional meat patty, and it doesn’t have any of the dryness or blandness sometimes found in other “veggie patties”. Not a fan of the Famous Star? You can substitute the Beyond Meat patty into any burger on their menu. You can also order their Beyond Burger without cheese and mayo for a vegan option (or so I’m told).
In N Out
In N Out is an exclusively west coast (and maybe Texas and Utah?) fast food chain that prides itself on the quality of their ingredients and the freshness of their made to order menu items. But, their main menu item is a hamburger. They don’t offer a veggie option (yet?), but you can order off of their not-so-secret menu to get your meat-free fix. Order a grilled cheese with grilled onions – seriously it’s so good. It comes with all the same fixings as a cheeseburger just without the meat patty. Another great option are their addicting animal style fries – french fries topped with melted cheese, grilled onions and their famous In N Out spread. If you don’t have an In N Out near you, my sincerest apologies. If you ever get a chance to make it to the west coast, be sure to try their cheesy meat-free options and their delectable milkshakes.
Before Carl’s Jr. came on the scene with their Beyond Burger, the only other veggie burger I could find from a fast food place was the MorningStar Veggie burger from Burger King. In my opinion, it’s not as delicious as the Beyond Burger, but I think the difference is in the veggie patty. I’m not as big of a fan of the MorningStar patties, even when I purchase them separately from the grocery store. In any case, it’s a cheaper alternative to the Carl’s burger and is a good simple burger for when you need one in a pinch. Order it with a side of fries, and you have a classic fast food burger meal that’s meat-free.
Carl’s Jr. isn’t the only fast food joint to hop on the Beyond Meat train. Del Taco is testing the success of using the Beyond Meat crumbles in their tacos as well. Unfortunately, this option is only currently available in certain locations in Southern California and Oklahoma (does anyone else think that’s random?). I hope they are successful in this new offering and decide to expand it to all of their locations. If you are in the area that serves them, be sure to go get one and tell me what you think.
Some people may not consider Chipotle fast food, but I thought I’d include their options anyway since it is in fact a fast and relatively inexpensive place to get a quick bite. I used to love their chicken burrito bowls with a bag of chips. Once I stopped eating meat, I tried their Sofritas (which is their staple vegetarian/vegan soy-based option), but wasn’t really a fan of the flavors. Instead, I now substitute the chicken for guacamole. This is great because without meat they don’t charge you the extra fee for the guac. Make your bowl or burrito with brown rice and black beans (I also love their corn salsa) and you have a mostly nutritious meal with a protein punch. They also offer fajita veggies if you’re looking to add more substance to your veggie bowl. I’d imagine you could probably order their tacos this way as well.
Overall, it’s encouraging to see how many fast food restaurants are embracing change and trying to offer items that coincide with their customers values. I hope this list is helpful to you when you have to settle for fast food. Hopefully more places continue to follow suit by offering more meat-free options. Let me know in the comments below if you know of any other fast food menu items that are being offered for vegetarian customers.
I should also note that not all options are available at all locations. Check with your local restaurants to see what’s available in your area. All images used above are the property of the respective restaurants and were taken from their websites.
Until next time!