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Vegetarian fast food options

We have been traveling quite a bit this fall and I have found times when I needed to pick up a quick fast food lunch or dinner. To make this task more difficult we are trying to stay away from dairy.

Whole Foods and Pei Wei are always great options when they are available. Subway's veggie wraps and Qboda's veggie gumbo are decent options. Tropical Smoothie Cafe has a nice vegetarian wrap. Vegetarian options are also available at Burger King (veggie burger), Taco Bell (bean taco), Wendy's (salad/baked potato) and Moe's (salad/taco).

The worst experience so far was at Chic-fil-a. The only vegetarian options on the menu are a small fruit cup or fried waffle potato. I tried ordering a wrap "hold the chicken and cheese" which totally disrupted the kitchen. They told me that they would accommodate me this time, but in the future I should call in advance. They charged me the same as the chicken wrap and then I had to wait 25 minutes for my sandwich. Silly of me to think that they would add extra veggies/lettuce etc. It was absolutely amazing when my wrap arrived...NOTHING but a tortilla wrap with a few specs of lettuce in the middle. When I returned home I wrote to Chic-fil-a corporate headquarters to suggest that they add at least one vegetarian item to their menu and got a response back that they would be glad to accommodate me if I call in advance. Well, I am not going to tote around telephone directories for every city that I visit. To make matters funnier, yesterday I received a card in the mail from Chic-fil-a with a coupon for a free chicken sandwich as a thank you for submitting comments.

I read recently that some of the chains offer healthier options/preparations in Europe such as lower sodium etc. Maybe that trend will catch on in the United States.

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  1. That's an incredible story about CFA; never been able to figure out their popularity.

    I consider buffets to be fast food options and given the health reports I've seen on fast food operations over the past few years I have no more qualms about eating at a buffet than a fast food joint. Indian and Middle Eastern buffets or counter service restaurants usually offer lots of non-meat options, as do salad bar type places. Around here I've generally been more impressed with the offerings at ethnic places than the standard salad bar places.

    4 Replies
    1. re: brucesw

      At the risk of sounding snarky, Chik-Fil-A is a fast food chicken place. And it's popular because they make good fast food chicken.

      I eat predominantly vegetarian, and I have learned over the years not to expect veg options at places whose empires center on meat (e.g, McDo, CFA, etc.).

      I think it's unreasonable to expect a place famous for chicken, frequented by chicken lovers, to somehow break stride and create a veg option. The onus on us is to truly find alternatives. For example, everywhere there's a CFA, somewhere nearby there's a grocery store with a deli counter. They won't have a problem making a tomato/lettuce sandwich or something like that. And I do like your idea of the buffets. There are so many Chinese and now other "ethnic" buffets that give a much broader choice of options for someone seeking to avoid meat or dairy.

      1. re: Loren3

        I have to agree with Loren3. CFA is definitely a chicken place. It doesn't make sense for them to have veggie meals. I would assume that where you find a CFA there are other options close by. It seems though that they have a few different side salad items.

        1. re: Loren3

          I'm not familiar with this CFA place, but isn't it one of those fast food restaurants that bills itself as a "family" sort of place? What family in their right mind is going to trek all over the block trying to feed the (usual) token veg? Seems to me that the restaurant should be trying to cater to the family, not the other way around. One or two veg options shouldn't be a big deal.

          1. re: sailrox

            If one is a lacto-ovo vegetarian (that is, eats dairy and eggs) then Chick Fil A actually has quite a few salad and side dish options that have no meat (many of their salads do come with chicken, but can be requested without as the chicken is put on last minute). The OP's issue seemed to me to be more that they didn't have exactly the thing he/she was looking for (a hearty, filling, vegetarian option with no cheese and no mayonnaise) even though it was characterized in the post as the restaurant having no vegetarian options at all.

            Further, on their website, Chick Fil A has a section devoted to all of the items on their menu that are or can be vegetarian friendly and the few that are vegan.

      2. Too bad McDonald's boca burger never caught on. When it was good, it was really good. Unfortunately, it usually wasn't steamed long enough and was thus served dry. I am not as big a fan of the Burger King veggie burger; maybe because I am more familiar with that Boca Burger taste.

        At Taco Bell, intead of the bean burrito, I now go for the Cheezy bean & rice burrito, fresco style. Fresco style (at least in my taco bell) means they replace the cheese and cheezy sauce with tomato salsa). $1!

        Wendy's has really gone downhill for me. Their baked potatoes used to be huge, but now they're scrawny and usually kind of tired, at lesat at the ones I've been to.

        At Carl's Jr, I have a hard time. I have ordered those fried zucchini or whatever, but they're really greasy.

        I recall having a decent sandwich at Quiznos but forget if it was vegan or had cheese.

        If all else fails, there's always souplantation. *shrug*

        10 Replies
        1. re: choctastic

          note: the sour cream at taco bell contains gelatin and is *usually* not considered vegetarian. . .

          1. re: soupkitten

            there is no sour cream in any of the things i mentioned. I suppose you could put sour cream on the baked potato, but I don't.

            1. re: choctastic

              just saying. i know a lot of vegetarians who went into shock when they found out taco bell 7 layer burritos are not veg.

          2. re: choctastic

            Taco bell has begun charging extra if you sustitute beans for the meat... how wrong is that?

            1. re: rozz01

              Oh man, that's ridiculous. I hate when they do that. I mean we're SAVING them money and they charge us for the privilege?

              I do love their cheesy bean & rice burrito, fresco style. I love it so.

              1. re: rozz01

                I just found out today that if they charge you for beans, its just a keying mistake, substitutions dont cost extra if its beans for meat

              2. re: choctastic

                maybe it's just me but I hate the fake cheezy stuff they put on that burrito, plus some other yucky sauce that ruins it, only the basics are edible at Taco Bell, like their bean burrito.

                1. re: archangelcat

                  that's why i order "fresco style", where they substitute salsa for the cheese and cheese sauce.

                2. re: choctastic

                  you can also get a 7 layer burrito and Taco Bell allows you to leave out certain layers-- so leave out the meat and, apparently, the sour cream, and they still put in the rest of the stuff.

                  1. re: bess

                    There's no meat layer in a 7 layer burrito. It's not vegetarian, but there's no defined layer of meat.

                3. I am sorry, but I absolutely do not believe your Chick Fil A story.

                  I just went online to the Chick Fil A site. They have 4 large salads (Chargrilled chicken, Southwest chargrilled chicken, chicken strips and a chicken cesar) and a side salad available. I can't see how difficult it would be to make one and not throw the chicken on top, since the photos make it look like they are not tossed (nor do I se how difficult it would be to remove the strips). In addition to those, there is cole slaw, a carrot raisin salad, fruit cup and fresh fruit.

                  I just drove cross country- San Diego to Detroit and back- and saw an inordinate number of Chinese buffets advertised on billboards, as well as passing a lot of Panera stores.

                  I saw some sort of item everywhere that could pass-or items that could be combined to pass as- meals everywhere. I do try to eat no meat at least one day a week and have done so for many years and am always looking out for the possible options, if I should happen to go out to eat on that day with someone. Has not really been a problem.

                  Which Chick Fil A location had no salad options, yet did have lettuce for the wrap?

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Cathy

                    Cathy, Sorry for the confusion. Yes, all CFA locations offer several meal size salads with chicken and cheese and a side salad with cheese. Cole Slaw is made with Mayo (dairy). Since I am trying to stay away from dairy I did not see these as an option. I am not quite sure how filling a side salad of fruit or chopped carrots with raisins would be for a meal. My point on the original post was that CFA offered the fewest options and I was not able to find any item on their menu that I could make a meal over...other than calling 30 minutes ahead or picking all the chicken and cheese out of a salad...not an option IMHO.

                    Panera has vegetarian soups and salads, but I rarely see them when I am on a cross country trek.

                    Chocktastic, I am not familiar with Souplantation, I live in the SE....always up for a good soup.

                    Sweet Tomato's is also another vegetarian friendly place, but again, not often spotted on cross country trips.

                    I came up with a solution...ask Santa for a GPS system for Christmas so I can get directions to better options when I travel.

                    1. re: Windsor

                      how is mayo dairy?? oil, eggs, flavourings, some kind of citric acid or vinegar.

                      1. re: smartie

                        A lot of folks consider eggs 'dairy' since they are often the product of a dairy farm. And vegans would want to avoid all animal products.

                      2. re: Windsor

                        In addition, cesar salad is not vegetarian. It's made with anchovies. And if one is a strict vegetarian, "picking" out the chicken is certainly *not* an option.

                        1. re: LNG212

                          Agreed. As an almost lifelong vegetarian, I'd absolutely freak out if there was evidence that a restaurant had simply "picked off" the chicken from my salad.

                          1. re: LNG212

                            I'm pretty sure that Chick-Filet (nor any other fast food burger place) does not put anchovies in their C-salads.
                            On the other hand, it is very possible that the salads are completely pre-made (shipped that way) with the chicken added. You'd have to ask each place how they make/receive them.

                            1. re: sebetti

                              Anchovies aren't *added* to the salad. Anchovy paste is an integral ingredient in cesar dressing. Pick up any bottle of it in the store, it's there. In fact, it's quite difficult to find ones made without (I've tried and only found occasionally). Fast food joints are most likely *not* making their own house dressings. They are using the vat-sized premade kinds. And thus will have anchovy paste.

                              1. re: LNG212

                                I have to admit, I simply assumed that most fast food places wouldn't bother to add anchovies since most people don't even know that Cesar dressing dressing is supposed to have it. Why add to the expense of a crap salad anyway? Besides, check out the ingredient list for a McDonald's salad -- it may have anchovy paste but that ain't no Cesar.

                          2. re: Windsor

                            I just returned from a road trip and am pleased to report that today alone I saw three Panara billboards in mid-sized cities giving directions to the closest Panera. They all seemed to be within two blocks of an interstate intersection. It certainly would lure me to drive a few extra blocks to have a tasty and healthy cup of soup and a salad. I even found a Whole Foods just a half block off the interstate in Greenville, SC. I might just have to break down and get a GPS system for directions and the added bonus of being able to quickly locate some of the more healthy options when dining on the road.

                            1. re: Windsor

                              I recently had the same experience with the joy of seeing Panera's and Quizno's popping up more fequently on exit signs on our journey from MD to Indy. Finally something better than the Wendy's I've had to suffer on family road trips for years.

                              Fazzoli's an italian fast food chain that I see sometimes had/has good options, but I don't find them as often and haven't tried them in a few years

                              In a pinch I use to order a big mac with out the meat at MCD's (if you eat dairy) It took a few minutes but no major kitchen malfunctions even when in the drive through- oh and you have to like the flavor of "special sauce" and bun- maybe that should be in a thread of weird food choices:)

                        2. I feel your pain! I travel a lot for my job and food is always a challenge.

                          I've finally resorted to bringing a cooler with me when I travel by car, or packing luna bars and PBJS in my carry on. Not the best options (seriously how hard is it for a joint to make vegetarian food?), but it has saved me from making meals out of side salads and french fries.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: adventuresinbaking

                            Adventuresinbaking, Coolers or hotels with micro/fridge combo seem to work well. Dinner when I am traveling is usually not a problem as I have time to explore the area for veggie friendly spots. It is a quick breakfast and lunch that tends to pose the problems with weeks on the road trying to eat healthy. Last trip Luna Bar with low sodium V8 made for a few quick breakfasts. When I am able I will stock up on take out items from TJ, Whole Foods or the like. If that is not available I have been known to get steamed veggies and salad (toss the blue cheese) from Boston Market. Depending on our schedule and room facilities I like to stock a room fridge with whole wheat wraps and an assortment of chopped veggies and hummus to make a quick wrap. I will usually travel with apples, grapes etc. am also thrilled to microwave left over pasta, stir fry etc. for breakfast when I have a microwave in the room.

                            I am hopeful that more and more restaurants (fast food etc.) will have at least one vegetarian/vegan item on the menu. The reason I focused on fast food for this thread is that is often quite nice to know a few "safe bets" when traveling.

                            1. re: adventuresinbaking

                              adventuresinbaking, I just returned from a trip and packed a bunch of salad and veggie wrap things in my all new Reynold's Quick Vac. See my post on the Kitchen Equipment board. If you travel much with a cooler, you will love this new little gadget.

                            2. I'm a new vegetarian, so I feel your pain! I do eat dairy, however, I am trying to lower my cholesterol, so I can't eat any cheese or eggs...which makes it even more difficult. At a restaurant (Denny's) the other day, the only thing I could find on the menu to eat was a salad and broccolli cheese soup...yes, I know the broccolli cheese soup was not something I should have eaten, but it was about the only thing meatless that I could find...I was starving, and just the side salad would not have been enough.

                              4 Replies
                                1. re: JiyoHappy

                                  I first saw their vegetarian option at a road stop in North Carolina of all places!

                                2. re: ctflowers

                                  I totally hear you. I have the same problem when in non-food cities/towns. But beware of things like soup at Chains and other places -- they are often made using chicken stock. Ugh. Sometimes it's really difficult ...

                                  1. re: ctflowers

                                    Pancakes and waffles? yeah they have eggs but you ate the soup anyways.