How to Eat Vegetarian at Fast Food Restaurants

Updated on March 17, 2016

Drive Thru Dining

Eating vegetarian from fast food restaurants can be a challenge.
Eating vegetarian from fast food restaurants can be a challenge.

Can I Get a Side of Fries with My Fries?

To say that vegetarian options on the menus at fast food restaurants are limited is an understatement to say the least.

But sometimes there isn’t a choice but to eat fast food. You may be forced into a drive thru restaurant when you are eating with a group, traveling, or have limited time.

If you are vegetarian, eating healthily at a fast food restaurant can be even more daunting than for carnivores. Most places, vegetarians have little choice but a carb overload or wilted lettuce.

However, there are ways to eat vegetarian at fast food restaurants without settling for just a super-sized order of fries.

Fast Food Vegetarian Options

Tips for Finding Vegetarian Options at Fast Food Places

At most burger joints, fries and salads are typical options. If you eat dairy products, desserts are available also. Greasy fries and sugary, fatty ice cream isn’t very healthy, though. Your food choices are probably wider than they seem giving the menu just a glance.

  • The sides menu is your best friend if you are a vegetarian. It usually consists of vegetables, or at least things that resemble vegetables if you lump fries in that category. You can get lucky at certain restaurants and find corn on the cob or broccoli offered as sides.

  • Many places have fruit as side choices as well. You frequently see sliced apples, grapes, or fruit cups.

  • Read the descriptions of all the items, including the ones with meat. Sometimes specialty dishes come with a side that isn’t listed under the sides section of the menu. You will find meat over a bed of rice or with coleslaw or paired with other vegetables. Many places will let you order those sides even though they aren’t listed on the official sides list.

  • Ask an employee if they have any vegetarian options that aren’t listed on the menu. There may be something used in another dish that you could get as a side.

  • Order items and ask for the meat to be left off or substituted for something else. For example, order a sandwich with just the veggies and cheese (if you eat dairy).

  • During breakfast hours vegetarian options can be more plentiful for those who eat eggs and dairy.  Egg or egg and cheese sandwiches are available.  There are usually hashbrowns, pancakes, or other breakfast pastries.     

  • Look at the kids menu. Sometimes the kids have better vegetarian options than the regular menu. Peanut butter sandwiches, grilled cheese, and macaroni and cheese are standard items on kids’ menus. Fruit is usually a side choice for them as well.

Vegetarian Options at National Chains

Subway

Subway is a paradise for vegetarians as far as fast food is concerned.  They offer a veggie delight sandwich that can be topped with as many veggies as the sandwich can hold.  You can also order a salad made with the ingredients of your choice.  Some Subway locations also serve pizza.  Cheese pizza is a possibility for those vegetarians who eat dairy.  You could also order a pizza with no cheese. 

Taco Bell

Taco Bell is another restaurant that makes life tastier for vegetarians on the go.  There are numerous menu items that are meatless.  You can also substitute beans for the meat on many of their other items.  My favorite item at Taco Bell is a Mexican pizza with beans substituted for the hamburger meat.  Items at Taco Bell can also be ordered fresco for you vegans out there.  With fresco, seasoned diced veggies are substituted for cheese. 

Burger King

Burger King offers a veggie burger made with a Morningstar Farms garden veggie patty.  It comes fully topped on a sesame seed bun.  I have had them before and thought they were very appetizing.  Burger King also has onion rings on the menu if you are burnt out on fries.  There is macaroni and cheese on the kids menu as well.      

Wendy’s

Wendy’s offers baked potatoes that can be stuffed with broccoli, cheeses, sour cream, or even salsa.  You can get a break from just fries.  They also offer mandarin oranges as a side. 

KFC

KFC is another place with multiple vegetarian options.  They have many sides available such as mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, and other vegetables depending on location.  Most KFC’s also have a buffet.  There are usually many vegetables on it as well as salads. 

Fazoli’s

Fazoli’s is a great place to eat for vegetarians.  There are many pasta choices, salad choices, soup choices, and pizza.  You can add broccoli to your dish to add green to your meal.  You will be sure to leave full since the breadsticks are included with the meal.    

Long John Silver’s/Captain D’s

These fish places are better than some burger places for vegetarians.  There are many sides available such as hush puppies, fries, baked potatoes (varies by location), corn on the cob, coleslaw, and more.  If you are vegan, you should avoid the fried food because they are often cooked with the fish and chicken. 

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Precautions and Items to Avoid

  • Gravy often has sausage or other meat in it.  It is also usually made with grease from meat as well.
  • Ask an employee before ordering green beans, baked beans, and other types of beans.  These are frequently cooked with bacon grease and sometimes even have pieces of meat in them.  This occurs often in the southern part of America. 
  • Ask about the ingredients in salads also.  Bacon pieces, boiled eggs, and cheese are normal salad toppings.  Request that these items be left off if the salads are not premade. 
  • The same grease that is used to fry meat products is sometimes used to cook fries.  If you are a strict vegetarian, you may need to inquire about cooking procedures.

Life is fast paced. Most of us barely have time to breathe, let alone prepare a nutritionally balanced meal at home. We all know that fast food restaurants in general are not the healthiest places to eat.

However, sometimes we have to eat there because of time, eating companions, or lack of other places to eat. Eating vegetarian at fast food is difficult, but not impossible. The key is to examine all the choices available and try to eat as balanced as possible.

Questions & Answers

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      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        5 years ago from Far, far away

        AJ - Great suggestion! Black beans are super healthy and can be an alternative to eating a pound of just pintos.

      • profile image

        AJ 

        5 years ago

        I've been having a lot of fun experiencing with Taco Bell since they started carrying black beans. My current favorite is to get the double decker taco but with black beans instead of taco meat - yummy, filling, and cheap!

      • GetitScene profile image

        Dale Anderson 

        5 years ago from The High Seas

        Great hub!

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        5 years ago from Far, far away

        Sarah11 - Glad you have gotten some helpful tips from it. Thanks!

      • Sarah11 profile image

        Sarah11 

        5 years ago

        Love it! Im a vegetarian and have struggled for years with finding options at fast food restaurants when my friends insist on going. This was very helpful!!

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        5 years ago from Far, far away

        sapattu raman - Those are good tips. Thanks. Maybe more places will start to offer more vegetarian options.

        JeromeChiaro - Thank you!

      • JeromeChiaro profile image

        JeromeChiaro 

        5 years ago from los angeles, ca

        very cool hub. thx.

      • profile image

        sapattu raman 

        5 years ago

        Iam a vegeterian .(no eggs but milk/yoghurt/cheese ok)

        if desperate while in Hong Kong /singapore:

        In mcdonalds:

        Breakfast : pancake/hashbrown/hot chocolate;

        Lunch: Double cheeseburger combo with out meat (special order no price discount & no free substitute veg/cheese will be offered)

        KFC: only sideeats: coleslaw/biscuit/mash potatoe/curly fries /apple pie etc washed strawberry milkshake to line the stomach.

        Only Burgerking (USA) offers vegie burger.

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        6 years ago from Far, far away

        anonymous - That's a great suggestion. It sounds tasty!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Wendy's Market Subs make a great Vegan option - order the BLT without the Bacon & get extra Lettuce & Tomato...plus it comes on yummy wheat bread

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        6 years ago from Far, far away

        Ciel Clark - There is definitely more meat products used in foods than most people ever suspect. Since you are more aware, you'll have an easier time avoiding it in the future. I'll have to check out your hub. Thanks a lot!

      • Ciel Clark profile image

        Ciel Clark 

        6 years ago from USA

        Great hub! There is a lot of sneaky meat added into seemingly vegetarian foods... I know I've eaten meat unknowingly over the years.. Voted!

        (Also I linked this to my recent hub --one of the questions I get a lot is, "What do you eat when you go out to eat?")

        Thanks for the info

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        6 years ago from Far, far away

        nikkinice - A lot of stuff we wouldn't think of is cooked with meat. If you are a very strict vegetarian, getting a list is the best way to go.

      • profile image

        nikkinice 

        6 years ago

        I never really thought of my fries being cooked with meat hopefully I can find a list

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        6 years ago from Far, far away

        Lyndsey - Okay thanks.

      • profile image

        Lyndsey 

        6 years ago

        Chipotle is basically exactly like Qdoba

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        7 years ago from Far, far away

        Jessica - That's a good point. Vegans should watch out for the coleslaw.

      • profile image

        Jessica 

        7 years ago

        I see coleslaw was mentioned but be careful because slaw has mayo in it and mayo is made with eggs..

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        7 years ago from Far, far away

        checketka - Glad you enjoyed it. That's what this hub is for, when there is no other choice but fast food.

      • chechetka profile image

        chechetka 

        7 years ago from London, UK

        Thanks a lot for this hub! I am not a big fan of fast food, but sometimes I don't have any other choice... Nice hub!

      • profile image

        4my4kids 

        8 years ago

        somewhat...but chipotle is better in my opinion because they have the best MEDIUM salsa in the WORLD. Chipotle is pretty darn fresh and, like Moe's and Subway, you can actually see your food being prepared to make sure its vegetarian.

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        8 years ago from Far, far away

        I haven't heard of Chipotle. Is it similar to Moe's?

      • profile image

        4my4kids 

        8 years ago

        U forgot chipotle!!!! just don't eat stuff that looks obviously meaty and don't eat the red beans otherwise, it is a vegetarian paradise

      • cocopreme profile imageAUTHOR

        Candace Bacon 

        8 years ago from Far, far away

        I'm glad you were able to get some ideas from this hub. I know what you mean about getting tired of the same old foods. The red beans at Popeyes are not vegetarian. They are cooked with pork fat. They have plain rice that is used in other dishes that is vegetarian. The cajun rice, however, is prepared with a cajun meat sauce that has ground beef and chicken gizzards in it. If you ask for plain rice, you should be okay. Hope that helps!

      • profile image

        HelloEcoMDR 

        8 years ago

        Thanks! I got some great tips out of this. I'm often too busy and don't want to eat fast food but I have to. I'm tired of taco bell and subway. One question: what about the popeyes beans and rice? I've called several times to find out if they are vegetarian. If you know, please let us know!

        :-)

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