US News and World Report has a piece on America’s healthiest fast food restaurants. As I reported last week, fast food is one area where consumerism is up as people who don’t want to or don’t have the time to cook at home switch from sit-down restaurants to fast food joints.

So who has the healthiest fast food? According to their piece, Panera Bread with its whole grain breads, fresh fruits and vegetarian options ranks #1. I’ve never particularly thought of Panera Bread as a fast food restaurant before, but I suppose it fits the description. Panera Bread also has some organic options, particularly on their kid’s menu.

Next up comes Jason’s Deli. Their website says they use “only the highest quality ingredients. This includes good food like lean meat, real cheese, USDA certified organics, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil and more.”

The rest of the list reads like this:

  1. Au Bon Pain
  2. Noodles & Company
  3. Corner Bakery
  4. Chipotle
  5. Atlanta Bread Company
  6. McDonald's
  7. Einstein Bros. Bagels
  8. Taco Del Mar
Anyone else wondering how #8 got on this list?

Here’s the thing. Almost every fast food restaurant has some sort of healthy(ish) option. Some have more than others. But the healthier options on many restaurants’ menus are usually some of the more expensive options. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the fast food restaurants that are doing well right now are doing so partly because of their dollar menus. You aren’t going to find too many organics or whole grain options on any dollar menu.

Think before you order from a fast food menu. First, think if there is some way you can cook a meal at home instead of going through that drive-thru. If the answer is that you can’t, then really look for the healthier options on the menu. Salads (that aren’t drowned in ranch dressing), whole grain breads, broth-based soups, and deli sandwiches with lean meats that aren’t lathered in mayonnaise are going to better options than burgers and fries.

If the healthy options don’t agree with your wallet, then head home. Scramble up a couple of eggs, toast a slice of whole grain bread, and chop some fresh fruit for a meal. It will be fast, healthy and much more satisfying than a dollar menu burger and fries. 

Image: Samantha Celera

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