It wasn’t that long ago that finding a vegetarian option at a fast food restaurant was borderline impossible. Oftentimes, even fries were cooked in animal fat, rendering them unsuitable for anyone who was trying to cut meat out of their diet. But luckily, times have changed, and it’s now easier than ever to find meat-free options at most fast food spots.
Of course, it’s now possible to snag a plant-based burger or other dish that contains faux meat at fast food spots, but I wanted to explore the meatless options that specifically don’t include plant-based meats. These are the best options I found at popular fast food restaurants you might frequent.
In some parts of the world, there are tons of meatless options on the McDonald’s menu. In the U.S., though, we have fewer options. If you have to eat at McDonald’s as a vegetarian, you’re best served by going in the morning and ordering the fruit and maple oatmeal and a hashbrown. The oatmeal tastes surprisingly healthy considering it comes from the home of the Big Mac. If you’re there for lunch or dinner, however, you have fewer options. The fries are vegetarian (but not vegan), and you can always opt for a side salad.
If you want to get a bite to eat with your morning coffee, you’re in luck—Starbucks has a wide range of meat-free options to choose from. Most of the sous vide egg bites are fair game, except for the bacon and gruyère variety. The spinach, feta and egg white wrap is also a solid option, especially if you’re trying to get some veggies into your diet. You can also opt for the rolled steel-cut oatmeal, which you can customize with a variety of toppings. The berry trio parfait does the trick if you’re looking for something that’s on the lighter side.
Although Chick-fil-A doesn’t have the absolute best meatless options, you can still make a decent meal out of what they offer. The waffle fries are vegetarian, as is the mac and cheese. You can also get a crunchy kale salad along with sweeter options like the Greek yogurt parfait and cup. If you’re lucky, you may live near a Chick-fil-A that started serving up cauliflower sandwiches in February of 2023. The cauliflower is breaded, fried and served as a sandwich with the chain’s signature pickle chips. This option sounds like one of the more delicious vegetarian options on fast food menus right now, so I hope they start selling it at all Chick-fil-A locations soon.
If there’s one fast food restaurant vegetarians can truly depend on, it has to be Taco Bell. Because the chain’s offerings are already so highly customizable, you can just ask for beans in place of the meat on pretty much any menu item. Some of my personal favorites include the black bean Crunchwrap Supreme and legendary seven-layer burrito. And if you’re vegan, just ask for your food to be prepared “fresco” style. They’ll replace the cheese and sour cream with fresh tomatoes instead (which, if you ask me, tastes better anyway).
Wendy’s doesn’t have too many options for the veggie-eaters among us, but there are still a few options to choose from if you’re nixing meat from your diet. The fries are vegan, so you can eat as many as you want, and as long as you don’t ask for bacon on your baked potato, you’re safe on that front.
Admittedly, the vegetarian options at Subway are kind of boring, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities to customize your sandwich. You could choose the Veggie Delite, which is just a plain Subway sandwich without the meat. If you really pile on the vegetables (and add some much-needed oil and vinegar), it’s generally not bad. However, if you’re looking for something that’s a bit more substantial, opt for the veggie patty. This patty contains soy, corn, carrots and red peppers, so it’s likely to be a hit even amongst people who don’t like fake meat.
Dunkin’ can’t really compare to Starbucks on the vegetarian front, but you still have a few options at your disposal. The hashbrowns are vegan, and so are the bagels. If you’re okay with carbs on carbs for breakfast (which we all should be), you’re good to go. Want something a little more substantial? The avocado toast will make your coffee go down a bit easier.
Panera Bread is definitely one of the better fast food restaurants to check out if you prefer eating vegetarian. There’s a long list of items to choose from here, but some of my personal favorites include the Baja Bowl, the Mediterranean Veggie sandwich and the creamy tomato soup. Blessedly, the bread bowl is vegetarian.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.