5 Great Alternatives to Typical Fast Food

In the ideal world, your freezer is packed with homemade meals and your fridge brimming with healthy grab-and-go snacks. In the real world though, sometimes fast food on the go feels like your only option.

If you’re otherwise going to hit a drive-through on the way to a show or the mall, this is for you. If you know you’ll eat fast food at an airport sometime in the next month, this is for you. And you’re not alone: 43% of Calgarians eat fast food at least once a week (probably more during the busy holidays).

Freshii's Buddha Bowl.
Freshii Buddha Bowl.

The good news is that our options for eating on the go have improved dramatically. These five chains offer delicious, heart-healthy, nutrient-dense food that can be just about impossible to find in typical fast-food eateries: beans, nuts, fish, whole grains and a selection of fruits and veggies more interesting than plain old lettuce and tomato.

And while just about all restaurant food piles on the sodium, these five have some moderate (but not low) sodium options, if you watch what you order, and they all provide nutrition information online.

(Note: I’ve linked to the locations page for each, so you can quickly find one near you.)

Alternatives to typical fast food

  1. IMG_7308Freshii: At what other fast-food (they like to call it quick-service) restaurant can you nourish yourself with broccoli, spinach, quinoa, edamame, almonds, tofu, black beans, avocado, peanut sauce and a boatload of veggies, from beet slaw to carrots?

    A while back I wrote a comprehensive guide to ordering at Freshii. Two key tips: Add a protein food to the base meal and have their whole-wheat flour tortilla or quinoa, but don’t have them together unless unless you’re fueling up for a marathon.

  2. Mucho Burrito logoMucho burrito: Another spot where you’ll find beans (black and pinto) whole grains (68% whole-wheat flour tortilla and brown rice) and lots of veggies. Ordering tips:

    Your best bet is a burrito bowl or salad, but if you really want a burrito, just go easy on the toppings, because each one adds 100-200mg of sodium on top of the 401mg in the tortilla.

    Same suggestion as with Freshii: Have a burrito or rice, but most of us don’t need a burrito with rice in it.

    For your protein, try going vegetarian – just ask for lots of beans – or boost your fish quota and try the shrimp. Skip the chorizo and the option to have your burrito “smothered.” But you knew that, right?

  3. Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 10.38.01 AMExtreme Pita: If you’ve never been to Extreme Pita, think of it as Subway with pitas. You get to choose from a load of fresh veggies, and they’ll sauté them if you want.

    Extreme Pita and competitor Pita Pit both display their nutritional information on a poster you can peruse while waiting to order. Bravo for transparency and supporting people in trying to eat better.

    Extreme Pita's Chicken Fajita Pita
    Extreme Pita Chicken Fajita Pita

  4. goodearth_logo-ee968d4c930727f22ca479eb4272fcdcGood Earth Coffeehouse: This is another restaurant with whole, plant-based ingredients, including whole grains (Slow Cooked Steel-Cut Oatmeal, Wild Rice & Edamame Salad), legumes (Lentil & Bean Stew, Minestrone Soup), and vegetables (Roasted Veggie Breakfast Bowl, Beet & Goat Cheese Salad).
    Good Earth Oatmeal and mmm toppings
    Good Earth Oatmeal and mmm toppings

  5. Subway_logoSubway: I know. I know. Subway won’t make any “exciting new restaurant” lists, but they offer a host of veggies, including avocado and spinach, as well as several full-sized sandwiches under 700mg of sodium, which you won’t find at Tim Hortons.

    Try the Tuna or Oven-Roasted Chicken (add avocado) or Veggie Delite (add swiss cheese).

Salad selection at Our Daily Brett
Salad selection at Our Daily Brett

I focused on chains here because most people can easily find one. However, independent quick-service restaurants offering veggie-rich like-homemade foods are also awesome. Some of my favourites are Our Daily Brett on 14th Street SW and dirtbelly in the Core, Market Mall, and Brookfield Place. If you know of any more I should include, let me know and I’ll check them out.

As you can see, if you need to eat on the run, you don’t have to settle for burgers and fries! Hope you enjoy some of these alternatives to typical fast food offerings.

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