I have been a vegetarian for over three years now, and even after all these years, I still struggle with knowing if something is acceptable to eat given my lifestyle choices without consulting the ingredients. Ordering from a fast food restaurant can be even more daunting at first. Once you know the tricks of the trade, though, it's a breeze to get in, out, and face first into the burrito, (veggie) burger, or whatever of your choice.
1. Burger King
After testing out a veggie burger this past year, BK has added the Veggie Burger to their regular menu. These are, however, just MorningStar burgers, meaning you could just basically go make your own by looking in the frozen food section of your local supermarket.
Burger King has elected not to pursue any official vegetarian certification for their products, but that can always change in the future. There are rumors of them expanding their veggie options by bringing some of their more popular items from their Indian chains state-side.
Personal Favorites: Veggie Burger (not really a fan, simply providing options.)
Chipotle is one of those debatable restaurants as to whether it could be considered fast food or not. My definition is: if you can order and finish purchasing your food in the same amount of time it takes to go through the drive-through, then it's fast food. The stylish sit-down setting is merely a bonus, no one is going to keep you there.
Chipotle has been one of the trailblazers in actively creating and promoting vegan options for their customers and has taken even greater steps in recent times to expand those options. Chipotle is also superior in the fact that all their vegetarian and vegan options are clearly labeled for customers to see.
Personal Favorites: Sofritas Bowl.
3. Jimmy John's
It's "Freaky Fast," need I say more? Jimmy John's is one of those restaurants that offers an extremely minimal number of vegetarian options. I think there were three the last time I ordered. That doesn't mean a sub speedily delivered right to your Russian History Class is off the menu, so long as you know what to look for.
Personal Favorites: Number 6, Number 13.
Subway is your guy, Jared Fogel scandal aside here. Customization is everything to a vegetarian. We don't just eat salads every day, after all. We need options, and thankfully, Subway will always have us covered here. So long as you avoid the meat, the world is your oyster.
Personal Favorites: six inch Veggie Sub (duh!)
Now, I have not been to a Wendy's in a while now, as they are pretty out of the way for me to get to from my current digs, but I do know that Wendy's is looking to be another veggie burger trailblazer. Since May 2015, Wendy's has been in trial testing for their black bean burgers in Columbus, Ohio. I have not had one personally, but reviews online have been pretty positive. It's up to you to make that decision for yourself, I guess.
Wendy's does have vegetarian options, but at this time, like BK once again, none of them a certified vegetarian. It basically just comes down to what you know about the food begin served.
Personal Favorites: Just a plain ol' baked potato, chocolate frosty (oldies but goodies.)
Unfortunately, Mickey D's does not provide any "specially certified" vegetarian or vegan options at this time either. In addition, many of their fried products, like french fires, are fried in the same oil as their meat products or flavored with beef tallow, no longer making them vegetarian.
Over the past couple years, there has been some controversy as to what exactly McDonald's is putting into their food. There was some speculation about their ice cream ingredients not being vegetarian (which, like, how?!) for a while there too. Since then, the fast-food giant has taken steps to increase transparency with their customers regarding their products. I cannot offer any suggestions, though, because I haven't eaten at McDonald's since I was about ten years old. However, if you really can't live without your mozza sticks, check out the ingredients list and information that they provide on their website, or even just ask.
7. Taco Bell
Saving the best for last, of course. In October 2015, Taco Bell became the very first fast food chain restaurant to launch a special menu of 13 dishes certified by the American Vegetarian Association (AVA). Not only that, but basically everything on Taco Bell's menu can be altered with any of the chains's 35 AVA-certified ingredients (26 of those are also vegan) to better suit your personal veg tastes and needs.
Delicious and affordable, Taco Bell is literally the best thing that has happened to vegetarians this year. As if the public couldn't love them more.
Personal Favorites: 7-Layer Burrito, Cantina Power Bowl.
Just because something is vegetarian doesn't mean it's healthy. This is something that all long-time vegetarians and vegans understand well. This is not a lifestyle that should be chosen simply to lose weight. The only way to do that is through the use of a balanced diet and exercise, let's be real, eating fast food in general is never considered "healthy." Being vegetarian means something different and accomplishes different things for everyone.
Our favorite fast food restaurants want to support and cater to the needs of their customers in whatever lifestyle choices they make, but that does not mean that these products should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle. These chains simply want to offer those customers with the same benefits that it's other consumers take a part of. Not to mention that it's a good business move.
Now go, Veggie Lovers! Enjoy life and eat out whenever you'd like without fear of breaking your environmental/political/ethical/religious commitment.
Did I miss something? Comment with your own favorite fast food vegetarian options!
Careful note: AVA vegetarian certified items are allowed to contain both egg and dairy products while vegan certified items have absolutely no animal by-products.