Let’s be honest with ourselves, we all eat out a little bit more than we should: it’s just too tempting! As time goes on more and more fast food franchises are popping up everywhere, and are making access to unhealthy (yet delicious) foods more and more prevalent. As our lives become increasingly busy, the urge to splurge on fast food only increases, which takes the unfortunate toll on both of wallet and our health. But just because we’re eating fast food doesn’t mean the food that we’re eating has to be junk: the health conscious movement has continued to grow, which has lead to franchise owners taking greater considerations when deciding on the kind of foods they serve their customers.
Especially now with the rising rates of both obesity and diabetes, it has become increasingly more important to watch what you eat, which has just become easier than ever before; we’ve searched through the plethora of fast food restaurants to find out for you where you and your family should be sitting down for lunch. So which fast food restaurants are serving the healthiest meals around? Here are the top 10 fast food restaurants that won’t be sending you and your family to an early grave.
#10 – Taco del Mar
Taco del Mar (translated as taco of the sea) became famous for its fish tacos, as well as its clever adaptation and emulation of the Subway sandwich making system. Taco del Mar was founded in 1992 by a pair of brothers: John and James Schmidt; it has since grown to 260 locations, and has amassed a substantial following thanks to its warm and inviting seaside atmosphere. Taco del Mar moved on from offering fish tacos exclusively, and became widely known for its massive “mission-style” burritos, which look less like actual burritos, and more like edible pipe bombs.
Taco del Mar suffered a series of unfortunate events that would inevitably lead to its bankruptcy in 2010: a long list of lawsuits were filed in 2007 regarding the closing of over 30 franchise locations, which alleged that Taco del Mar owners were receiving illegal financial kickbacks that were damaging the franchises through an increased cost of operation. After Taco del Mar barely survived its costly lawsuits in 2007, the brand fell victim to a nasty arsonist, which destroyed one of their locations (as well as the nearby area), and burned down the restaurant’s safe reputation along with it. Taco del Mar was bought by the creators of Subway in 2010, and have continued with their commitment of providing fresh healthy food to all of its customers.
#9 – Einstein Bros. Bagels
When it comes to the nutritional quality of food it’s pretty hard to screw up with bagels, which is exactly what the creators of Einstein Bros. Bagels thought in 1995 when they opened their doors for the first time. Einstein Bros. Bagels was built by Boston Chicken (which you probably know as Boston Market), as a way to provide breakfast foods to their already large customer base; they bought out three local bagel chains to be able to distribute their product, and created a public demand for bagels that had previously not existed in most states.
Not everyone was happy to hear about the Einstein Bros. Bagels success story, which is what lead to a failed hostile takeover attempt by New World Coffee. Einstein Bros. made a massively devastating financial decision in 2000, when they loaned far too much money to their overly eager franchises; this led to them having to file for bankruptcy, and opened the door for the previously unsuccessful New World Coffee to buy the company out of debt. New World Coffee paid 190 million dollars for the Einstein Bros. acquisition, which makes it the most expensive bagel purchase in all of history.
#8 – McDonalds
McDonalds has earned quite the negative stigma for their food quality (especially in regards to their meat), but surprisingly enough it seems that the attention is largely unwarranted: they have made quite the effort to reverse the perception that their food is unhealthy, and have focused on building an alternative menu that appeals to those who are health-centric; items you can find on this healthier menu include salads, wraps, apples, fruit and yogurt parfaits, and of course their delightful breakfast menu (just stay away from the McGriddles!).
Everyone knows about McDonalds but not as many people are aware of its rich history and that influence that it has had on the food industry. McDonalds was founded all the way back in 1940 by two brothers: Richard and Maurice McDonald; they weren’t the first ones to implement the “Speedee Service System,” but they did popularize it in the late forties, which would serve as the foundation of what we now know as the fast food industry. Now McDonalds is a multi-billion dollar restaurant chain, and boasts the impressive accomplishment of serving over 68 million people across 119 countries every single day: it seems like I’m not only one who’s lovin’ it.
#7 – Atlanta Bread Co
Luckily you don’t have to live in Atlanta to enjoy the delicious creations of the Atlanta Bread Company, which began to expand its franchise all over the country in 1995, only two years after the company was launched; the establishment offers a wide assortment of sandwiches, pizza, soups, pastas, traditional bakery fare, and so many other things (trust me when I say their menu is huge). Atlanta Bread Company has earned a nickname as a one stop shop, because a group of people with completely different tastes can all find something to enjoy there.
Atlanta Bread Company was the subject of a massive scandal back in 2004, when the company’s founder and CEO, Jerry Couvaras, was arrested for scamming 5.54 million dollars worth of capital from South African investors; both he and his brother faced both fraud charges and banking violations, but after copping a bargain with the local court system they walked out with nothing but a series of fines. As a result of the financial crisis that Atlanta Bread Company faced, they had to begin shutting down locations: in the past five years the number of stores has declined from 110 to less than 50 (pretty soon they might be back to just serving in Atlanta).
#6 – Chipotle Mexican Grill
If you’re like me then you already eat at Chipotle several times a week: it’s hard to beat that level of customizability and quality for the price. Chipotle has been in the news recently for a serious outbreak of e-coli that was found inside their food, but they have since remedied the mistake and made amends with their customers; despite the health reservations you might have surrounding their food, they are actually one of the best fast food restaurants in terms of both food quality and nutritional value.
Chipotle serves Mexican inspired dishes like burritos, burrito bowls, fajitas, and quesadillas, but what has really separated them from other big restaurants is their price: rather than charging customers for each additional topping they add on, instead they charge the customer a flat price and allow them to design their entrée however they see fit. Chipotle is a massive chain with over 2,000 locations and 45,000 employees, and it all started with a small burrito shop in New York that had been converted from an ice cream store; Steve Ellis began the transformation in 1993, and now you can find his popular creation across the world.
#5 – Corner Bakery Café
Corner Bakery Café strives to offer a better restaurant atmosphere than is provided by traditional fast food chains, and it’s apparent that they have succeeded after taking your first step inside: the environment is warm and inviting, the aroma is hypnotizing, and customers are provided with table service like a high-end establishment. Corner Bakery Café has 192 locations within 26 states, but when it first began in 1991 it was just a simple bake-stop; its creators (Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises) had a culinary revelation that what the world lacked was a premium bakery provider that could mimic the experience of a traditional restaurant.
The Corner Bakery Café chain was purchased in 2005 by Il Fornaio, but would later change hands again when six years later Il Fornaio was acquired by Roark Capital Group. The edible fare at Corner Bakery Café is exactly what you would expect from a traditional bakery with a little extra: breads, pastries, soups, sandwiches, pasta, salads, and breakfast items, but if you’re going just for the food you’re missing out; the real thing that separates them from everywhere else is the nutrition of their meals and their unique bakery service.
#4 – Noodles and Company
It doesn’t take a detective to figure out what kind of food you’ll get at Noodles and Company, but who would have guessed that a meal typically thought to be loaded with carbohydrates could actually be healthy!? When Aaron Kennedy founded Noodles and Company in 1995, he had only one goal in mind: remove the negative stigma around eating noodles; he adapted recipes from his mother-in-law in order to design the menu, and what he wound up with was a one stop shop for international noodle dishes.
Now you can find Noodles and Company in 31 states, with 410 locations and over 7,000 employees; ever since the first restaurant was created they have increasingly offered more and more menu items: you can now order salads, soups, and sandwiches (which seems to be a popular trend). For those of you out there with an aversion to meat, you’ll be pleased to hear that Noodles and Company offers both gluten-free and vegan friendly entrees, as well as the option to customize your dishes, so you won’t have to worry about ordering something that doesn’t line up with your dietary preferences.
#3 – Au Bon Pain
Au Bon Pain may sound somewhat intimidating on a first glance, but the restaurant’s name actually means “With the Good Bread:” what a relief! Au Bon Pain is a bakery and café combo that is sure to keep you satisfied; they got their start with a single Boston location in 1978, but you can now find 243 locations across the U.S. as well as some locations in Thailand and India. Au Bon Pain was founded by Louis Kane, and over time gradually has been incorporated into what we now know as Panera Bread.
The menu at Au Bon Pain contains everything we love most about bakeries: bagels, pastries, breads, croissants, with freshly brewed coffee and tea; it’s the perfect stop before you head off to work, and will give you just the pick-me-up you need. You also might stumble upon an Au Bon Pain while arriving or departing from an airport, so if you’re looking for a healthier alternative to the readily available airport food, then consider stopping in (hey, at least it beats the food they serve you mid flight).
#2 – Jason’s Deli
We wouldn’t expect anything less from a fast food chain with the slogan “Be Real,” and when it comes to their fresh and natural menu, Jason’s Deli really delivers; they offer sandwiches, salads, and spuds, which are three “s” words that sound pretty darn good right about now. Jason’s Deli has been around since 1976 when it was founded by Joe Tortorice Jr. alongside his three partners: Rusty Coco (yes that is his real name), Pete Verde, and Pat Broussard; we know what you’re thinking: “wait a second, you’re telling me that none of the founders were named Jason?” We know!
Jason’s Deli has already won the hearts of healthy eaters in 29 states; as of 2005 they have completely eliminated trans-fats from their menu, and as of 2008 they made the same removal of high fructose corn syrup and MSG. If you’re gluten intolerant (or one of those people who just think they are) then you’ll be relieved to find out that Jason’s Deli also offers a gluten-free menu, so if you’re feeling hungry for a deli style sandwich, why don’t you pop into one of their 250 locations?
#1 – Panera Bread
Can anyone say they are surprised to see Panera Bread in the number one spot? Panera Bread was founded in 1987 by Ken Rosenthal, Ronald M. Shaich, and Louis Kane, and as of 2014 has grown to 1800 locations with 40,100 employees: clearly this fast food chain has some dedicated fans; they currently serve 40 states, and start out work day with a fresh shipment of dough, and have promised that by 2020 every Panera Bread location will have switched to cage-free eggs: that’s how you show dedication to culinary ethics.
Panera Bread is the reigning champ of healthy fast food, offering a wide selection of salads, soups, sandwiches, Panini, and (of course) breads. Even your kids can enjoy a healthy snack at Panera Bread, since they offer child friendly cuisine like natural peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and organic yogurt: eating healthy as a family is easy at Panera Bread. Even though Panera Bread is dedicated to providing a healthy dining experience, you can still find some more savory treats on the menu: sweet breads and dessert items are still available a la carte, so you can satisfy that sweet tooth when you deserve a little something extra.