One week into our new 30-day vegetarian trial period and in this short time, we’ve learned quite a bit, beginning with the the realization that the world is made for carnivores. It does not take living like a vegetarian to notice this, of course. It’s obvious to anyone that meat is plentiful and cheap in our society and much of it is consumed in fast food restaurants.
Sadly, most low-grade meat, including that found in most fast food restaurants, is supplied by retired dairy cows. When these cows can no longer supply their quota of daily milk, they are generally auctioned off to the highest bidder and rather than put out to pasture, they are slaughtered for their meat. This fact alone is enough to turn many of us off of fast food and reject the hamburger sandwiches they sell,
While part of the fun of experimenting with a vegetarian diet is creating new and exciting dishes at home, we realize that from time to time, we might find ourselves in a fast food restaurant, so we went online to find out what was out there for vegetarians in the fast food world.
And surprisingly, many offer a variety of meat-free options on the menu. Some fast food establishments, like Burger King, offer veggie burgers, although they are sometimes cooked on the same grill as the beef burgers and could absorb some animal fat as they cook.
McDonalds, on the other hand, does not offer a vegetarian sandwich, but they do have a variety of smoothies and coffee-based frappes that go nicely with a salad or even fries.
Although they are not mentioned on the menu (though they should be), in most fast food restaurants customers can request an easy vegetarian sandwich by ordering the hamburger without the beef patty. What you end up with is lettuce, tomato and cheese on a bun – a perfectly yummy, vegetarian sandwich. Yes, you end up paying for the beef that you don’t eat, but you end up with a sandwich you can eat.
The form of vegetarian diet we are following is the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which excludes beef, poultry, fish, lamb and other living beings but allows eggs and dairy. Because this diet allows cheese (a favorite in our house), our choices are not as limited as if we were on the more strict vegetarian or vegan diet, which excludes all foods containing any animal product.
Here’s a guide to some meat-free choices we have found at some of the more popular fast food restaurants.
Wendys. This fast food restaurant ranks at the top of my list because they have several inexpensive options. The chain offers a variety of specialty salads that normally include chicken, but can be special ordered without the meat. For those on a budget, the side salads from the restaurant’s value menu only cost $1 and contain only 220 calories. Pair the side salad with a 320-calorie baked potato with sour cream and chives and you have a perfectly satisfying vegetarian meal with only 540 calories for only $2. The chain’s new natural cut fries are also tasty and vegetarian, but a medium order of these guys pack about 420 calories.
Arbys. With a variety of salads and sides, Arby’s is another good one that offers many options for vegetarians. Like Wendy’s, Arby’s meal-styled salads are made with meat or chicken, but they can be ordered without. The restaurant also carries a side salad that only has 70 calories (without dressing). But it’s the restaurant’s sidekick items that are the treat for non-meat eaters. The restaurant has fries and potato cakes (one of my favorites when dipped in cheddar sauce) as well as onion rings, mozzerella sticks with marinara sauce and jalapeño bites. Loaded potato bites are tempting, but not vegetarian as they have bacon bits made from cured pork in them.
Taco Bell. Nacho chips and cheese are a popular non-meat side item. The restaurant offers meat-free rice, salsa, guacamole, bean and cheese burritos, a 7-layer burrito and several other vegetarian items. The 7-layer burrito packs about 520 calories.
Sonic Drive-In. Fries and onion rings are safe vegetarian choices as are salads without meat. Sonic offers a good variety of beverages, which makes up for their lack of vegetarian menu items. A salad, small cheese fries (no chili) and regular strawberry-banana smoothie can make for a satisfying lunch although it’s not figure friendly. The smoothie has about 443 calories and the cheese fries have another 240.
Carls Jr. This restaurant lures vegetarians in with a portobello mushroom burger which is meat-free, but the sandwich comes with a $6 price tag. The restaurant does offer fried zuccini, which is very good. The restaurant also has a “Veg-it” menu aimed specifically at vegetarians which offers sandwiches without meat. It also has menu choices for those following other specific diets like gluten-free, low carb or low cal.
Pizza Hut. Sure there’s always cheese pizza, but Pizza Hut now has pasta. While the company pushes the “meaty marinara,” simply telling the waitress that you prefer it meat-free will get you the same pasta made with the sauce that normally tops the pizza. The sauce is mixed with the pasta, topped with cheese then baked. It has become a big favorite with my kids – in fact, they prefer Pizza Hut pasta over my own homemade marinara sauce, probably because it tastes like pizza. The company’s chicken alfredo pasta can also be made without the chicken.
Burger King website, visited Dec. 1, 2010, www.bk.com
McDonalds website, visited Dec. 1, 2010, www.mcdonalds.com
Wendy’s website, visited Dec. 1, 2010, www.wendys.com
Arby’s website, visited Dec. 1, 2010, www.arbys.com
Taco Bell website, visited Dec. 1, 2010, www.tacobell.com
Sonic Drive-In website, visited Dec. 1, 2010, www.sonicdrivein.com
Carls Jr. website, visited Dec. 1, 2010, www.carlsjr.com