The healthiest chain restaurants may surprise you, with offerings like organic produce, hormone-free chicken and turkey, and delicious low-sodium veggie soup selections. We investigated chain restaurants that have the most variety of healthy offerings when it comes to reduced calories, lower sodium, and healthy options like organic fruit or vegetables and whole grains as a side or within a meal.
You might see some shocking players on this list - like McDonald's and Chipotle - and while these restaurants certainly have some less-than-healthy choices on the menu, they also offer some delicious healthy ones - like a veggie burrito and a delicious yogurt granola parfait.
Most of these chain restaurants provide easy access to calorie information, allowing consumers to spot healthy options in a snap. Portion control and swappable sides make it easy to create a slimming yet satisfying meal at any one of these healthy chain restaurants.
Panera Bread Company
Offering soups and ½ sandwiches and a variety of salads that change with the seasons, Panera Bread Company offers delicious options for both the adult crowd and the kiddos. A varied and complete menu that is nutrient dense and delicious to boot. One of the healthiest items? The soup and salad combo - and you can create a different combo every day of the week so that you never get bored. This is hands down the healthiest chain restaurant that we investigated.
This restaurant has organic food at its core - with 25% of all of the ingredients classified as organic. A salad bar that will make your eyes pop and reduced portion sizes as an option after you lay eyes on their calorie counts display in plain sight makes it easy to order with your health in mind.
Au Bon Pain
With nearly 280 locations nationwide, including airports and hospitals - it's easy to order light fast food fare. With delectable soup offerings such as Jamaican Black Bean and Fire Roasted Grains and Vegetables-not to mention delicious coffee - this restaurant offers hormone-free chicken as well. Kiosks provide nutrition information even before you order, making a healthy choice a snap to discover.
A revolutionary chain with a commitment to organic foods, hormone free meats, and locally sourced produce items sets a high standard for fast food restaurant chains like it. Veggie fajitas and low calorie salads topped with the most delicious tex-mex style toppings that are packed with flavor and nutrition make help this menu to stand out as tasty and healthy at the same time. Build you own burrito or rice bowl, and you get to decide how much cilantro or tomatillo salsa will suit your fancy. Just skip the sour cream, cheese, and chips - and a healthy meal is just a few steps down the line.
Atlanta Bread Company
Born in Atlanta, GA this restaurant chain has spread to the far corners of the country. With entrées like grilled wild Alaskan Salmon atop greens accompanied by a delicious pineapple mango vinaigrette - this doesn't seem like fast food at all. Fire roasted black bean and corn salad is a popular favorite - and you can't beat a low-calorie pumpkin muffin top - ringing in at about 200 calories.
This bakery offers whole grain bread, paninis, and filling salads to suit just about every taste preference. Snack wraps are a great lower calorie choice that tastes good too. Just don't supersize any of those beverages or sides, and skip that Big Mac too.
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Reduced fat schmears, hummus and peanut butter make for much better bagel toppers than high fat cream cheese. You can order a thin-sliced bagel, which reduce the carbohydrate bomb into a smaller, more waist-friendly size, and if you choose the Good Grains bagel you get 4 grams of fiber to add to your daily fiber goals. Salads come in half sizes, and it's easy to add a fruit salad to your meal for a potassium-rich side. This chain is getting easier to find with 649 locations nationwide.
Somewhat Honorable Mention: McDonald's
Hold on to your hats. We are not crazy to add McDonald's to our list. We are definitely not saying that eating at McDonald's is your first choice for healthy food, but they have made some strides worthy of mention. The chain has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism surrounding the fast food industry, and in most cases rightly so. And yet, all that negative press has led to a complete overhaul in the options that have found their way onto the menu at the over 14,000 McDonald's locations nationwide.
With substitute sides like apple dippers displacing French fries and low-fat milk in place of soda - it's easy to order a better kids meal. One of the boldest features is the easy access to nutrition information for these foods offerings in plain sight on the back of the tray liners in house.