Discover more from The O’Daily by Kathryn O'Day
5 Healthiest Fast Food Picks For Busy Founders (& Their Families!)
I’m into healthy habits.
As you might have guessed from these previous posts 😂
Healthy habits are especially important when you’re doing something hard like building a company!
You need your wits about you and your broccoli in hand.
But what do you do when you’re super busy?
Or — gasp — on the road?
Never fear, O’Daily friends.
I’ve spent decades researching (and field testing) the healthiest out-and-about meal options.
I’ve further stress-tested my healthy food picks in recent years with small children. These healthy, fast restaurants are FAMILY APPROVED!
Here are 5 BEST healthy fast food options for founders—and families—on the go!
What Makes It “Healthy” and “Best”
Here’s our criteria for the 2023 O’Daily Healthy Fast Food rankings.
1. Healthy food - duh.
Defined as: fresh vegetables, lean proteins including a non-meat option, whole grains, minimally processed.
2. Tastes good.
Even a veggie lover like myself can’t just eat a head of raw broccoli and call it a meal. Must be reasonably acceptable to the palate of healthy adults and whiny children.
3. Readily available.
Yes, a hole-in-the-wall health food restaurant is ideal but you’ll never find one:
off a highway exit
in a smallish town
outside of California 😂
We went for “reasonably mainstream” options.
4. No fries.
If there’s fries anywhere in the vicinity, it can’t be a healthy family meal.
Why not, ask the readers without children. (The same question I would have had just a few years ago…)
Fun Fact: if you bring your kid within 100 yards of a French fry, their fry-dar immediately activates. They turn into raving, groveling, pleading fry babies. Even the strongest parents cannot withstand the onslaught of a monstronous Fry-kenstein!
Thus Farm Burger (see below) is a strong honorable mention for their amazing salads and high quality food, but the “Fry Factor” knocked it out of the top 5.
5 Healthiest Fast Food Choices For Busy Founders!
If you suggest Sweetgreen for lunch, we are friends forever.
Even if I’m not hungry, I will probably say yes because I love Sweetgreen.
Sweetgreen also has bowls and enough “fun foods” (aka cheese and dressings) that kids will eat it too.
The amount of *ACTUAL* fresh veggies and whole grains at Sweetgreens is incredible.
I’ve done a deep dive on Sweetgreen as a public company (coming soon to an O’Daily near you!) — because if I’m going to read an S-1, I want it to be about vegetables — and it’s impressive how they’ve been able to deliver such a healthy option at scale.
What I Order: LONG LIVE the Shroomami!
Incredibly strong contender. Not as unconditionally healthy as Sweetgreen but the kid-friendly factor is higher (thanks to that soft, white pita bread…).
You can get a salad base, protein, lots of veggies on top, and some hummus for extra healthy fat, protein, and flavor. BOOM. Brain-power-to-go!
Even with kids, they can get a lot of fun (read: pickled or with-dressing) veggies on top of a whole grain.
My kids love falafel (which they confusingly and adorably call “waffle”) because they are fried patties that you dip into sauces. YUM.
I love the make-your-own-bowl style of both Sweetgreen and Cava. Makes it possible for health nerds, vegans, paleos, ketos, gluten-freers, and general-no-label-required eaters on your team to all grab a meal together!
What I Order:
Alllll the toppings
3. Whole Foods Salad Bar
At $300 per lb, the Whole Foods Salad Bar is a bit pricey but if you go heavy on the lettuce and light on the sweet potatoes, you can control the costs!
Okay, that’s not really the price but my kids make sure to get all the heaviest foods and we end up at about $15-20 per person.
Lots of great fresh fruits and salad fixin’s, well-labeled options for every dietary preference, high quality ingredients, and you control the “healthy” factor.
Grab some brown rice veggie sushi from the prepared food section for a good kid snack!
What I Order:
It’s fun to try a bunch of different things. I usually go for a few bean/grain salads, a cooked veggie or two (kale and sweet potatoes!), and a seasoned tofu or cup of soup.
Ironman Fun Fact:
Whole Foods was our go-to spot when we’d travel for Ironman races. Healthy snacks for the hotel room and a healthy pre-race meal.
If there was no Whole Foods, we’d find an Asian restaurant to order steamed (brown if possible) rice, steamed tofu or chicken, steamed vegetables with soy sauce.
If we had our own kitchen, we’d prepare roasted sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli, baked chicken, and brown rice! Creatures of habit (and — hopefully — speed)!
A surprising one but hear me out.
There’s over 15,000 Starbucks in the US. If you can’t find a Cava, Wholefoods, or Sweetgreen, the odds of finding a Starbucks are likely to quite-likely.
It’s a relatively predictable menu with good portion sizes and better quality ingredients than typical fast food.
They often have fresh apples, bananas, or fun local items.
If you’re on the West Coast, they may even have salads or a grain/bean/veggie bowl!
No fries. 😂
BEWARE of cupcakes and milkshakes though. Er, I mean, blueberry muffins and flavored coffee drinks. 🙃
The downside of Starbucks is allllll that suggggaaaarrrrrrr.
What I Order:
A “protein box” if I can’t order breakfast anymore
Something even healthier on the West Coast!
As we move down the list, we’re going from “most-healthy” to “most-likely-to-be-available-and-pretty-healthy-if-you-choose-correctly.”
A Publix deli sub on whole wheat bread with hummus, avocado, lettuce, tomato, peppers, onions, and spinach is a pretty decent pick.
If hummus isn’t your thing, cheese is a good next option.
Avoid the deli meats (sorry, I know they are delicious but the World Health Organization classified them as cancer-causing in 2015) or at least get a low salt/organic/higher quality option like Boar’s Head.
Grilled or baked chicken, in theory, is better than deli meats. I haven’t specifically researched Publix’s Baked Chicken Tender sandwich though. Pub-Sub Baked Chicken Tender Nutrition Experts, please weigh in!
You can always get extra
weird healthy by ordering a veggie sandwich, buying a whole roast chicken (also found in the deli), and adding roast chicken to your sandwich.
After it takes 45 minutes to make 4 sandwiches (just at our Publix?), feel free to shop around for healthy snacks to round out your meal.
Grab a bag of grapes, a container of berries, clementines, raw almonds, cherry tomatoes, or a jumbo sized bag of
Cheetos baby carrots, and you’ve got a healthy family meal on the go!
What I Order:
Whole wheat bread or spinach base
Tomato, green peppers, onions, olives, lettuce, banana peppers
Oil and vinegar, pepper, oregano
But what about…???
Analyzing some go-to options and why they didn’t make the “healthy” list.
Their salads are incredible! They source from local farms! They have a vegan veggie burger with quinoa! They have sliced apples and carrots with sunflower butter in the kids meal!
It’s my go-to lunch spot (hi kale salad!!!) and a pretty solid healthy family place.
The only reason it’s not on the list? Those dang (delicious) fries.
But my kids eat apples and carrots with their begged-for fries so…
Farm Burger gets a strong honorable mention!
Love the tofu and beans!
They have guac, salsa, and pico de gallo — all good options.
But other than soggy romaine lettuce, where are all the veggies??
They did recently add “Supergreens” which looks promising but they could do much more! Shredded cabbage, fresh (not overcooked) peppers, cauliflower, radish, spinach, cilantro, corn, broccoli, or green onions would be amazing.
Add brown rice and a whole wheat tortilla option and it’s in the top 5.
Their market cap is $50B so I appear to be in the minority on this feedback. 😂
Atlanta is home to this fast-food powerhouse and people LOVE IT.
I haven’t been in long time so I looked up the menu to see if it should be in the running.
First 3 Menu Items:
Honey Pepper Pimento Sandwich: fried chicken, white bread, pimento cheese
Caramel Crumble Milkshake: ice cream, whipped cream, caramel flavor, blondie crumbles
Mac n Cheese
I feel okay leaving them off. 😂
They do have a good looking kale salad and fruit cup. But also french fries, fried chicken, desserts, and no non-meat protein options (though they did try a fried cauliflower sandwich recently).
To the Chick-fi-natics who hate me right now: I’M NOT SAYING IT’S NOT DELICIOUS. I’m just saying it’s not a top 5 healthiest fast food pick. You can still eat there for goodness sakes. (Just not on Sunday!)
What are your best healthy fast food tips?? Any great spots that I left off? Where do you like to eat when you’re on the road or in a hurry? What healthy meals do your kids like?