When you’re on the go, a healthy meal is hard to find. Sure, you can order a limp Caesar salad or over-salted vegetable soup almost anywhere. But actually finding something that nourishes the body, soul, and mind—or at least lets you leave the restaurant feeling better than you did when you walked in—can be a tall order.
It’s not impossible, though. As it turns out, there are a lot of chains, all across the United States, that put in the work to provide real, healthy food. How do we know this? We also put in the work. We dove deep into restaurant menus, brand statements, and sourcing information to find the places that are actually healthy (and tasty to boot). These are the healthiest chain restaurants in the United States.
How We Found the Healthiest Chain Restaurants in the United States
First, we chatted with Allison Larraga, RDN, to figure out what makes a restaurant healthy. Then, we investigated more than 50 restaurants, ultimately landing on the 18 featured on this list.
We kept this list limited to restaurants that fall under the “fast-casual” umbrella. This is sort of a nebulous term, but for the most part, it refers to restaurants that utilize some elements of fast food (like counter ordering service) and some elements of full-service restaurants (like food made to order). This is because these restaurants tend to offer healthier options than most true fast food or full-service chain restaurants, so they’d likely top the list anyway.
To be considered, restaurants had to have at least two locations and be present in more than one state. This helped ensure that they’re relatively accessible to the population at large, and not just for people who live in, say, Los Angeles or New York. Restaurants also had to offer at least two full meal options (that is, breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, or all three). For this reason, we didn’t consider smoothie-only joints or places where you’d be more likely to just grab a coffee than anything else.
What Makes a Restaurant Healthy?
The most important factor? The cold, hard (nutrition) facts. We audited each restaurant’s full menu to see how its meals compare to nutritional guidelines for Americans. We checked for fiber, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbs, and sodium. As it turns out, most restaurant food—even the healthy kind—is saltier than nutritional guidelines recommend. Beyond that, we found solid macros at our top spots.
Published Health Mission
We took a look at the brand’s mission statement or “about us” page to see whether or not it demonstrates a clear interest in promoting health for people who eat there. This is part of the way we determine if a restaurant gets 5x points on the Ness Card, so it felt important to honor here, too. (Not every single restaurant on this list will net you 5x points on the Ness Card, though, even if they have some healthy options on the menu.)
Dietary Restrictions and Preferences
Is a restaurant really healthy if it doesn’t let you stick with your specific dietary needs? We say no. We checked for gluten-free offerings and scoured GF blogs to see if the restaurants are really safe for people with Celiac or other severe gluten intolerances. We also scanned for sufficient vegetarian and vegan options. Restaurants gained points for having a full slate of options for folks with dietary restrictions and lost them for having no flexibility. They got partial credit if options beyond meat and bread technically existed, but were also kinda sad.
Ease of Accessing Dietary Information
We checked to ensure that restaurants had up-to-date dietary information easily accessible on their websites. Most did, but some didn’t offer any information whatsoever—and we spotted a few menu PDFS with something like “September 2021” in the title.
Whether or Not Menu Encourages Health
We call this one the “veggie test.” If fruits, vegetables, and lean protein are a feature, not a bug, on the restaurant’s menu, we gave them points. This means that places that offer salads, veggie bowls, and other nutrient-dense fare as a default meal got a leg up. Places where a piece of lettuce might sneak its way onto your burger did not.
Restaurants got bonus points for going a step above just offering healthy-seeming food. We made a point to call out restaurants that offer organic, locally sourced, and/or antibiotic-free options.
The Healthiest Chain Restaurants
This list is divided into two parts: The first one consists of restaurants where you’re pretty much guaranteed to get something healthy, no matter what you order. The second one includes restaurants where we found lots of healthy options and accommodations, but require some intentionality when ordering if nutrition is your main concern. No matter what, we’ve included some dietitian-vetted picks for each spot.
With its veggie-centric salads, bowls, and sides (all served, naturally, in compostable containers), Sweetgreen easily surpassed the competition. In other words, it’s the obvious go-to for good-for-you food. Each location works with local farms to source ingredients and create its signature offerings—your Guacamole Greens and your Harvest Bowls—as well as seasonal Sweetpass bowl drops available to anyone in Sweetgreen’s (free!) loyalty program. To get these insiders-only menu items, all you need to do is download the Sweetgreen app.
No matter what you opt for, almost all of Sweetgreen’s pre-curated salads offer an unimpeachable combination of protein, fiber, fat, and carbs—the perfect blend for satiating, long-lasting energy. Bring along your reusable water bottle (or spring for an Olipop), and you’ll be in for a healthy, satisfying treat.
What to Order: Anything, really. We think the Harvest Bowl, Super Green Goddess, and Crispy Rice Bowl offer the best bang for your buck, nutrition- and satiety-wise. (Using the Ness Card and Sweetpass is, of course, the best way to make the most of any order.)
Ever heard of the Mediterranean Diet? You know, the one that’s heavy on grains, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats, and has topped U.S. News & World Report’s best diets list for six years straight? Get in on the action easy-peasy at Cava, the fast-casual restaurant that brings the Mediterranean way of life to city streets near you (it was founded by three Greek friends).
Serving up bowls (choose from greens, grains, or both), pita wraps, and legendary dips, sauces, and sides, Cava earns our love because it blends what’s good for you and what tastes good, too. After all, this way of eating has been perfected for 4,000 years.
What to Order: A base of greens and brown rice or lentils, grilled chicken and/or falafel for protein, and your sauce(s) of choice. When in doubt, try Cava’s ultimate crowdpleasers: hummus and a touch of harissa.
Your rebuttal the next time someone argues that a salad isn’t a full meal? Exhibit A: Chopt. Rather than the yawn-inducing, grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it leafy green concoctions of yore, Chopt offers fresh produce and a range of toppings (like cotija cheese, grilled chicken, and crispy shallots) from local artisans, farmers, small businesses, and producers with better food and better practices.
Plus, when you get Chopt, you’ll also get organic ingredients from its partnerships with brands like Seed & Mill—where it sources its tahini—and Enzo Olive Oil.
Some of the brand’s fifteen signature (and certainly not boring) dressings—hi, Smoky Bacon Russian—may raise eyebrows among those looking to avoid excess calories, fat, and added sugar. Still, there are enough other options, like Lemon Tahini, Mexican Goddess, and classics like olive oil and vinegar, to ensure that, no matter your dressing preferences, you won’t just be getting your fill of healthy veggies. You’ll be getting some of the most flavorful salads and bowls around.
What to Order: Want some fruit in your salad? Try the Sweet Apple Orchard, which melds apples, goat cheese, and romaine. Craving something savory? Try the Sesame Ginger Chicken, which packs in umami-filled veggies and roasted chicken.
4. Flower Child
Vegetarian, vegan, paleo, omnivore, carnivore, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free: No matter your dietary preference, Flower Child’s got you with its local, always-from-scratch fare. The restaurant chooses organic ingredients based on the “dirty dozen” list: the fruits and veggies most contaminated with pesticide residues.
The menu is a cornucopia of interesting salads (Ginger Miso Crunch), flavorful bowls (a glass noodle-filled Glow Bowl), and a build-your-own option with a protein and two sides (we’re partial to the sustainable salmon, red chile-glazed sweet potato, and Sichuan green beans and snap peas). Plus, every location’s menu has nutritional info available online. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are clearly marked.
Another fun detail we love? Each Flower Child location has a designated spot to park yoga mats, making it the perfect restaurant for a post-flow meal.
What to Order: Avocado hummus to share, a Glow Bowl to hoard.
5. Just Salad
Whether the word “climatarian” is new to you or has been part of your life for years, Just Salad is the place for you: The salad restaurant gives you the option to filter its online menu based on diet, prioritizing plant-based foods that have less of an impact on the environment. You can also browse vegan, keto, paleo, and gluten-free menus.
We docked a few points because we spotted added sugar for almost every option in the restaurant’s online nutrition facts. But with over 15 chef-created salads, bowls, and wraps—with the option to build your own—plus yummy plant-based smoothies, Just Salad earns its healthy (and delicious) ranking.
What to Order: Fresh from the “Climatarian” menu, we’ve got our eyes on the Tokyo Supergreens salad. With its supergreens blend, edamame, broccoli, avocado, and option to add protein with chicken or tofu, it’s a satiating, nutrient-packed meal for everyone.
6. Veggie Grill
Welcome to Veggie Grill. It lives up to its name by making veggie-packed meals accessible to all—it’s the largest 100% plant-based restaurant company in the U.S. and the only exclusively vegan and vegetarian restaurant on this list.
And before you think the company is just trying to hop on a trend, the founders based the chain on their own real-life plant-based diets and their belief that our current industrial livestock food system isn’t sustainable, humane, or healthy. Of course, some Veggie Grill options—like its crispy chick’n sliders, chili cheese fries, and classic macaroni and cheese—are technically vegan (and inarguably delicious), but wouldn’t be recommended as an everyday meal by most dietitians. But other meals, like its greens-and-grains-forward bowls, power greens salads, and house-made veggie burgers, fit the bill.
What to Order: If you’re in the mood for something hearty, go for the mushroom and black bean-based house veggie burger. If you’re looking to get your greens in, you can’t go wrong with the All Hail Kale salad, which is packed with quinoa, walnuts, carrots, and (duh) kale.
Saladworks’ core offering is 12 medleys of fresh seasonal produce that can be transformed into your choice of a salad, warm grain bowl, or wrap. You can also opt for more comfort-oriented fare, like BLTs and buffalo chicken melts, for those days when roughage just isn’t going to cut it.
On its website, you can filter the menu by food allergies, restrictions, and just plain dislikes (including things like oft-dreaded cilantro). You can also sort nutritional goals for things like added sugar and sodium.
Plus, by 2027, the brand promises that all of its chicken will be Global Animal Partnership certified and processed humanely and that its turkey and pork will be sourced from farms that have earned an independent animal welfare certification.
What to Order: The Mediterranean Salad gets our vote. It’s made with a supergreens mix, roasted cauliflower, crispy cucumbers, and feta cheese.
8. Crisp & Green
Got a busy, wellness-driven life? Yeah, we thought so. Crisp & Green was literally made for you, serving up salads, grain bowls, and smoothies that feel good, taste good, and get you in and out fast.
We love its fresh, made-from-scratch ingredients, but we’re especially suckers for its menu item names (think BBQ Smokeshow, Thai & Stop Me, and You Feta Believe It).
The brand doesn’t currently have a ton of locations—most are in Minnesota, same state as its headquarters—but you feta believe it’s expanding to 19 states over the next year, making it an up-and-coming fast-casual restaurant to keep a healthy eye on. One thing we noticed is that the menu focuses heavily on meat (specifically on roasted chicken). That’s great if you love it as a protein source, but not so great if you’re looking for a meat-free options.
What to Order: Try a BBQ Smokeshow (maybe with the smoky ranch dressing on the side). It has a great amount of protein and fiber and surprisingly low sodium.
You know how Michael Pollan said not to eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food? Well, great-grandma would feel right at home at Dig (formerly Dig Inn), which serves up wholesome, home-style food that always hits the spot. Pick a main, like wild Alaskan salmon, hot honey chicken, or maple-glazed tofu, and add sides like roasted sweet potatoes, sheet pan carrots, charred broccoli, and tomato-cucumber salads. Macaroni and cheese, cheesy cauliflower, and oatmeal cookies are also available, should you feel so inclined.
We docked a few points because some customers have pointed out that the nutrition info posted on Dig’s website can be inaccurate. Still, you can see (and taste) the quality at Dig, which develops recipes as a conversation between chef and grower. It even has its own 12-acre farm in upstate New York. Our favorite thing about this chain, though, is that it thinks about impact: Dig is committed to using the entire vegetable, stem to leaf, to reduce food waste.
What to Order: We recommend building your own bowl. Opt for a base of greens or brown rice and accent it with your protein of choice and (up to two, per Dig’s rules) veggie sides.
10. Fresh & Co.
Family-owned Fresh & Co.’s breakfast, salads, grain bowls, sandwiches, soups, and desserts are sourced from local farmers (it even has its own farm in Long Island, New York) with the goal of giving you hyper-local, seasonal fruits and veggies.
Find vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. No matter what you pick, all of its food is made to order, so you know you’re getting the freshest of the fresh.
What to Order: You can’t go wrong with a chef-designed salad (like the Gaucho Salad with avocado and kidney beans) and a healthy treat (like a peanut butter chia energy bite).
Chipotle is all about real: preparing food fresh every day, sourcing from local and organic growers, and making what you create at its counters as close to nature as it can possibly get. In fact, all of its menu items—like barbacoa burrito bowls or chicken al pastor tacos—can be made with just 53 ingredients. All of which you can pronounce. It even has a Whole30-approved “Lifestyle Bowl.”
And the Mexican-inspired chain isn’t just thoughtful about the food it’s putting on your plate: It was the first national restaurant brand to commit to using only responsibly raised meat with some of the highest animal welfare standards and is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. And, yes, Chipotle’s choose-your-own-adventure ordering system means you could get a burrito filled with white rice, cheese, sour cream, and steak every time you visit. But with build-your-own options like fajita veggies, brown rice, black beans, and tomato salsa, it’s easy to create healthy, satisfying fare.
What to Order: It’s always safe to build your own bowl or salad and load it up with greens, beans, brown rice, your protein of choice, and guac. If you have decision fatigue, opt for one of the Lifestyle Bowls.
Healthy (If You Know What To Order)
12. Pret A Manger
Pret a Manger means “ready to eat” in French—and we’re always ready to chow down on this classic British chain’s (founded in 1986!) sandwiches, soups, salads, and organic coffee.
The brand’s food is made fresh in its shop kitchens daily, meaning you’re getting a convenient and well-priced bite with ingredients you can feel good about. Plus, through The Pret Foundation, unsold food is donated at the end of each day to grassroots food rescue partners.
What to Order: Try Rainbow Veggie Sandwich—miso sesame hummus, avocado, arugula, cucumber, pickled cabbage and carrots, and a squeeze of lemon on multigrain bread. For something meatier, try the Chicken Avocado Salad, which has antibiotic-free chicken, avocado, grape tomatoes, and walnuts atop a bed of mesclun. (Both are pictured above.)
Born in 1987 as a humble community bakery St. Louis Bread Company, Panera’s iconic sourdough bread has been its—ahem—bread and butter since the start. As it’s grown, Panera has expanded into the salads, soups, and sandwiches you know and love—while staying true to its roots with a menu crafted by chefs and bakers.
Our favorite thing about this comforting chain is that it balances giving you the foods you crave—hello, mac ‘n’ cheese and bread bowls—and creating truly good-for-you meals with clean ingredients that are responsibly sourced, seasonal, and respectful to the planet.
What to Order: Panera’s “You Pick Two” is a classic for a reason. Opt for a broth-based soup over a cream-based option, a sandwich on wheat bread, or a veggie-filled salad.
14. Noodles & Co.
The noods are hot—and they’re from Noodles & Company, natch. The chain has been around for nearly 30 years, and it’s still going strong thanks to its global-inspired fare. Noodles makes every dish to order with fresh vegetables prepped daily, zucchini spiralized by hand, and cage-free eggs—and no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, or preservatives in sight.
The chain makes a big fuss over its signature “LEANguini.” This name is a little misleading—it actually has slightly more calories than typical linguini—but it’s formulated with egg, vital wheat gluten, and flour that contains prebiotic fiber to increase its fiber and protein content and decrease its net carbs. We can take or leave this—we like the extra protein and fiber, but not the confusing marketing. But what we really love about Noodles is that it offers options for everyone. The menu denotes paleo, keto, gluten-sensitive, low-calorie, and vegan options (the vegan blogs we looked at rave about the Japanese Pan Noodles in particular).
What to Order: The Med Salad with chicken offers up a load of veggies. And some cavatappi. (It is Noodles & Co, after all.) To get even more of those titular noodles, try the Japanese Pan Noodles. You can also order most dishes with zucchini noodles—aka “zoodles”—if you’re looking to add veggies and/or avoid gluten.
15. Moe’s Southwest Grill
Fun fact: Moe’s stands for Musicians, Outlaws, and Entertainers, an ode to musical pioneers past and present—and to this Tex-Mex chain’s original, creative spirit.
Create what you want with its 20+ fresh ingredients, like a quesadilla, burrito bowl, or BYO (build your own) salad. Instead of just any ol’ meat substitute, we like that Moe’s offers organic tofu and prepares its meat and veggies on separate grills. It also has plentiful gluten-free and vegan options.
What to Order: The build-your-own salad and bowl opportunities are endless. Load up a bowl with beans, rice, veggies, and your choice of protein. (Have we mentioned the organic tofu?)
16. MOD Pizza
Ever thought, “The last thing the world needs is another pizza place”? The founders of MOD said “Hold my pizza” while they got to work on a different kind of pizza joint—one that brought choice, speed, and affordability to the world of crust, sauce, and cheese (you can choose from over 40 toppings and eight finishing sauces).
Among its made-in-front-of-you pizzas and salads, there’s the Pizza Salad—your choice of veggies on top of a pizza crust. We call that a win-win. Bonus: 99% of company-owned MOD stores have provided employment opportunities to people with barriers to employment.
What to Order: We’re all about the pizza salad—your salad of choice on a warm asiago crust. (You can also go for a gluten-friendly or cauliflower base.)
17. Blaze Pizza
Blaze Pizza’s formula is simple: Never-frozen, house-made dough (made from just five ingredients) + five specialty crusts (including gluten-free, cauli, and keto) + 35+ different toppings + fast-fired at extreme heat = delicious ‘za made just how you like it.
The brand cares about what goes into your body and what goes into the Earth, too: It’s nixed nitrites and artificial colors and preservatives from its offerings and its packaging is recyclable, compostable, and/or made from post-consumer reclaimed materials.
What to Order: Try the Red Vine pizza—a version of a margherita with red sauce, cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese—and pair it with a salad.
18. Pita Pit
Pita Pit’s Mediterranean-inspired menu lets you customize a pita just the way you like it. Choose a meatless option, go for low-calorie ingredients, or add extra protein. Staples—like Chicken Caesar, Gyro, and Chicken Souvlaki—are supplemented by the brand’s newer brown rice and quinoa bowls.
Plus, with its “Build My Meal” tool online, Pita Pit makes it incredibly easy to see nutritional, allergen, and ingredient info right away—no matter what you choose to build.
What to Order: As with most places on this list, your best bet is a build-your-own brown rice and quinoa bowl. Add on veggies and your protein of choice—like chicken or falafel—and go from there.
Ness Card 1
Get 5x points 2 on the purchases you’re about to make.
The Ness Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri, pursuant to a license from Mastercard, and serviced by Ness Well Financial, LLC (NMLS #2406384).