Living in central Texas for over thirty years now has given me a measure of comfort when I go out to eat. I know which restaurants serve healthy food with locally-sourced ingredients and I can eat happily and safely at any number of local places. Leaving home and traveling, however, can be an occasion for concern when it comes to finding a suitable place to eat. If you have similar concerns and/or special dietary needs, read on and you will see that there are a few relatively healthy options pretty much anywhere you may travel. I make no promises on the health of your wallet afterwards, though!
Panera’s commitment to using clean ingredients is refreshing. They do not have any artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings, artificial flavorings, or high fructose corn syrup in their food. Their menu lists sixty-seven items that contain organic ingredients, the chicken in their salads was raised without antibiotics, and menu items that contain common allergens are clearly marked. All in all, food that we would make and eat at home. When I polled friends on Facebook, this restaurant was a favorite across the board. They have free wifi in every location.
Another food chain whose mission is good food that is good for their customers to eat, Chipotle achieves this feat by avoiding artificial ingredients, avoiding processed foods, buying locally-grown food, and purchasing meat from humanely raised animals. Chipotle has raised the bar quite high for their competitors. Chipotle was also a common response on my Facebook poll. My friend Patrica loves the burrito bowl and says the the guacamole is “expensive but so good!” Krendi says that “the corn pico is good and [the] spicy salsa is yummy!” As a person with celiac disease, I very much appreciate that Chipotle’s company policy provides for their workers to change their gloves at the start of an order to avoid cross contamination.
A personal favorite for me and my family, Jason’s Deli has never disappointed. Organic ingredients (about a fifth of the menu), a gluten-free bread option, an extensive salad bar that feeds the eyes as well as the appetite, and a full waitstaff make it a pleasure to eat a meal here while traveling. Another feature I especially like here is that I can order half-size portions while my 6’3″ hubby can get a filling meal. He likes the Reuben sandwich, while I enjoy the California Club on gluten-free bread. The menu is well rounded and appeals to adults and children alike.
Noodles and Company
I had never heard of this restaurant until a friend mentioned it in response to my Facebook question about healthy chain restaurants and another friend commented, “There’s a Noodle and Company in Austin? Oh wow! It’s delicious!” My friend Sonii’s recommendation of Noodles and Company mentioned, “It [has] gluten free options, non-GMO ingredients, and farm fresh eggs…” You can choose from Italian, Asian, or American fare, and customize your order by adding a protein of your choice if you so desire. In addition to the various noodle dishes, there are also salads, soups, and breads to add to your meal. They have locations across the United States, though not in every state. Check out their website to see if they have one where you are traveling.
Fresh ingredients hand-crafted in the kitchen are a hallmark of this nationwide restaurant. Chick-fil-a’s website says that they serve approximately 125 million pounds of fresh produce every year. Lemonade is made from fresh lemons, chicken is filleted by hand, and salads are created when they are ordered. Additionally, their potato products (waffle fries and hash browns) are fried in a dedicated fryer, which means the gluten-free folks can eat without worry. When my family has eaten here, we have enjoyed tasty, made to order food, served by some of the most courteous and professional fast food employees I have ever encountered. The company website has a nice feature called “What’s Your Story?” which shares stories of how Chick-Fil-A somehow impacted their customer’s life. Quite a few are about how the customer lost weight by eating the healthier fare that the menu offers. So, while this company may not have all organic, locally-sourced ingredients, they do offer healthy options and at an affordable price. The free wifi is a nice perk too!
California Pizza Kitchen
The first page of their website says, “Fresh, seasonally inspired ingredients,” and each beautifully photographed menu item is proof of this statement. Their California veggie pizza is laden with baby broccoli, Cremini mushrooms, red onions, corn, eggplant, and sun-dried tomatoes. They offer a quinoa arugula salad that is dressed in a hand made Champagne viniagrette. There are also sandwiches and tacos, as well as entrees such as Chicken Tequila Fettucine, and of course, calorie-laden desserts such as Red Velvet Cake and Pumpkin Cheesecake. Those seeking gluten-free items have some nice pizza choices as well. California Pizza Kitchen offers a variety of beverages from traditional fountain beverages to specialty coffees, to beer, wine, and mixed drinks. All in all a healthy and unique dining experience for the whole family.
Whole Foods Market
While not technically a restaurant, this is a great option for finding healthy food while traveling. Whole Foods prepared foods area has a chef case, pizza station, hot bar and salad bar for something to eat at the store or to take home. The food is delicious and has a nice variety of items from which to choose. I have actually met a friend at Whole Foods for the purpose of having dinner instead of going to a restaurant. An additional benefit to stopping here for a meal is that you can also buy snacks for the road!
This organic pizzeria offers up delicious regular and gluten-free pizzas. zpizza uses all-natural non-GMO flour, natural preservative-free pepperoni and deli meats, organic tomato sauce, and cheese from grass fed cows in the creation of their pizzas and sandwiches. The gluten-free and vegan eaters are able to eat happily at zpizza too. Their gluten-free vegan cheese pizza is so good that my gluten eating son didn’t know he wasn’t eating a “regular” pizza. You can find locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and three international locations – the UAE, Vietnam, and South Korea. If you prefer, you can get a take and bake pizza to bake at home.
So, don’t despair if you find yourself hungry in an unfamiliar city. While these are a far cry from the fresh vegetables out your back door, they are a good alternative to the less healthy and more risky fast food options that can feel so overwhelming when you travel. For me, it was a pleasure to find so many restaurants that are now sourcing clean, non-GMO, organic ingredients for their menus. With several gluten-free and dairy-free folks in my family, locating a place where we can all eat a decent meal can be difficult. But armed with the list above, instead of dreading a road trip due to worries about finding healthy food that meets all of our needs, I am chomping at the bit to get out of town and eat with confidence. Bon appetit!