On the Road Again… and Wondering Where to Eat?

Fast Food Burger and French FriesLiving 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 Bread

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.

Jason’s Deli

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!

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  • Alice J Haslam says:

    For healthy fare in Kingsland TX, check out the Lake Cafe on Hwy 2900. They have a page on face book.

  • Jayjay says:

    In California Chipotle has had problems. Drinks have high fructose corn syrup and not all ingredients were found to be non GMO. Google Chipolte California. Likewise not all the food at Whole Foods is organic or healthy.

    1. Philippe says:

      I have watched Whole Foods since the 1990’s and more recently their prices have sky rocketed. To many who used to be patrons, their name has been changed to “Whole Wallet”.

  • Bonnie says:

    I think this totally missed the mark. I thought this was an article about finding decent places to eat while on the road. With the exception of Chic-fil-a, these are not places you find near an interstate exit. While all of them have some value, they all also have a number of issues; Chipotle has had issues, not just in CA, with GMO ingredients and HFCS. Chic-fil-a has some unsavory ingredients in their buns, and who cares about their dedicated potato fryer if you’re looking for healthy food; ALL fried foods are unhealthy due to the changes in the oils at high temperatures. Panera Bread serves chicken raised without antibiotics? Well, that’s good to know because it’s an FDA requirement for ALL chicken. If you ask for the ingredients in the gluten free options, you might be surprised at all the unhealthy ingredients. Personally, I like Jason’s and California Pizza Kitchen, but they aren’t always easy to locate when traveling. I understand the author may have been referring to ‘being’ in an unfamiliar city, but when I actually visit another city, I usually look for local restaurants – not chains. You’re much more likely to get fresh local fare that way. I’d love to see an article on finding healthy food while traveling, but this wasn’t it.

    1. Michael Ford says:

      Hi Bonnie – I don’t think you typically find many healthy eating options at highway exits. I think eating well on the road means packing lots of snacks, really. You have to stop and drive out of your way to get healthy food if you really want it. If I was trying to get a quick meal at your typical rural highway exit – without getting off the road – I’d probably opt for something from the gas station (raw nuts, bottled smoothie, etc) over the restaurants. Maybe we should do another article and limit ourselves to just what we can find at highway exits. We’ll starve ourselves first so that we’re really hungry…

  • d. henry Lee says:

    Good helpful article. I still like eating at local greasy spoons. Healthy, probably not but good, yes. I live in a rural county and one of the best places to eat is an old general store that has an all you can eat buffet to include your drink, dessert and sales tax for $6.00. Looks like a dump but you have Cadilacs, Ups trucks, pick ups and everybody and his brother eat there. Today was fried chicken day and they make some of the best fried chicken you want to grease your lips with. I wonder if there will be fried chicken in heaven?

  • HollyF says:

    Having a husband that has a autoimmune disease and is on the autoimmune Paleo diet, we’ve had to give up all restaurants. It’s tough for a road trip because we have to pack coolers of food but a few slip ups has caused him to have reactions so eating out is just not worth the risk. Scary to realize how unhealthy our food it today and we have met so many people that are in our same situation in varying degrees.

  • Bets says:

    Good information for people who live in the area or if passing through. I used to live in Dallas, TX so some of these places are very familiar to me.

    There is also another place I’ve recently found out about – Guiltless Pizza in Austin, TX and a branch in Baton Rouge, LA – they’re on facebook and they have a website. I’ve not eaten there because I don’t live anywhere close to either location but is suppose to be really great – especially for those of use who prefer Gluten-Free and Grain-Free foods.

  • Joyce Ann says:

    If we start this conversation and let the world know just how important it is to us, then maybe more places to eat will become available… Get the word out on the acceptable places to eat on the road. When I need to drive cross country, I like to have a recommended list to refer to… Keep Talking!

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