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The 8 Healthiest Chain Restaurants in the Country

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In an ideal world, we’d have the time and money to pack or cook a perfectly created meal full of nutrients and deliciousness three times a day. However, we collegiettes are constantly on the go, so grabbing fast food can be super appealing. But don’t order the fries and burger just yet—there are healthier options! We rounded up some of the healthiest chain restaurants in the country (in no particular order) so you can have a quick bite without the guilt!

1. Panera

Locations: 44 states and Canada 

Panera, home of delicious soup in a bread bowl, is notable for its variety of choices. With pastas, soups, hot and cold sandwiches and salads, there are a ton of options—but not all are created equal in the health department.

Pick: Try a bowl of the Low-Fat Black Bean or Garden Vegetable Soup. Still hungry? The Spinach Power and Asian Sesame Chicken salads are good bets in terms of calories and fat. Or you can mix and match by choosing the You Pick Two option, which allows you to pick two of the following: a small salad, a cup of soup or a half sandwich. Opt for an apple as your side instead of bread or chips.  

Skip: The pastas and cheese-heavy sandwiches. The Tortellini Alfredo clocks in at almost 800 calories, and the Fontina Grilled Cheese sandwich is full of fat and calories.

2. sweetgreen

Locations: Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

sweetgreen prides itself on having local and fresh ingredients in their salads and wraps, so there’s a lot of variation with what each location offers. The salads are also completely customizable, meaning that you can build your own, but you can also add and subtract certain ingredients from their preset creations! This flexibility makes the chain great for those with special dietary needs.

Pick: The Spicy Sabzi salad is the lowest-calorie salad on the menu, but it more than makes up for that in flavor—kale, spicy quinoa, raw beets, roasted tofu and sriracha are just a few of the ingredients in this made-to-order salad.

Skip: The District Cobb, while surely delicious, is chock full of bacon and cheese and has a boiled egg, which skyrockets the fat and calorie content.  

3. Noodles & Company

Locations: 30 states and Washington, D.C.

Face it: we’re carb-hungry college women— and nothing is better than pasta! Noodles & Co. offers Italian-, Asian- and American-inspired dishes, all of which are customizable. They also offer small and large portions, so you can control how much you’re actually eating. While known for their pasta, Noodles & Co. also offers sandwiches, soups and salads.

Pick: Order a small bowl of the Whole Grain Tuscan Linguine for a fiber kick or the Bangkok Curry if you’re feeling spicy. You can also add shrimp or chicken to the pasta for added lean protein. Pair your pasta with a small salad or soup like the Med Salad or the Chicken Noodle Soup.

Skip: The heavy and calorie-laden Steak Stroganoff and the Barbecue Pork Mac and Cheese. Instead of ordering a large plate of pasta, try eating one small bowl of pasta (yay, carbs!) with a side salad. You’ll get your pasta fix without filling up on tons of calories.

4. Freshii

Locations: 25 U.S. cities, Austria, Canada, China, Colombia, Sweden, Switzerland and United Arab Emirates

Froyo and veggie-heavy wraps—what more could you ask for? Freshii’s menu is super customizable—just choose a salad, a wrap, a burrito or a bowl and start filling it with healthy veggies, lean protein and hearty grains. You can also choose one of their already curated meals if you’re not feeling creative.

Pick: The Superbiotic Vegan salad is chock full of raw veggies, spinach and garbanzo beans. Pair it with a cup of froyo topped with blueberries.

Skip: The wraps are just salads plus a hundred or so more calories for the actual wrap—skip it and enjoy the salad on its own. Also, skip the Buddha’s Satay—it’s nearly 800 calories of peanut sauce and rice noodles.

5. Pret a Manger

Locations: Boston; Chicago; New York; Washington, D.C.; France, Hong Kong and The United Kingdom

Pret A Manger is known for the freshness of its food; any leftover food that doesn’t sell the day it was made gets donated to charities working with hunger. There are also a ton of options for those with dietary restrictions.

Pick: The Salmon & Quinoa Protein Pot and the Tuna Nicoise Salad are both low-calorie, protein-packed picks. If you’re feeling a sandwich, the Chicken Avocado is a good option to get a dose of healthy fats. The Chicken Sesame Sushi Wrap is a healthy bet as well with a little added crunch.

Skip: The Chicken Caesar & Bacon baguette and the Swedish Meatball Hot Wrap are higher on the calorie and fat spectrums, as are the pastries and croissants.  

6. Chipotle

Locations: 1500+ in the United States, Canada, England and France

Chipotle is the ultimate college student’s chain restaurant. It’s the restaurant that never gets old no matter how many times you’ve had your favorite bowl or salad. Because Chipotle is so customizable, it’s easy to be healthy there, provided you make a few smart choices when ordering.

Pick: Get a bowl or a salad—you’ll barely notice the tortilla’s absence. Choose brown rice and load up on fajita vegetables. Other delicious additions? Black or pinto beans, tomatoes, salsa, corn, lettuce and guacamole. Check out their handy nutrition calculator for the lowdown on calories, fat and carbohydrates in your favorite meals.

Skip: Skip the tortilla, sour cream and cheese. It may seem like a huge sacrifice, but you’ll drop hundreds of calories.

7. Au Bon Pain

Locations: 26 states; Washington, D.C.; India; Kuwait; South Korea and Thailand

Au Bon Pain has the feel of a cute café, but it’s reasonably priced for good, fresh food. And there are a ton of options—from sandwiches to soups and salads, Au Bon Pain has food for the pickiest of eaters.

Pick: In the mood for soup? The 12 Veggies soup or the French Moroccan Tomato Lentil soup are great low-calorie bets. Stopping by for a quick breakfast? A medium bowl of oatmeal will do the trick.

Skip: The Black Angus Steak and Cheese sandwich comes in at a whopping 840 calories—steer clear. Another healthy tip: many sandwiches come in half-sized portions. Get a small cup of broth-based (not creamy) soup to pair with your half sandwich.

8. Subway

Locations: More than 40,000 in 103 countries

Subway’s “Eat Fresh” motto is there for a reason. Affordable, fresh and seemingly everywhere, Subway is a great place for a quick six-inch sandwich during hectic class-filled days. With so many bread and topping options, you’re sure to find something you love. Subway also does a great job of marking how many calories their foods contain as well as giving you smart tips for avoiding high-fat and high-sodium foods.

Pick: A six-inch Veggie Delite has less than 250 calories yet is crunchy and flavorful with its fat-free condiments and vegetables. Craving meat? The Oven-Roasted Chicken sandwich has only 310 calories. Choose the Wheat or the Honey Oat breads (they have the highest amount of fiber) and fill up on as many veggies as you can. Try mustard, honey mustard, vinegar or the sweet onion dressings for flavor without a ton of fat.

Skip: Skip the cheese and the high-calorie toppings like ranch dressing and regular mayonnaise. The Big Hot Pastrami Melt is the highest-calorie sandwich option, so steer clear. It clocks in at 580 calories in just a six-inch sandwich!  

 

No matter where you are, your local college town is sure to have a delicious, healthy option for those days when you just can’t bear to cook. Want more healthy (but fast and easy!) eating advice? Check out our guide to healthy study snacks (all containing less than 300 calories!) and recipes for the eight best microwavable meals. And don’t miss our guide to the nine “healthy” foods that actually aren’t—and what to eat instead


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