The 12 best fast casual restaurants that this doctor will eat at

Maybe you underestimated how long a road trip would take, or you forgot to pack lunch before heading to work in the morning. Whatever the case, you might find yourself strapped for cash and/or time, and forced to stop at a chain restaurant. For those of us who enjoy eating healthy, this used to be a worst-case scenario, especially if your options include one of the places on our 10 worst chain restaurants you should never eat at list.

But more and more, the lines between fast food restaurants and the ubiquitous chains are blurring, with a new type of healthy chain restaurants emerging across the country: fast casual restaurants. Called ‘The Chipotle Effect,’ Americans spent over $21 billion at fast casual restaurants in 2014. (1)

A meal at these restaurants won’t break the bank. While some offer wait service, many others incorporate the features that have made fast food places so popular, like quick service or a choice to eat-in or take-out. But the best fast casual restaurants also have other exciting features that set them apart.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Chain Restaurants: What’s the Difference?

What’s exciting about the best fast casual restaurants is that they often focus on sustainability and often source local ingredients. They are upfront about the ingredients in the food they’re serving. They even offer organic, grass-fed and often even antibiotic- and hormone-free ingredients.

Where the food comes from.

The best fast casual restaurants often focus on sustainability and locally sourced ingredients. You might find different menu options depending at which outpost of the chain you’re eating at, as seasonal ingredients and availability change. Not only does this reduce the food’s footprint on the environment, but it also maintains the nutritional integrity of the fruits and veggies. Cooking and eating seasonally also keeps prices affordable for the restaurants and you, the customer.

Bye bye, GMOs. 

Many of the healthiest fast casual restaurants eschew using GMOs whenever possible, which is a step in the right direction, as GMOs have been linked to allergies, an increase in antibiotic resistance and more. As consumers voiced their concerns about these modified foods, chain restaurants have increased their efforts to rid their restaurants of the ingredients, or at least be transparent about what is GMO and what is not.

Healthier sweeteners. 

Are we seeing the end of refined sugars in chain restaurants? Probably not completely, but top chain restaurants back away from using white table sugar and opt for healthier sweetener alternatives, like honey, stevia, maple syrup and coconut sugar instead.

Happier meats. 

Another major difference between most fast food places and the best fast casual restaurants is that they source meats that are free from hormones and antibiotics. This is critical because we essentially are what the animals we eat eat, including their antibiotics and hormones. Antibiotics in fast food are especially a major concern, as they lead to antibiotic resistance and other nasty side effects.

A variety of options.

 One of my favorite things about healthy chain restaurants is the variety of foods they offer. At these places, you’re not relegated to the one or two sad side salads offered, which usually consist of iceberg lettuce and whatever else they can find.

Instead, these chains make ingredients that are accessible to different diets a staple. Can’t tolerate gluten? There’s usually a gluten-free option. Prefer to have that burger sans bun to stick to your Paleo diet? No problem. Offering food for everyone means that selecting somewhere to eat isn’t a burden and you can have a tasty meal without stressing.

12 Healthiest Fast Casual Restaurants

So what are the best fast casual restaurants to eat at in America? We’ve rounded up our favorites. Although we did our best to find restaurants that span a large geographic area, some of these might be more regional and not yet in your area yet.

1. ChoptThis healthy East Coast fast casual restaurant is based around made-to-order salads. Their menu pairs favorites from around the globe with locally sourced items and antibiotic-free chicken. The website clearly states what farms supply what ingredients in each state so you can do your own research as well. Plus nearly everything at Chopt is recyclable, from the compostable packaging to the napkins and salad bowls.

With bold options like Spicy New Mexico Caesar, made with goat gouda, or Spicy Santorini, which has a quinoa, lentil and millet blend, they’re making salads fun.

2. FreshiiFound in 85 cities throughout the world, Freshii is redefining a healthy chain restaurant. While their lunch options are solid, including the ability to build your own bowls and salads using quinoa or kale as the base, it’s the healthy breakfast options that make this spot standout. With smoothie bowls, breakfast bites made with peanut butter and coconut along with green eggs and kale bowls, Freshii provides a great start to the day.

3. Elevation BurgerIf you have a burger craving you just can’t shake, head to Elevation Burger. Their 100-percent beef burgers are organic, grass-fed and free-range, meaning no antibiotics or hormones are used. Elevation’s French fries are cooked in olive oil, not unhealthy canola oil, and their restaurants use environmentally sustainable construction. And if beef burgers aren’t your thing, you can choose from all-organic veggie, vegan and chicken burgers, too.

4. Lyfe KitchenThis casual restaurant focuses on balancing greens, grains, proteins and seasonal ingredients to create mouth-watering meals. Special icons denoting what items are gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan or have nuts make ordering a breeze. Each option states not only the calorie count, but also the sodium intake. I love that the veggies in these meals aren’t an afterthought, but really part of the dish.

5. Noodles & Company. Noodles aren’t known for being especially healthy, but this chain restaurant is making big strides in changing that. Over the past few years, they’ve introduced antibiotic-free meats and hormone-free dairy  products, and are hoping to add even more naturally raised proteins and dairy to the menu. The ingredients to every menu item are easily available but if you’re short on time, you can check out their list of prohibited ingredients instead. Among them are high fructose corn syrup, all parabens, artificial colors, artificial flavors, aspartame and more.

The menu is also divvied up into sections including gluten-free, 500 calories or less, watching sugar and sodium conscious. If you’re going to indulge in a bowl of pasta, this is the place to do it.

6. Pizza FusionThis pizza place is one of the best fast casual restaurants. The menu is 75 percent organic and free of preservatives, pesticides, nitrates, trans fat and growth hormones. Their environmental initiatives are impressive, ranging from offsetting 100 percent of their energy usage by purchasing renewable wind energy certificates to building LEED-certified restaurants and hosting a monthly organic kids class that educates little ones on eating organic and recycling. There’s an emphasis on fresh veggies and herbs on their pizzas, and hearty gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan menu options.

7. Seasons 52Probably the fanciest of the chain restaurants on this list, Seasons 52 is farm-to-table dining done right. They offer organic greens, grass-fed beef and desserts that won’t kill your diet, like a 280-calorie chocolate ganache brownie. The chain also offers a variety of fish, something you don’t see to often on chain menus.

8. SweetgreenSweetgreen gets major points for its transparency. All of their stores list where the food is sourced, and a majority of them are local. The  veggie-focused menus change seasonally, ensuring the freshest ingredients are available. You can choose from warm bowls or salads and fun add-ins like roasted curry cauliflower or local feta cheese.

9. Tender GreensThis California-based chain gets most of their produce from the same local farm, and uses other small, local farms when necessary. They offer seasonal soups, salads and “big plates” with items like Backyard Marinated Steak and Falafel. The offerings at restaurants vary slightly, as each location is led by a different chef with fine dining experience, but all items are under $12.

10. Veggie GrillAt this healthy chain restaurant, veggies take centerstage. Actually, make that vegan: all items are free of meat, dairy, eggs and animal products. They use organic, GMO-free soybeans for the tofu and tempeh, and super grains like buckwheat, organic quinoa and brown rice for high-protein additions. Menu offerings change seasonally and with meals like Koreatown Tacos and Quinoa Power Salad, you won’t miss the meat at all.

11. Zoes Kitchen. The Mediterranean Diet is in full swing at Zoes Kitchen. Vegetables, healthy proteins and olive oil are prevalent and the calorie counts are all reasonable — I’ve never seen a chain restaurant with so many “under 500 calories” offerings! There are loads of gluten-free and vegetarian options, too.

12. ChipotleI recently wrote about Panera (which still is too much of a gluten-filled and sugary dessert festival for my liking) and Chipotle being two of the first national chains to publicly declare they would serve only non-GMO foods. Food at Chipotle is sourced from farms rather than factories, most ingredients are sourced locally and all the meats are raised sustainably and humanely.

Chipotle also gives you a very good chance to be healthy if you order properly. Skip the white-flour, calorie-bomb burrito and go with the burrito bowl or salad instead: specifically, brown rice, black beans, extra peppers and onions, antibiotic-free chicken (or grass-fed beef), pico de gallo, medium salsa, little bit of cheese, guacamole (of course!) and lettuce.


Breakfast, blood sugar, & inflammation

Recent research has shown that Inflammation is responsible for 7 out of 10 Deaths in the United States. But it doesn’t have to be the same way for you.

In fact, in a fairly short amount of time, you could start to experience better sleep…less stomach issues…more energy and stamina…less muscle and joint pain…a drop in weight…lower stress levels…and much, much more!

Learn how to Prevent—Even Reverse—Most Major Diseases by “Turning Off” Inflammation!

==> Naturally Fight & Reverse Damaging Inflammatory Effects in Your Body!

Best stretch before bed (1 minute)

Did you know that one of the best times to stretch is right before bed? However…

What stretches should you do? Here’s a 1-minute stretch routine you can do before bed...

=> Best stretch before bed (takes 1-min)


Lisa, Yoga Coach
eatlocalgrown / wisemindhealthybody

Stop Snoring in 3 Minutes - Starting Tonight

...easy, 3-minute exercise that completely cured his horrendous snoring! We can both finally sleep!

Today is a good day. Tonight will be even better. Why?

Because you're about to learn easy throat exercises that cure (not just treated) your stubborn snoring – in 3 minutes – starting TONIGHT!

...even if straps, sprays and even torturing CPAP masks have failed you in the past.

Most people heal their snoring in just a few minutes per day using these powerful throat exercises. And they're so easy, you can do them, regardless of your age or physical shape.

Use them anytimeanywhere... even while stuck in traffic or watching TV.

Plus the results are permanent!

To learn more and test-drive the easy snoring and sleep apnea exercises for yourself, click here...

To a good night's sleep,
Rick + Lisa
eatlocalgrown / wisemindhealthybody

The #1 "bodyfat-eating" hormone...

weight loss solved

Did you know that your bodyfat can become "calorie-resistant"?

True. And it's completely unaffected by even the strictest diets... and most intense exercises.

However, there's good news- Calorie-resistant bodyfat can be now removed...

It's a little-known, calorie-burning hormone we all have... just waiting for the right spark to come alive. It's not thyroid, leptin, ghrelin, insulin, adiponectin, HGH or any other "fat loss" hormone you may know. Read more to find out precisely how to unleash its calorie-burning power:

==> How to Activate Your #1 "Bodyfat-Eating" Hormone...

To your health!

PS - Studies show that it can also reduce your risk of diabetes by 53.7%, a heart attack by 83.3% and stroke by 51.4%. Here's more of the scientific proof...

#1 muscle that eliminates joint and back pain, anxiety and looking fat

I bet you can’t guess which muscle in your body is the #1 muscle that eliminates joint and back pain, anxiety and looking fat. This “hidden survival muscle” in your body will boost your energy levels, immune system, sexual function, strength and athletic performance when unlocked.

If this “hidden” most powerful primal muscle is healthy, we are healthy.

Is it…

a) Abs

b) Chest

c) Glutes

d) Hip Flexors

Take the quiz above and see if you got the correct answer!

How to Wipe Out Chronic Inflammation (Free Book)


In April, 2009, researchers stunned the medical community when they reported chronic inflammation as the root cause of several major diseases.

See, every year 610,000 people in the U.S. die of heart disease. Cancer claims another 584,000...stroke 130,000...Alzheimer's disease nearly 85,000 — and the list goes on.

Truth is, we now know... chronic inflammation is responsible for 7 out of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States! Hundreds of studies and scientific reviews prove it.

inflammation book

Fortunately, newer research shows you can prevent-even reverse-most major diseases by "turning off" inflammation. And in our new book, we show you how to do just that.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a debilitating condition-and you"re not sure what the culprit is-now's the time to find out...while you can still do something about it!

Get the Free Inflammation Book

--> Grab your FREE copy of this groundbreaking soft cover book today (while supplies still last.)

Free Paleo / Keto Cookbook

Over the past year, my friend Dave over at PaleoHacks has been working on a super secret cookbook project with our good friend Peter Servold ­­ a Le Cordon Bleu trained Chef and owner of Pete's Paleo...

And today, this new incredible Paleo Cookbook is finally available to be shipped right to your door for FREE!

paleohack chart

The cookbook is called Paleo Eats, and it's filled with over 80 chef ­created, insanely tasty Paleo recipes ­­ which means they are free from gluten, soy, dairy, and refined sugar.

Get your FREE copy of Paleo Eats Here. (Grab this today, because they only ordered a small batch of these cookbooks for this freebie promotion, and they will sell out FAST!)

>> Get The Free Cookbook


Sponsored Health Resources

In the years that I've been working on this website project I've come across some amazing resources by some very special people. I'd like to share them with you here.

NOTE: I update these links often so please check back to see what's new!

1) Everyone knows green smoothies are healthy right? Have you heard of a “red” smoothie? If not, check out this story…

--> "Red" Smoothie Helps Alabama Girl Shed 80lbs!

2) Forget what you've read about 10-day lemonade cleanses, 7-day detoxes with green juices and Gwyneth's gruel. All you need to do, and this is perfect for Saturday or or anytime really, is a simple 1-day cleanse.

--> Get the 1 Day Cleanse (better than 7-day detoxes!)

3) This “hidden survival muscle” in your body will boost your energy levels, immune system, sexual function, strength and athletic performance when unlocked.

--> #1 muscle that eliminates joint and back pain, anxiety and looking fat

4) I thought it was virtually impossible for a website to be able to tell me anything even a little bit insightful after only submitting my name and date of birth... I was wrong!

--> Your Birth Date + Name - Free Report

5) Turmeric is amazing. The problem is - It's hard to absorb!

--> The best way to get maximum effects of Turmeric

6) Wonder why your stomach still sticks out even though you're hammering the core exercises every day? It's a common myth that bulging belly is due to weak abdominal muscles.

--> Why Some People LOOK Fat that Aren't

7) Even if you're the most active of athletes, you may still suffer from tight hip flexors due to the amount of time you spend each day planted to a chair.

-->  Unlock Your Hip Flexors

Enjoy! Let me know how these work out for you. And if you run across anything I've missed please let me know.

Rick D.