I ate a fully vegetarian meal at Chick-fil-A and it was surprisingly satisfying and nutritious
Irene Jiang / Business Insider
- It's hard to get a filling, nutritious fast-food meal that's also vegetarian.
- Even though plant-based proteins have had a great year, it can still be hard to find good plant-based options at many national chains.
- I tried to eat a vegetarian meal at Chick-fil-A without ordering any modified items, and I was actually pretty successful. My meal of mac and cheese, superfood side, and small waffle fries was tasty, filling, and reasonably nutritionally varied.
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The fast-food landscape is pretty bleak for vegetarians.
Even though plant-based proteins have blossomed across the food scene this year - with the Impossible Whopper driving up Burger King's sales and the nationwide rollout of Dunkin's Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich - plant-based options remain sparse at many national chains.
I'm not a vegetarian, but those taking part in the growing vegan and vegetarian movement in America likely still want fast food.
It can be nigh impossible to find a filling and nutritious meal with no meat in it at a fast-food chain. So I set out to find out what each chain has to offer our meat-eschewing brethren. First on the docket: Chick-fil-A.
I went to a Chick-fil-A in Manhattan and tried to eat a full meal comprised only of menu options that didn't contain meat. It's definitely possible to modify other menu items to be vegetarian, but in order to keep things consistent, I only ordered unmodified items.
I ordered small waffle fries, small mac and cheese, a superfood side, and unsweetened iced tea. My meal contained a total of 700 calories, 38 grams of fat, 47 grams of carbs, and 19 grams of protein, according to nutritional information posted to Chick-fil-A's website. It cost a total of $11.82 before tax.
SUPERFOOD SIDE, $3.99 — The superfood side contains broccolini, kale, maple vinaigrette, dried sour cherries, and a roasted nut blend. Mine was missing the nuts. One superfood side packs 140 calories, eight grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, and four grams of protein.
SMALL WAFFLE FRIES, $2.35 — I suspect that Chick-fil-A accidentally gave me a medium fries instead of small. A small order of waffle fries contains 280 calories, 14 grams of fat, 33 grams of carbs, and four grams of protein.
MAC AND CHEESE, $3.39 — Chick-fil-A brought mac and cheese to its menus in August. A small order contains 260 calories, 16 grams of fat, 17 grams of carbs, and 11 grams of protein.
Chick-fil-A's mac was so good it's hard to believe it came from a fast-food chain. It was creamy, tangy, salty, and it had the perfect blend of textures. I especially loved the baked crust.
It tasted rich, and each bite was very filling. The mac might have been carby and fatty, but it was also the only even slightly significant source of protein in this meal.
I was a little skeptical of the superfood side coming from a place like Chick-fil-A. I was also disappointed by my missing nut blend.
However, a forkful of superfood side made for an extremely wholesome bite. It tasted fresh and was refreshing.
The dressing was sweet and the greens were just the right amount of crunchy. I found myself wanting more.
Fries are filler in any context. They don't really have nutritional value. But they taste good. And even though I'm not the biggest fan of Chick-fil-A's fries, fries are fries.
These were better dipped in ketchup.
They were fairly satisfying, but emptily so. After a small handful — and my hands are small — I was beginning to feel the oil and carbs build up.
A perfect time to go back to the superfood side. Complex and crunchy, it might have been my favorite thing in the meal. The only problem was that it didn't have any protein.
Good thing the mac and cheese contains a non-zero amount of protein. But even though Chick-fil-A's mac and cheese is next-level, it's still basically two ingredients.
When I got tired of all the lactose, I went for a cooling sip of my iced tea. I ordered unsweetened tea to keep the meal within a reasonable nutritional value for someone of my size.
After refreshing myself with tea and greens, my body was ready for more fried potato.
I soon found myself in a predictable rhythm:
Mac and cheese ...
However, my superfood side ran out before everything else. My only gripe with the side was that there wasn't enough of it.
Near the end of my mac and cheese, I found myself running out of steam. It was a lot of cheese for someone whose body hates cheese. I guess vegetarian + lactose intolerant = bad news.
I didn't come close to finishing my fries. They were very easy to keep eating, but I only got through about half.
After my meal, I felt comfortably full. Unlike most of my fast-food meals, this one didn't make me feel like I'd be leaking grease for the rest of the day.
Chick-fil-A has solid, if limited, options for vegetarians looking for chicken-free chow. Its veggie options are also relatively nutritionally varied: there's greens, dairy, and carbs. The only thing I was left wanting was a larger superfood side — with nuts.
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