Healthy fast food
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It’s changing the road-Food landscape

By Robin Cherry

Drive-throughs don’t have to make you feel guilty. Who said a practical choice like grabbing a quick meal has to be bad for you? Restaurateurs who offer healthier eating options are coming around to the convenience of the drive-through to reach those of us on the go. The healthy drive-through trend is just getting off the ground, but supporters think it will change the road-food landscape. If you drive a Malibu, you’re all about healthy, efficient living. And with the new stop/start technology that powers down the engine when you stop to save you gas and seamlessly starts back up again when you’re ready to go, that veggie burger just got less expensive.

Start Restaurant, Dallas, TX

The only thing Erin McCool shares with Ronald McDonald is a commitment to delivering food in a timely manner—i.e., fast. She launched Start to serve fast food made from scratch, and from local and organic ingredients whenever possible. She offers gluten-free and vegetarian items on the breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menus. For breakfast, drive through and pick up an egg white and veggie burrito on a whole wheat tortilla, or a veggie pancake sandwich (whole wheat pancakes with veggie sausage and a touch of maple butter). At lunch and dinner, there’s house-made feta hummus with veggies or a spinach and goat cheese salad with a raspberry-chipotle dressing. For something that sounds decadent but isn’t, try the savory loaded sweet potato with chicken, spinach, blue cheese and scratch-made buttermilk dressing.

Evolution Fast Food, San Diego, CA

Evolution’s vegan menu eschews meat, fish, dairy and animal products, as well as white flour, refined sugars, chemical preservatives and dyes. In their place, you get fresh fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and natural sweeteners. The food is so flavorful, carnivores might not even notice it’s vegan. Diners have two burger choices: the Gardein (garden-grown protein) made of soy, wheat and ancient grains) or the Bean (made with chipotle, black beans and quinoa). Don’t miss the highly-seasoned sweet potato fries or the Mystic Monk (soy or almond milk with chocolate powder, tahini and banana). For dessert, Evolution offers scratch-made European-style cakes and pies, including its very own Black Forest Cake: chocolate cake with cherry filling and vanilla bean frosting. Who said eating well had to be hard?

Fresa’s Chicken, Austin, TX

Fresa’s grills marinated pasture-raised chickens from a local farm over hardwood oak charcoal. The chicken comes with your choice of two different seasoning blends: The smoky Achiote Chili and Citrus is served with Mexican rice and charro beans (with bits of pork), while Fresh Oregano and Black Pepper comes with jasmine rice and black beans. Both are served with grilled onions, jalapenos, freshly-made corn tortillas and salsa. Healthy sides include grilled vegetables and fresh fruit cup. Aguas fresca (fresh water) flavors include lemon, hibiscus and sparking orange. Ordering your meal from the drive-through takes roughly six minutes. That gives you time to decide which of Fresa’s hand-churned ice creams to try. Flavors like Mexican Vanilla and Cafe con Leche, to name but two, come in a waist-friendly 4 oz. “tiny” serving, or pick up a pint to take home and share.

Salad and Go, Gilbert, AZ

Roushan Christofellis, a 30-year-old former teacher, opened her new drive-through in metropolitan Phoenix in response to both hearing people talk about the challenges of finding healthy food in a hurry and seeing her parents struggle with age-related illnesses. To ensure fast service, she limited her offerings to salads that can be ordered as wraps or topped with such ingredients as grilled free-range chicken and rosemary garlic prawns. The ten salads include Seasonal Mixed Greens with a low-fat creamy balsamic; Spinach & Smoked Bacon with blue cheese and classic Caesar (also available with low-fat Caesar), and an Asian-style salad with Napa cabbage, rice noodles and a spicy Thai peanut dressing. Calorie counts are included on the menu without being off-putting. You can get a Greek Salad with Feta and Cucumber for under 400 calories. As Christofellis says, “If we can do this and we can prove it works and others will follow suit . . . we can make America a more healthy place.”

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Robin Cherry is a travel, food and pop culture writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Afar, Islands and many other publications.