The 8 Healthiest Chain Restaurants in the Country

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.