Those with dietary restrictions can have trouble finding fast-food restaurants that offer options for them. According to a survey conducted by Alliance for Science, a program affiliated with Cornell University, vegetarians and vegans make up 10% of the population of Americans over the age of 18, and this percentage continues to rise. Many vegetarians point to health concerns, issues with animal cruelty, cultural and religious values or the meat production industry’s effect on the environment as reasons for their choice to not consume meat. In recent years, vegetarian and vegan options have expanded alongside the non-meat-eating community, but the proportion of vegetarian and vegan-friendly options available at drive-thrus is still significantly low.
The more vegan/vegetarian options fast food restaurants provide, the more people can take advantage of the convenience and low cost of drive-thrus. It also allows those considering cutting meat out of their diets to experiment with meat substitutes and other veggie-friendly foods.
Like vegetarians and vegans, people who do not eat gluten also have a harder time finding easily accessible fast food. They have to worry about cross-contamination depending on the severity of their intolerance. While celiac disease only effects 1% of the American population, The World Journal of Gastroenterology states that non-celiac gluten sensitivity affects up to 6% of the United States population outside of those diagnosed with celiac. An estimated 10% of Americans eat a gluten free diet in addition to the combined 7% formally diagnosed with sensitivities.
Even though drive-thru options for people with dietary restrictions are somewhat limited, fast-food chains continue to expand their options in order to meet the growing demand for diverse menu items. The restaurants listed below have several accessible and inexpensive vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free choices, and all of them have locations in Tuscaloosa.
(GF)= Gluten Free
Taco Bell’s power menu bowls, crunchy tacos and beans and rice are all gluten-free, but Taco Bell doesn’t recommend these menu items for those with celiac disease due to cross-contamination.
Taco Bell offers a customizable menu, meaning that you can alter menu items to suit your needs. They make the fast-food experience easy for vegetarians; their menu includes an entire section dedicated to veggie-friendly options titled “Veggie Cravings.” This menu includes over 15 items, ranging from snacks to dessert and meals.
*To make any crunchy or soft taco vegan, as to make it fresco, remove beef and add black beans. (VE)
For a meal:
Order the Power Menu Bowl – Veggie (V) (GF).
*To make this vegan, ask to remove cheese, sour cream and avocado ranch sauce. (VE)
For a snack:
Order a side of Black Beans (with or without rice) (VE) (GF) or Cheesy Fiesta Potatoes (V).
Order Cinnamon Twists (VE).
Starbucks is obviously famous for its coffee, but they also have some great vegetarian options, especially for breakfast on-the-go. Unfortunately, they don’t have many permanent gluten-free menu items, but they do sell KIND bars and other snacks with gluten free labels. Vegetarian options include:
Order the Impossible ™ Breakfast Sandwich (V) or Spinach, Feta & Egg Wrap (V)
Order the Crispy Grilled Cheese on Sourdough (V) or Tomato & Mozzarella on Focaccia (V)
For a snack:
Order the Egg White & Roasted Red Pepper Egg Bites (V)(GF) or Eggs & Gouda Protein Box (V)
Including Chick-fil-A on this list may come as a surprise to some, but this popular chain has a mix of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options, making it an ideal choice for anyone who might have an allergy or intolerance.
Order the Hash Browns (GF) (VE) or Hash Brown Scramble Bowl w/ Grilled Filet (GF)
Order a Grilled Chicken filet w/ Gluten-free Bun (GF) or try the Spicy Southwest Salad w/ Grilled Nuggets or Grilled Fillet and no Toppings (GF)*
*To make this salad vegan, order this without cheese or chicken and substitute the Creamy Salsa dressing for Chili Lime Vinaigrette (VE)
For a snack:
Order a Kale Crunch Side Salad (GF) or Waffle Potato Fries ™(GF) (VE)
Many fast-food restaurants, have mobile apps that will provide nutritional information for each menu item when selected. If you are ever unsure about the ingredients in a menu item, restaurants also have detailed nutritional information sheets available online. These are especially important to know about if your dietary restriction is a severe allergy or intolerance like celiac disease; most of the time, the restaurant will have a statement about which items are 100% safe versus which items may be cross-contaminated.
There are several free resources online with information about where to find gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan food in both drive-thrus and sit-down restaurants. Below are a few free online guides:
Vegetarian Restaurant Guide from The Vegetarian Resource Group
Vegan Restaurant Locator from HappyCow
Find Me Gluten Free App from Gluten Free Classes, LLC.
Elisabeth Bernard serves as our Food and Health Editor. This is her first year with Alice. She is a self-proclaimed “foodie” who loves to try new things. Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Elisabeth is a rising junior studying political science and English with a minor in Spanish.