Let’s be honest, even people who eat cleaner, healthier diets majority of the time need “fast food” sometimes. (I’m raising my hand, as I am guilty of this!) It might be that they are craving it, or that they are truly in a hurry and need food fast. One of the best parts of living in a big city, or visiting one, is that not only can you get fast food, you can get fresh food fast, and still maintain your healthy lifestyle.
I have found some great options for healthier “fast food” in downtown Chicago, perfect for a quick break from the office to enjoy lunch in the Loop, to grab a bit before the theater or just because hey, it sounds good. And today, I am sharing my 5 favorites with you.
- Nic’s Organics: Nic’s might be the new kid in town, but pretty soon they will be the popular one. If you really want fast food, and I mean the burger or chicken nuggets type of fast food we are accustomed to, Nic’s is a must. But, what makes Nic’s better than the fast food we are accustomed to is that it’s all fresh and organic. Organic food is not only better for us, but it tastes better too. Now of course, eating a burger, fries and a shake at Nic’s is not unlike eating that at another fast food place calorie-wise, but you’ll feel better afterward. No sluggishness or belly bloats. Plus, they have gluten free chicken tenders. I have had to eat gluten free for years now, and have not had a chicken tender since, so that alone was a win for me. In addition, they have homemade pop (also organic) and kombucha. It’s a new spin on classic fast food, and one definitely worth trying.
- Lifeway Kefir Shop: Who says sweets aren’t for breakfast? Okay, maybe your mom does, but hey you’re adult, you don’t have to listen. Especially when those sweets are good for you. Yes, you read that right! I am talking about the delicious kefir creations you can get morning, noon or night at the Lifeway Kefir Shop. If you don’t know what kefir is, let me fill you in quickly. Lifeway describes kefir as the smooth, tart refreshing cousin of yogurt. It’s a cultured dairy drink loaded with probiotics. It’s made from hormone free milk, is gluten free and has lots of protein. You can buy it in liquid form at most grocery stores, but here, it’s frozen. And it’s literally one of my favorite things on earth. I fell in love with it within days of moving to Chicago and discovering what was then called Starfruit – a frozen kefir shop. Now, many years later they have become the Lifeway Kefir Shop, with multiple locations across the city, offering not only frozen kefir with toppings, but also smoothies, juices and bowls. It’s fast, yummy, and so good for your tummy.
- LYFE Kitchen: This is one of my favorite spots to eat in all of Chicago, and we have a lot of options. Maybe a big part of the fact that I love this place is that I can eat almost anything on their menu, as they are very gluten free friendly, but more importantly, everything is delicious. It’s healthy, it’s fast and if you prefer to linger and enjoy your meal, you can do that too. They even have a bar! With locations across the city and in the suburbs you can basically enjoy LYFE wherever you go. And when you eat at LYFE, you truly will be enjoying life! If you are looking for recommendations, my favorites include the sweet corn chowder, the roasted mushroom and goat cheese flatbread and the quinoa crunch bowl. Don’t forget to get a chocolate chip cookie for dessert. (The gluten free ones are the best I’ve had!)
- Protein Bar: Protein Bar is not new on the scene, but they are definitely a staple for most Chicagoan looking for healthy options on the go. With delicious options for any meal of the day, snacks included, they can pretty much satisfy any craving you are having, get you out the door in minutes and make you feel good. My favorite item here is the PB&J Smoothie, which literally tastes like a liquid sandwich (add kale and you get your greens and never taste the difference), but they also have yummy salads and great quinoa bowls. And as the name suggests, almost every option has a good amount of protein, which is definitely a need for healthy eating.
- Chipotle: Okay, so this one maybe would fall under the regular fast food category, but I think it definitely counts as a healthier option. Everything is fresh! (Have you seen their commercials lately – proof that this is true.) Plus, this place gives you lots of chances to load up on good for you foods, like veggies and beans. It’s savory, it’s filling, it’s definitely fast, but it’s also something you won’t regret eating. Whether you have tacos, a burrito bowl or a salad, you won’t be disappointed. Nutritionists agree, as you can find lots of articles with their professional opinions saying that Chipotle is a good option for “good for you fast food.” (They say your safest bet is to go with a bowl or salad, and avoid the chips.) One added bonus, they are a national chain, so you don’t have to be in Chicago to enjoy it!
This is a guide to healthier fast food options. Things you can eat, knowing you will feel good afterwards. You still need to keep in mind the mantra that everything is better in moderation. Even if organic, French fries are still French fries, and frozen kefir is still a sweet treat. But when you need to indulge, or you need a quick meal these are great options!
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