Vegetarian fast food

How do the major chains stack up when it comes to healthy vegetarian fast food?
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 

01 .Introduction

vego_fast_food_LEAD_MAY2012_WEB

We review more than 80 non-meat fast food meals from 12 national fast food chains.

Our analysis looks at and compares:

  • ingredients 
  • kilojoules
  • saturated fat, and
  • sodium 

There’s no denying the popularity and convenience of fast food, but finding healthy fast food isn’t easy, as our 2011 fast food survival guide demonstrates. 

So if you’re vegetarian or you’re attempting to reduce your meat intake and choose healthier food when eating out, what chance do you have?

Some chains don’t even give vegetarians a look-in on the menu. When they do, the veggie options are often limited. And don’t make the mistake of assuming the veggie meal will be the healthiest option on the menu – or even that it’ll be suitable for vegetarians. See Which chains cater to vegetarians? for the lowdown, and Choosing healthy veggie fast food for tips.

On this page:

For more information on Nutrition see Food and drink.

The problem with protein

Fast food chains are often guilty of creating a vegetarian meal by replacing the meat protein component of the dish with cheese. The result can be tasty, but it also bumps up both the salt and saturated fat content of the meal.

  • Dominos Simply Cheese pizza and Pizza Huts Signature Four Cheese pizza are prime examples. Eating just one slice can contribute a sizeable chunk to the maximum recommended intake of both, but chewing through two or more slices can break the nutritional bank – don’t even contemplate ordering these with the optional cheesy crusts both chains offer.
  • Cheese can even play havoc with a salad. A regular size Sumo Salad Balsamic Beetroot salad has 1908mg sodium – that’s 83% of the maximum recommended daily intake.

Veggie offerings using plant protein sources tend to be more nutritious. Protein sources such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, nuts and tofu are higher in fibre, antioxidants and other protective phytochemicals – without the sodium and saturated fat of cheese.

May contain traces of cow

Strictly speaking, foods that contain animal by-products such as gelatine, animal-derived rennet and animal fat are a no-no for all types of vegetarians. The frequently cheese-laden veggie menu items in particular are a potential minefield for vegetarians, as cheese commonly contains animal-derived rennet. So we asked each chain if any of its non-meat menu items contain animal by-products.

  • McDonald's famously once used beef tallow as its frying oil, but told us it now uses a vegetable oil blend to cook its fries.
  • Hungry Jacks told us it doesn’t market any of its products as vegetarian and that the cheese in its Veggie Burger may contain animal rennet. It's website states that both the cheese and the patty contain animal rennet, but Hungry Jack's didn't respond to our requests for confirmation.
  • The four pizzas on the Dominos menu marked ‘V’ for vegetarian all come with animal-rennet-free cheese.
  • Subway told us its cheese contains animal rennet – but its vegetarian menu options are cheese-free.
  • Only Go Sushi and Sumo Salad told us its non-meat menu items are free from animal by-products.
  • The remaining chains didn’t respond to our queries.

Definitions of vegetarianism

According to Vegetarian Victoria, there are many different forms of vegetarianism.

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or seafood but still eat milk, dairy products and eggs.
  • The diet of pure vegetarians comprises vegetables, vegetable oils, grains, legumes (such as lentils, chickpeas and dried or canned beans), soy products (such as tofu and tempeh), nuts, fruit and seeds but no meat, poultry, fish, seafood, milk, dairy products or eggs (honey is usually seen as being optional).
  • Vegans are pure vegetarians who exclude animal products from their entire lifestyle (wool and leather clothing, for example).

Fast food chains reviewed

  • Dominos 
  • Go Sushi
  • Hungry Jack's
  • KFC
  • McDonald's 
  • Nandos
  • Noodle Box
  • Oporto
  • Pizza Hut
  • Red Rooster 
  • Subway
  • Sumo Salad 

How we test

We surveyed 12 national fast food chains asking them about their vegetarian menu offerings. We used their responses, plus menu, nutrition and allergen information from their websites to assess their offerings.

Our analysis of vegetarian fast food meals (see Compare veggie fast food meals) takes into account the following:

Serving sizes are those specified by the fast food chain. For all pizzas (except for Domino's single serve Prawn and Spinach Ciabatta Good Choice pizza), this is just one slice. At CHOICE, we believe that even the smallest eater is likely to eat two slices so bear that in mind when comparing nutrients per serve, or use the nutrients per 100g details in columns 8-12.

Nutrients are based on information provided by the fast food chain or available on the chain's website. Columns 3-7 show nutrients per serve, columns 8-12 show nutrients per 100g. For comparison purposes energy and sodium figures have been rounded to the nearest whole number and fat, sat fat and sugars have been rounded to the nearest decimal point.

Traffic light criteria are based on the latest nutrition recommendations and dietary guidelines established by government health experts in Australia and internationally. 

Fat (g/100g) Green light ≤3; Orange light 3.1-19.9; Red light ≥20. 

Saturated fat (g/100g) Green light ≤1.5; Orange light 1.6-4.9; Red light ≥5. 

Sugars (g/100g) Green light ≤5; Orange light 5.1-14.9; Red light ≥15. 

Sodium (mg/100g) Green light ≤120; Orange light 121-599; Red light ≥600.


 
 

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02.Which chains cater to vegetarians?

 

In terms of vegetarian offerings, the chains fall into one of four categories which are summarised below. 

For nutrition details of the 80+ meat-free meals reviewed for this article, see Compare veggie fast food meals.

Cross Veggie-who?

  • KFC and Red Rooster declined to participate in our survey, saying that vegetarian options aren’t part of their primary offering. So unless you’re happy to cobble together a meal by ordering sides like fries, mashed potato coleslaw, corn cobs, peas, dinner rolls or garlic bread, vegetarians are better off eating elsewhere.
  • McDonald’s told us that the majority of its McCafe menu items are suitable for vegetarians, but as they class them as snacks – and the McCafe menu isn’t available at all McDonald’s outlets - we didn’t include them in our review. There are no vegetarian offering on its regular menu other than sides such as a garden salad or fries.

Exclamation Veggies beware

These chains' meat-free offerings contain ingredients which render them unsuitable for vegetarians.

  • Hungry Jack's Veggie Burger contains 66% of the maximum recommended daily sodium intake, a hefty serving of sat fat (45% of the recommended intake - Hungry Jacks has meat options with less), and more kilojoules per serve than all other vegetarian meals in our review – 34% of the recommended intake. More to the point, both the cheese and the veggie patty in the burger contain animal rennet.
  • Although the Noodle Box website states that all meals can be made vegetarian, its online menu shows just one veggie main – the Gung Ho Soy Box. However its allergen guide reveals that the sauce in this dish contains crustacea and their products. If you’re trying to limit your intake of kilojoules, fat and sodium then serve size is key. A large Gung Ho Soy Box contains 42% more sodium, kilojoules and sat fat than a small, which already contains almost three quarters of the maximum recommended daily intake of sodium.

Question Veggie question mark

These chains didn’t respond to our survey, and while they do have veggie menu items we can’t guarantee the ingredients are free from animal by-products.

  • Nandos offers a veggie patty which you can have either in pita or as a burger, according to its website. The Vege Pita is the healthier (and smaller) option, providing fewer kilojoules and less sat fat and sodium than the Vego Burger.
  • A representative told us vegetarian options aren’t part of Oporto’s primary offering, although its Veggie Burger is one of just seven burgers on the menu. Unfortunately for vegetarians, it has more saturated fat than any – and more sodium than most – of Oporto’s single and double fillet meat burgers. And of the vegetarian meals we reviewed, only the Hungry Jacks Veggie Burger has more kilojoules.
  • Pizza Hut has one vegetarian pasta and eight different meat-free pizza toppings on the menu. As at Dominos, even the healthier options push the boundaries with kilojoules, sat fat and sodium, so limiting the number of slices you eat and avoiding the cheesy toppings and cheese-stuffed crusts is key. Choosing the Mia Veggie (Perfecto crust) over the Signature Four Cheese (Perfecto crust) reduces your sat fat intake by 62%.

tick Veggies get a look-in

  • Four pizzas on the Dominos menu are flagged as vegetarian. The healthier of these options still make a sizeable contribution to your intake of kilojoules, sat fat and sodium, so limit the number of slices you eat and avoid the cheesy toppings and cheese-stuffed crusts. You can reduce your sat fat intake by 78% by choosing the Vegorama (Classic crust) over the Simply Cheese (Square Puff crust), for example.
  • Go Sushi has five options on the menu suitable for vegetarians. The hazard with sushi rolls is the salt – just one 110g Vegie Deluxe Sushi Roll has 689mg sodium, or 30% of the maximum recommended daily intake. So if you’re watching your salt intake its best to stop at one roll – and refrain from adding a squeeze of soy sauce.
  • Subway's menu has two vegetarian fillings available in the form of a sub, wrap or salad - although all menu items can be tailored to your requirements on request. The veggie menu items are cheese-free, but don’t be tempted to ask for a slice as the cheese it uses contains rennet. The dressings and sauces on offer also bump up the kilojoules, sat fat and sodium, so pass on these when they’re offered.
  • Vegetarian options abound at Sumo Salad – over 30 at our count. While the options are generally healthy, a few have nutritional drawbacks, such as the 11.9g saturated fat (50% of the recommended daily intake) in its Pear, Brie & Rocket Long Roll and the 1908mg sodium (83% of the maximum recommended daily intake) in its Balsamic Beetroot Salad (regular).

NUTRITION NOTE

All nutrition data referred to above is per serve. Where the serve size options were small, regular and large we used information for regular, and if the options were small and large we’ve used small. 

The total daily intake for the average adult is 8700kJ, 24g saturated fat and 2300mg sodium - but needs vary depending on your gender, size and activity level. Requirements for many people will be much lower.

Instructions 

Comparison table list

  • By default ALL tested products are listed. You can select up to five items to view in a side by side comparison. 
  • Additional columns can be viewed by using the Next/Previous buttons.
  • Column headings are explained in 'Using the table' at the bottom of the page.

Using the filters 

  • Use the filters to show only products that meet your specific requirements or which have the specific features you're interested in. Selecting filters automatically updates the Comparison table list. 
  • The number shown in brackets represents the number of products that will be shown if you select that filter. 
  • You can view additional filters by selecting the Show more filters button.

Non-vegetarian meals

Please note: The non-vegetarian meals that have been included in the table were noted as "healthier menu options" in our 2011 Fast food survival guide. They have been included in this table for comparison purposes only.

Traffic light criteria

Columns 8-12 show nutrients per 100g. Criteria behind the traffic lights appearing in these columns are as follows:

cereal_TABLE_NOTES

Compare products

 
Table Allowing the user to select a number of products dependant on their filter options.
Items to compare

Select up to 5 items below.
Then click the compare button

Compare
 
Food categoryServe size (g)Energy per serve (kJ)Total fat per serve (g)Saturated fat per serve (g)Sugars per serve (g)Sodium per serve (mg)Energy per 100g (kJ)Total fat (per 100g)Saturated fat (per 100g)Sugars (per 100g)Sodium (per 100g)Brand
              
Hamburger (A)burger108117010.83.85.1519Hungry Jacks
Bondi Burger with Chilli - Single Fillet (A)burger155174022.63.92.9736Oporto
Original Fillet Burger (A)burger1781688111.87.4853KFC
Veggie Burgerburger282297939.210.712.41529Hungry Jacks
Veggie Burgerburger275283037.76.38.51361Oporto
Vego Burgerburger285244622.23.47.1884Nandos
Vego Burger (no mayo)burger275237120.43.38.51100Nandos
Gung Ho Soy Box - largenoodles7103848395.731.22911Noodle Box
Gung Ho Soy Box - smallnoodles41022229.83.3181681Noodle Box
spinach & ricotta cannelloni hot pasta salad - regularpasta350215621.510.24.2945Sumo Salad
italian penne hot pasta salad - regularpasta400250333314.2896Sumo Salad
pesto pasta salad - regularpasta286266239.744.5887Sumo Salad
eggplant ravioli hot pasta salad - regularpasta400208928.86.28.6795Sumo Salad
Tuscani Pastas Mediterranean Veg - for onepasta302169711.83.99.1985Pizza Hut
pumpkin & pinenut tortellini hot pasta salad - regularpasta398234734.36.311.9654Sumo Salad
tomato, chilli, olive ravioli - regularpasta2079917.83.71367Sumo Salad
Prawn and Spinach Ciabatta Pizza (Good Choice) (A)pizza21616452.21.34.1606Dominos
Signature Four Cheese pizza - Perfecto crustpizza7496411.16.11.8474Pizza Hut
Simply Cheese - the edge crustpizza8396310.452.8439Dominos
Satay Veg - the edge crustpizza969138.73.85392Dominos
Margherita - the edge crustpizza889069.14.13.3420Dominos
Vegorama - the edge crustpizza908978.83.43.6402Dominos
Signature Antipasto pizza - Perfecto crustpizza83830.27.62.72.3425Pizza Hut
Pizza Classics Cheese pizza - Perfecto crustpizza70817.26.33.71.6381Pizza Hut
Vegorama - square puff crustpizza777939.44.34.5337Dominos
Signature Spinach & Feta pizza - Perfecto crustpizza69777.36.52.92.3327Pizza Hut
Legends Veggie pizza - Perfecto crustpizza76771.36.32.72.6273Pizza Hut
Simply Cheese - square puff crustpizza607509.55.33.1335Dominos
Simply Cheese - deep panpizza717465.52.82.9327Dominos
Pizza Classics Margherita pizza - Perfecto crustpizza73713.35.42.42254Pizza Hut
Mia Cheese pizza - Perfecto crustpizza55698.15.42.91.2316Pizza Hut
Mia Veggie pizza - Perfecto crustpizza58691.15.52.31.7344Pizza Hut
Satay Veg - square puff crustpizza726897.945.3284Dominos
Satay Veg - deep panpizza806894.21.84.5288Dominos
Margherita - deep panpizza756844.423.4311Dominos
Margherita - square puff crustpizza636687.84.13.7301Dominos
Simply Cheese - classic crustpizza565774.82.62.2271Dominos
Simply Cheese - thin n crispypizza535514.12.52.2256Dominos
Vegorama - thin n crispypizza6654541.72.8267Dominos
Satay Veg - classic crustpizza705433.61.64.3239Dominos
Vegorama - deep panpizza615333.71.22.7243Dominos
Satay Veg - thin n crispypizza685333.31.84.3233Dominos
Margherita - classic crustpizza615233.71.82.6259Dominos
Margherita - thin n crispypizza605213.422.6257Dominos
Vegorama - classic crustpizza645072.51.22.2250Dominos
mushroom risotto - regularrisotto44112977.14.22.5768Sumo Salad
pumpkin risotto - regularrisotto44113886.62.952.2604Sumo Salad
Subway Six-Inch Roasted Chicken Sub - wheat bread (A)roll/sub217118041.36.2438Subway
falafel, tomato & rocket long rollroll/sub315273522.14.625.81414Sumo Salad
pear, brie & rocket long rollroll/sub315275321.711.915.9873Sumo Salad
Veggie Patty 6 Inch Sub - wheat breadroll/sub24317678.71.59.7566Subway
Veggie Delite 6 Inch Sub - wheat breadroll/sub1538572.80.95.2284Subway
Veggie Delite Mini Sub - wheat breadroll/sub1025731.80.63.4191Subway
balsamic beetroot salad - regularsalad64118673.11.184.41908Sumo Salad
shanghai noodle salad - regularsalad400227716.71.617.51433Sumo Salad
roasted pumpkin & chickpea salad - regularsalad400123910.9116.81189Sumo Salad
mediterranean chickpea salad - regularsalad4002012262.417.21180Sumo Salad
wild rice & chickpea salad - regularsalad400165215.61.211.21100Sumo Salad
white bean & kumera salad - regularsalad390200513.31.230.8983Sumo Salad
rocket, fetta & sun-dried tomatoes salad leafy - regularsalad248163834.48.65.4851Sumo Salad
israeli cous cous salad - regularsalad350229611.61.123.1795Sumo Salad
falafel, barley & quinoa salad - regularsalad400266231.23.618.7739Sumo Salad
falafel & cous cous salad leafy - regularsalad277158527.74.817.1666Sumo Salad
pumpkin & cous cous salad - regularsalad3619839.11.114.8658Sumo Salad
lentil & tabbouleh salad - regularsalad390183525.52.48.2518Sumo Salad
moroccan roasted vegetables salad - regularsalad2801630141.310.8485Sumo Salad
greek salad leafy - regularsalad278105222.75.94.4476Sumo Salad
spicy yam cous cous - regularsalad400210419.21.626.4448Sumo Salad
pumpkin & beetroot salad leafy - regularsalad280136622.54.611.2368Sumo Salad
pumpkin & pinenut salad - largesalad2551324264.85.8254Sumo Salad
Veggie Delite Salad (no dressing)salad3142420.90.3577Subway
value-tarian salad - smallsalad2656617.535.9188Sumo Salad
Avocado Sushi Rollsushi roll11074010.42.36.5555Go Sushi
Egg Sushi Rollsushi roll1106256.61.56.6573Go Sushi
Vegie Deluxe Sushi Rollsushi roll1106025.40.87.4689Go Sushi
Vege Sushi Rollsushi roll11039810.047.1523Go Sushi
roasted vegetable toastietoasted sandwich260178817.65.86.1863Sumo Salad
tomato & bocconcini toastietoasted sandwich306239218.56.18.9761Sumo Salad
Vegetarian Vietnamese Rollvietnamese roll601160.20.011.411Go Sushi
Seared Chicken Tandoori Wrap (A)wrap25613407.43.16.6592McDonalds
falafel & hummus wrapwrap335229122.96.319.51368Sumo Salad
pumpkin & pinenut wrapwrap346267839.38.87.3943Sumo Salad
roasted vegetable toasted wrapwrap206173719.16.94.1815Sumo Salad
Vege Pitawrap2501752121.516.8707Nandos
Vege Pita (no mayo)wrap23816229.81.215.3644Nandos
Veggie Delite Wrapwrap1599765.92.53.3545Subway
Compare


Using the table

Serve sizes are those specified by the fast food chain. For all pizzas (except for Domino's single serve Prawn and Spinach Ciabatta Good Choice pizza), this is just one slice. At CHOICE, we believe that even the smallest eater is likely to eat two slices so bear that in mind when comparing nutrients per serve, or use the nutrients per 100g details in columns 8-12.

Nutrients are based on information provided by the fast food chain or available on the chain's website. Columns 3-7 show nutrients per serve, columns 8-12 show nutrients per 100g. For comparison purposes energy and sodium figures have been rounded to the nearest whole number and fat, sat fat and sugars have been rounded to the nearest decimal point.

Traffic light criteria are based on the latest nutrition recommendations and dietary guidelines established by government health experts in Australia and internationally. 

Fat (g/100g) Green light ≤3; Orange light 3.1-19.9; Red light ≥20. 

Saturated fat (g/100g) Green light ≤1.5; Orange light 1.6-4.9; Red light ≥5. 

Sugars (g/100g) Green light ≤5; Orange light 5.1-14.9; Red light ≥15. 

Sodium (mg/100g) Green light ≤120; Orange light 121-599; Red light ≥600.

Table notes

(A) These non-vegetarian meals were noted as healthier menu options in our 2011 Fast food survival guide. They have been included in this table for comparison purposes only.

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Accredited practising dietitian Kate Marsh gave us her top tips for choosing the healthiest vegetarian fast foods:

  • Be mindful of cheese overloads – steering clear of cheesy pizzas and salads, and removing the cheese from burgers will help keep salt and sat fat to a minimum.
  • Avoid deep-fried veggie foods (spring rolls, fried tofu, tempura veggies ) and creamy sauces or dressings as these can be as fatty as meat based foods.
  • Look for menu items with alternative protein sources such as lentils, chick peas, tofu, soy beans and other beans or nuts – not just dairy and veggies.
  • Add a vitamin-C rich food to your meals such as citrus fruit, tomatoes, a green salad, capsicum, salad sprouts or berries. Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron, so it’s particularly beneficial when you’re getting your iron from non-meat sources where it’s less readily available.
  • Wholegrains such as quinoa, barley, cracked wheat, brown rice and wholegrain breads add valuable nutrition to vegetarian meals.
  • Don’t be afraid to tailor your order to your own requirement. McDonald’s calls it the ‘Made for you’ offering, and Hungry Jacks terms it ‘Have it your way’, but gimmicky marketing slogans aside, essentially it just means you can ask them to remove the meat (and cheese if you’re vegan), use wholegrain instead of white bread for extra fibre, get them to hold the sauce, mayo or other dressings to further reduce fat and salt content, or even ask for extra veg or salad to get more vitamins and minerals.
  • Opting for the smallest serve size can help keep your kilojoule, saturated fat and sodium intake in check.

What's your favourite vegetarian fast food chain?

Is there a fast food chain you frequent that has tasty, authentic vegetarian meals on the menu? Tell us (and other readers) about it by posting a comment on the Your say tab of this article.

The following chains that we came across during our research may be worth checking out:

  • Grill’d (ACT, NSW, QLD, VIC, WA) offers a selection of genuinely veggie burgers. 
  • Falafels reign at chains Sabbaba (NSW) and Ali Baba (ACT, NSW, QLD, VIC), with Ali Baba even going to the extent of using different equipment and utensils to prepare vegetarian meal options to avoid cross contamination. All menu items at falafel chain Maoz (WA) are vegetarian friendly. 
  • The entire menu at Lord of the Fries (VIC) is 100% vegetarian – made from textured vegetable protein, they have patties and hot dogs with the taste and texture of beef and chicken. 
  • A hot dog vendor is unlikely to be a vegetarian’s first port of call, but the potato, smoked apple & sage offering from Snagstand (NSW, VIC) may change this. 
  • Pie Face (ACT, NSW, VIC, QLD) has vegetarian pies, sausage rolls and other savouries on the menu.

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