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5 Fast-Food Restaurants That Serve the Best Salads

If you're craving something a little healthier, here are the drive thrus to hit up.
FACT CHECKED BY Meaghan Cameron

Salads are a great meal option whether you're looking to eat healthier and fill your diet with more veggies. They're also perfect if you just want lighter lunch and dinner options. However, while salads can be filling and taste delicious, they can sometimes be both costly and time-consuming. That is where fast-food salads come in.

Fast-food restaurants may not be the first place you think of when you're in the mood for a salad, but, believe it or not, there are a few fast-food chains that still carry delicious salads. Although some big-name fast-food chains have dropped salads from their menus in recent years (we're looking at you McDonald's and Burger King), a handful still whip up delicious protein and veggie-packed salads that are just as satisfying as a burger.

Plus, some spots have seriously creative combos. You can expect some traditional options like Greek salads and Caesar salads, as well as options that are a bit more unexpected. Wendy's unique Apple Pecan Salad, for example, features a lip-puckering pomegranate vinaigrette dressing that you may find yourself craving at all hours.

From salads that incorporate fruits, cheese, and a whole array of veggies to others that come topped with protein-rich meats and grains, here are seven fast-food restaurants that serve the best salads (as well as a couple we wish would bring their salad options back).

RELATED: 7 Fast-Food Restaurants That Serve the Best Chicken Nuggets

Wendy's

wendy's Apple Pecan Salad
Courtesy of Wendy's

Wendy's is one of the most versatile fast food chains out there—not only can you get crispy chicken nuggets, hot-off-the-grill cheeseburgers, tasty fries, and refreshing fountain drinks,  but you can get more out-of-the-box options too, including chili con carne, cheesy baked potatoes, and, that's right, salads.

The chain carries several salad options. The Parmesan Caesar Salad is made with a creamy Caesar dressing, an Italian cheese blend, and romaine lettuce. The new Cobb Salad is made fresh daily with applewood smoked bacon, crispy fried onions, and chopped eggs. A truly unique pomegranate vinaigrette dressing makes the Apple Pecan Salad (which boasts both red and green apples) an amazingly sweet and savory option. Finally, the chain's tasty Taco Salad is packed with diced tomatoes, salsa, sour cream, crisp tortilla chips, and topped with the chain's famous chili.

The recently-launched Cobb Salad has a beautiful presentation and was very tasty. The lettuce was crisp, a huge plus for a fast-food salad, and the bacon had just the right amount of crunch. The ranch dressing it comes with also wasn't too mild or overpowering and brought all the flavors together.

Chick-fil-A

Cobb Salad With Chick-fil-A Chick-n-Strips
Courtesy of Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A may be known best for its chicken sandwiches, but, as it turns out, its salads are pretty good, too. The chain currently offers three different entree-size salad choices on its menu. The Cobb Salad has freshly breaded, pressure-cooked chicken served with Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses and charred tomatoes, and crispy red bell peppers. Its Spicy Southwest option is a tangy combination of roasted corn, black beans, poblano chilies, and tortilla chips. Lastly, the Market Salad boasts crumbled blue cheese, strawberries, and blueberries.

Chick-fil-A also has a fresh side salad that was narrowly saved from discontinuation when customers' outcry on social made the company change its mind at the last minute. The side salad is perfect next to heavier fried foods and is hardly an afterthought with mixed greens, two kinds of cheese, grape tomatoes, charred tomatoes, red bell peppers, and a choice of dressing.

Although these options sound pretty tasty, the grilled Market Salad seems to be a winner amongst diners. Not only is it made healthier than the chain's other two salad options, but it is also packed with unexpected yet flavorful ingredients. I mean, fruit and cheese in a fast-food salad? How good does that sound?

Panera Bread

panera southwest caesar salad
Courtesy of Panera

Panera is one of the best spots to pick up a salad if you need one stat. The fast-casual chain, which has thousands of locations throughout the country (aka you're never too far away from one), has a menu packed with tons of different salad options for you to try. Some offerings include its new Southwest Caesar Salad with Chicken, the recently relaunched Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken, a traditional Greek Salad, an inventive Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken, and a flavorful Mediterranean Bowl with Chicken.

Although many of their salads are delicious, one of the best ones to order, according to a dietitian, is the Mediterranean Bowl. It tastes great and packs in healthy ingredients, including quinoa, greens, cucumbers, hummus, and grilled chicken. It also is served with an undeniably good lemon tahini dressing.

Jack in the Box

CLUB SALAD with CRISPY CHICKEN jack in the box
Courtesy of Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box, the fast-food chain that mostly has locations on the West Coast, has a whole section of its menu called "Lighter Options," which is essentially a list of fresh salads.

You'll find tasty picks like a Club Salad with Grilled Chicken which is made with crispy iceberg and romaine lettuce and gourmet seasoned croutons. The Southwest Chicken Salad has fresh grape tomatoes, spicy corn sticks, and a creamy Southwest-style dressing. The more pared-down side salad is filled with fresh veggies, such as carrots and cucumbers, and is topped with a tangy ranch dressing.

Lisa Mikus, RD, CNSC, CDN, a registered dietitian at Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services and co-author of "Everyday Diabetes Meals Cooking for One or Two," said that the Southwest Salad is one of the best salads to order from the Jack in the Box menu. "This is my top pick out of the salad options since it provides protein from the grilled chicken and complex carbohydrates from the black beans," she shared.

Chipotle

Wholesome Bowl from Chipotle
Courtesy of Chipotle

The next time you go to Chipotle to pick up a burrito, why not try one of its salads instead? Marketed as "Lifestyle Bowls" on its site, Chipotle's salads are just as good as some of its more famous menu items. Even better? They have several different salad bowl options to choose from. The Balanced Macros Bowl is filled with chicken, black beans, veggies, and a bit of rice. The Wholesome Bowl—which is Whole30-, Keto-, and Paleo-approved—comes with super greens, fresh tomatoes, and guacamole. Its vegan Plant-Powered Bowl comes with corn salsa and sofritas, which is Chipotle's plant-based protein.

Chains We'd Love to See Bring Salads Back

McDonald's

Mcdonald's southwest chicken salad
Shutterstock

Although McDonald's salads are no more (they were a casualty of the pandemic), we can still remember them fondly: The chain once carried options like traditional side salads and a variety of entree salads.

A fan favorite was the Crispy Chicken Bacon Salad, which people loved to drizzle with creamy Ranch dressing. The salad, which had a price that hovered around $5 or $6, was made from high-quality ingredients that just hit the spot. Please bring them back!

Burger King

burger king salad
Burger King / Facebook

Even though Burger King has "burger" in its name, it once upon a time made pretty decent salads. Quietly taken off most locations' menus in 2022, the chain's salad choices included a classic side salad made with chopped purple cabbage, fresh lettuce, and sliced tomatoes and topped with a special mouth-watering sauce. The best part? The restaurant allowed you to swap out fries in your meal for this healthier option if you'd like.

 

Brittany Natale
Brittany Natale is a food and lifestyle writer. Read more about Brittany