At this point, everyone knows that we shouldn’t be eating “fast food.” It’s loaded with saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and salt, and it’s slowly killing us, right?
Interestingly, while this stereotypical view of “fast food” is still accurate for some brands and products, a trend has been sweeping the fast food industry that aims to turn it around for the majority of consumers.
The difference between fast food and food made fast
This trend can be summed up in this statement:
Instead of fast food, it’s good food made fast.
Whether it’s new ways of approaching traditional fast food fare, new menu items on traditional fast food menus, or brand new restaurants with entirely new focus, these businesses are skilfully evolving to meet the needs of more health-conscious consumers who still want to be able to grab lunch on the run.
New healthier menu items
Traditionally, the term “fast food” referred exclusively to greasy cheeseburgers, French fries, and thick shakes. And those still exist for those of us who can’t be good all the time. But it’s become commonplace to find incredible variety on the menus of even traditional fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King.
Many of the menu items added over the last ten years have been included specifically to appeal to the fact that consumers have become more conscious of eating healthy, limiting their dietary fat and/or sugar intake, and generally growing tired of burgers.
That’s not to say, of course, that a grilled chicken sandwich from Burger King is nutritionally equivalent to making it yourself at home. But there’s no doubt that the grilled chicken sandwich is a third of the calories of the Double Whopper you may have ordered in the past.
A new take on the burger and fries
For fast food chains that want to still remain true to their burger-and-fries roots, another strategy that’s gained a lot of ground in recent years is transforming the burger into something more nutritionally appealing.
For instance, California-based In-and-Out Burger serves all their signature burgers “protein style” upon request. Doing so replaces the traditional bun with a lettuce wrap, shaving calories and carbs in the process.
At Ted’s Montana Grill, a chain founded by media mogul Ted Turner, every burger can be ordered with bison meat instead of beef. Bison meat is lower in saturated fat and calories than its more traditional cousin.
Burger King is now offering a veggie patty option, as are many other restaurants, large and small. Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. both offer turkey burgers that are much lower in fat and calories, and other non-beef options are available in most fast food restaurants.
When you add in the opportunity to order up sweet potato fries at McDonald’s (they’re currently testing the option) or swap them out of value meals for apple slices or a side salad, you can imagine this health-conscious trend taking hold soon too.
A new kind of fast food restaurant
In addition to new and improved menu options at traditional fast food restaurants, an entirely new breed of restaurants has appeared over the last several years offering high-quality, nutritious, even gourmet-style food, but prepared just as fast as a value meal.
For example, Panera Bread, with over 1200 locations around the US, offers an impressive selection of nutritious sandwiches, soups, and salads with ingredients you may not associate with fast food: black beans, artichokes, low-sodium turkey, gouda cheese … all prepared fresh to order and out the door in under 10 minutes.
Jason’s Deli is a much smaller, but quickly growing, chain with just over 200 locations across the south and west, famous for its high number of certified organic ingredients in its varied menu. With a well-stocked salad bar at each location and fresh-made sandwiches and soups to choose from, even if you sit down for lunch, you can be in and out in under 30 minutes and under 600 calories.
A final example is Au Bon Pain, a pioneer in the healthy fast food trend, that boasts whole grains, fresh vegetables, and hormone-free chicken along with a host of other tasty and nutritious choices. Their nutrition information kiosks at each counter allow customers to check nutrition information even before placing an order, providing transparency as well.
To summarize, traditional “fast food” is still out there, and you still have to exercise a significant amount of self-control if you want to eat right. But now, more than ever before, good food made fast is gaining ground in the marketplace and just about everywhere you stop for a quick bite there are going to be healthy options available.
The market is wide open right now for new and interesting healthy fast food choices to jump in and take advantage of this trend, so if you’ve ever considered opening a fast food restaurant, now may be a great time to do so.