Sometimes you just don’t have time for a sit-down meal. You might be rushing to catch a train at Penn Station, or grabbing lunch in the 15 minutes you have between meetings. And you likely don’t have time to pack yourself a healthy meal before you run out the door in the morning.
We don’t have to tell you that conventional fast food is bad for you. Do you really trust the food origins at your local deli—or even their preparation methods? Even when you don’t have a spare minute to dwell on food choices on the most hectic days, it would help to know whether your oh-so-convenient refueling spot actually cares about where its food comes from and if it is good for you.
So, is it possible to eat healthfully and sustainably while you’re on the go? Absolutely. Here are some of our picks between 14th and 59th Streets for the conscious (but busy) eater. All of these to-go spots have earned the Clean Plates Seal.
Pret a Manger
Believe it or not, this ubiquitous British chain is one of your best bets for pre-made sandwiches, soups, and salads. When you’re in a hurry, just pick from a wall of neatly packaged foods; the wrappers are mostly biodegradable, and food is prepared fresh daily. All meats are hormone- and antibiotic-free, the breads have no preservatives or bleached flour, and coffee is of the fair-trade, organic variety and accompanied by organic milk.
Another chain that has practically taken over Midtown, Chipotle is your go-to place for speedy, tasty, and well-sourced burritos and Mexican salads. Even if the line looks long, have faith that the super-efficient and friendly staff will get you out of there quickly with large burrito or salad in hand. All meats are free of antibiotics, the cheese is organic, and accompanying ingredients are noticeably fresh. Just pay attention to the calorie counts to avoid overdoing it with all of the tempting add-ons. Vegetarians take note: only the black beans are veg-friendly whereas the pinto beans are made with bacon.
At this fast-food burger and hot dog joint, you don’t have to worry about antibiotics and hormones in your meat or low-quality oil in your fries—in fact, the fries are air-baked rather than deep-fried. And even the buns are organic. Vegan options are also available for burgers, dogs, “fixins,” and sides. With only two locations in Manhattan, they’re not quite as easy to find as McDonald’s, but if one of them is nearby, take full advantage.
Raw, vegan, fish, chicken, organic, fair trade, gluten free—this lunch spot between Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park has it all. Besides the obligatory sandwiches, salads, soups, and coffee, FreeFoods offers other healthy options like smoothies, juice blends, and fresh fruit that can come to the rescue when you don’t have much time to eat. It’s also nice that all of the utensils and cups are biodegradable.
A name like Organique can bring out skepticism, making you wonder if the restaurant can back up the claims made by their title. Luckily for busy folks in the Flatiron District, this one is the real deal. Although it resembles a regular deli with its sandwich counter and salad bar, you can expect fresher, more sustainably harvested ingredients here. Organic produce and meats are helpfully labeled on the menu, and they even offer gluten-free whole grain bread and several organic spreads. Another plus is the organic coffee (and milk).
This Chelsea café has a rustic, country feel, and it’s not just because of the décor—the restaurant has genuine ties to the land. Many ingredients are actually grown at the Simple Kitchen’s own farm in Bethlehem, Connecticut, and others are sourced from local farms and small businesses. Other personal touches include a line of homemade sodas sweetened with organic honey, and bagged lunches specifically meant for picnics on the High Line.
Dirty Bird To-Go
If you have a hankering for fast-food chicken, try the locally raised, antibiotic- and hormone-free variety from this tiny takeout spot on 14th Street. It’s probably smart to go for rotisserie chicken rather than fried; but if you can’t resist, take solace in the fact that the frying oil is used for biodiesel fuel after it has worked its magic in the kitchen. To balance your meal, order a green side like sautéed kale or the vegetable of the day from a local New York farm.
Photo from Andy Cross via Flickr