Healthiest Foods to Eat for Yourself and the Planet: Restaurant Edition

Cook and culture

Written by cookandculture | Edited by Carol Coutinho

“Eat your greens” and “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” are common phrases that most people have grown up hearing. From an early age, most have been taught the difference between a healthy food and an unhealthy one. Healthy foods are typically fresh, whole, natural foods from the earth, while unhealthy foods are typically processed and sugar-loaded. Though this seems to be common knowledge, some people do not understand what eating for the planet means, or why it is important.

“Eco-eating,” “sustainable eating” and “eating for the planet” all encompass the same key idea: eating in ways that causes reduced, minimal, or absolutely no harm upon ecosystems or the environment. To achieve healthy eating for the planet, it is important to look at the carbon footprint of the foods you consume. A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, or product. In terms of food, it measures the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat (Green Eatz). Lamb, beef, cheese, turkey, and pork are some of the foods with the highest carbon footprint, while strawberries, beans, potatoes, and tofu are foods with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Healthy eating
When you shop for your own groceries and cook your own meals at home, it is relatively easy to not only eat healthy in terms of your health, but also eat healthy for the planet. However, this act is much more difficult when eating out, as you don’t know where the food is coming from. Luckily, I have devised a list of 4 chain restaurants that offer meals that benefit both your health and the environment. When in need for a quick meal on the go, try out these chains in order to eat healthy for both yourself and the planet.

4 Restaurant Chains who Incorporate Healthy Food for your Body and the Planet:

Panera

First up on the list is Panera Bread, or if you are from the St. Louis area, you know this chain as Bread Co. In 2019, Panera began analyzing the carbon footprint of their ingredients and entrees, such as their salads, sandwiches, soups and grain bowls (Panera). After this initial research, Panera partnered with the World Resources Institute to label their menu items with a low carbon footprint, deemed as their “Cool Food Meals.” According to Panera, 55% of their menu items are Cool Food Meals, and the Cool Food Meal stamp can be found on all menu items with this designation. The most popular of these items include: the Mediterranean Bowl, Broccoli Cheddar Soup, and Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt. Furthermore, Panera pledges to up their plant-based menu items to 50% of the total menu by the end of 2021, as plant-based meals typically have a lower carbon footprint. Every menu category will include a plant-based option by 2021. 

Panera

“Panera Bread”, adobe, jpg file.

To take sustainability matters even further, Panera continues to work with suppliers to source responsibly grown palm oil and palm oil derivatives, as palm oil is causing rapid deforestation. Read more about the palm oil crisis here. The latest palm oil update from Panera was three years ago. “In 2017, Panera sourced approximately 1,450 tons of palm oil out of an industry that produces over 65 million tons. Of this total, over 92%, or 1,300 tons, met a certification as rigorous as the principles and criteria of RSPO” (Panera Palm Oil Sourcing). 

Additionally, Panera works to ensure sustainable agriculture, as well as responsibly raised proteins. “responsible use of antibiotics leads to better animal welfare and has a positive public health impact on humans. Plus, we (Panera) believe the meat simply tastes better. We are also committed to high standards of animal care from cage-free eggs to grass-fed and -finished beef” (Panera). As far as sustainable agriculture, Panera collaborates with sustainable agriculture experts, NGOs and industry partners on projects designed to support healthy soils, protect water resources, reduce unsafe pesticide use and mitigate our impact on the climate.

Chipotle 

The next chain restaurant on this list is a fan favorite with over 2,500 stores across the United States and 30 international fronts: Chipotle Mexican Grill. Chipotle partnered with HowGood, an American food rating sustainability company, to access the footprint of their stores and food. Chipotle has measured each ingredient in each recipe against these five sustainability areas: reduced carbon emissions, organic land supported, water saved, antibiotics avoided, and improved soil health (Chipotle). In the reduced carbon emissions scope, Chipotle is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by sourcing from suppliers that use more sustainable practices compared to conventional ingredients. In terms of organic land supported, the chain sources from farms with sustainable agriculture practices that save more water primarily through greywater reduction. If you eat animal products, Chipotle avoids the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in meat and dairy animals, which is a part of their award-winning animal welfare standards. The chain is improving soil health through sourcing from farms with sustainable agriculture practices, like planting cover crops, which improves soil health. And finally, in terms of organic land supported, Chipotle is serving more organic food and helping their farmer partners make the transition to organic (Chipotle). 

Chiptole

“Chiptole”, adobe, jpg file.

Carbon footprint

“Chiptole”, adobe, jpg file.

The newest feature of Chipotle’s sustainability initiative is being able to calculate the carbon footprint of your meal. For example, my go to Chipotle order is a bowl with white rice, black beans, fajita veggies, corn salsa, mild tomato salsa, lettuce, and guacamole. I entered these ingredients onto their footprint generator and my metics in the five sustainability areas came up. The results were: 1.7 grams less of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 1 square foot of supported organic land, 1.7 gallons of water saved, 0 antibiotics saved as my order does not include animal products, and 1.8 feet of improved soil health. You can enter your order and get your metrics here.

Ikea Restaurants 

Ikea Restaurants are next up on the list. Although they are rather an odd choice in a food chain, Ikea restaurants are extremely eco-friendly one! Additionally, “one out of three customers who visit Ikea do so just for the restaurant, which makes the 10th largest food service company in the United States alone!” (5 restaurant chains). Ikea’s main sustainability goal is to be climate positive by 2030. Climate positive means that an activity goes beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions to actually create an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In order to do so, Ikea is increasing the amount of plant-based food sold at their restaurants, because these foods have a lower carbon footprint. 

Ikea cafe

“IKEA”, adobe, jpg file.

Ikea claims, “Meat lover or vegan, making sustainable choices benefits us all, and we plan to make the world a greener place” (Ikea). Some of the plant-based menu options include: plant-based hot dogs, vegan ice cream, plant-based meatballs, and plant-based chocolate mousse. Meatballs are top sellers for Ikea restaurant, and the company claims that it sells around 1 billion meatballs a year. They hope that by incorporating the plant-based meatball, they can create a real difference.

Ikea food

“IKEA”, adobe, jpg file.

Additionally, all of the plant-based options Ikea restaurants sell are good for your body as they contain loads of fruits and veggies! The plant-based hot dog is made entirely from vegetables, including: kale, red lentils, carrots, red cabbage, celery, onion, quinoa and ginger. To top of your dog, you can add one of the traditional Ikea toppings which include pickled red cabbage, fried onions and mustard or fried onions and pickles. The vegan ice cream is based on a strawberry concentrate and it is served in, you guessed it, a vegan cone. This ice cream is special as it has a carbon footprint around half the size of that of a traditional ice cream cone. The plant-based meatballs incorporate chickpeas, carrots, peppers, corn and kale to make them extra tasty. Additionally, these meatballs are certified gluten free! Lastly, the plant-based chocolate mousse is created using carrot millet and sea buckthorn.

Furthermore, Ikea plans to advance its plant-based menu. By 2025, they hope to have “50% of main meals offered in the restaurants to be plant-based and 80% to be non-red meat” as well as “80% of all packaged food offered to be plant-based” (Ikea meals).

Starbucks

Last but not least on the list of restaurant chains that incorporate healthy food for your body and the planet is Starbucks. Worldwide, there are just over 31,000 storefronts, so this company has a big impact worldwide. Starbucks’s main sustainability goal, announced in early 2020 is to become “resource positive” or storing more carbon than emitted, eliminating waste, and providing more clean freshwater than the chain uses. One way Starbucks is doing this is by adding more plant-based menu options. However, what is offered at your local Starbucks varies by location.

  • United States:

    In the US, Starbucks has rolled out several new non-dairy drinks including: the Star Drink, Cold Brew with Cinnamon Almondmilk Foam, Coconut Milk Cascara Latte and the Iced Pineapple Matcha Drink. In terms of food, the chain has added an Impossible breakfast sandwich, oatmeal options, and a few different certified vegan bagel options (the Sprouted Grain vegan bagel is my favorite!) Additionally, all drinks can now be made with non-dairy milks, including soymilk, coconut milk, almond milk, and oat milk. New in the United States in 2020, Starbucks has a “very Merry Vegan Wrap” released for the holidays. 

starbuck creamer

“Starbucks”, adobe, jpg file.

  • Canada:

    Similar to the United States, customers in Canada can enjoy a variety of non-dairy beverages. Additionally, storefronts in Canada have a vegetarian breakfast sandwich option, which has  Beyond Meat, Cheddar and Egg all in the Breakfast Sandwich.   

 

  • China: 

    Starbucks joined forces with plant-based innovators in China, Beyond Meat and Oatly.Today, nearly all stores across the market offer the new plant-based food and beverage menu, as well as new merchandise made from recycled content (Starbucks Stories).

Pie

“Pie”, adobe, jpg file.

  • Singapore:

    Starbucks introduced the Impossible Rendang Pie, a locally inspired twist on a Starbucks classic, featuring a filling of ground Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods (Starbucks Stories). To add to this menu option, Starbucks Singapore plans to add more plant-based meal options to the menu in the future.

  • Europe, Middle East, and Africa

    :  New plant-based food items in these locations include the Vegan Beetroot Wrap and the Vegan Chocolate and Raspberry Loaf Cake. Customers across the EMEA can order milk alternatives including oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and soy milk. Furthermore, a plant-based pumpkin spice latte is also available. 

 

  • Latin America:

    Starbucks has begun rolling out non-dairy kinds of milk, the first of which being coconut milk and it is now widely available.

To sum up, these four restaurant chains not only offer healthy foods to eat for yourself that include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, but also healthy foods for the planet, those which have a low carbon footprint and do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. If you are in need of a quick meal on the go, you can ease your mind by eating at one of these four chains, and knowing that you are helping the earth in terms of the food you eat! My favorite menu items from each of the restaurants include: Panera’s Ten Vegetable Soup and Green Smoothie, Chipotle’s burrito bowl, Ikea’s veggie meatballs, and Starbucks’ honey almond milk white flat.

So next time you’re out and in need of a snack, coffee, or meal, try out some of the new plant-based menu options. Let us know through our Instagram channel @cookandculture which you like best!

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