Eat plant-based on a budget at these 10 U.S. chains

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Eating green without spending much green? It’s possible! Discover how you can savor plant-based meals on a budget at America’s favorite chain restaurants, from fast-food fixes to casual dining delights.

A plant-based burger, nutritious salad, and a cup of coffee that won't break your budget.
Enjoy plant-based meals on a budget at America’s favorite chain restaurants, from fast-food fixes to casual dining delights. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

If you’re hoping to eat plant-based meals for under $10 at your favorite restaurants, you’re in luck. These 10 meals from major U.S. chains will set you back no more than $10 before taxes, and they’re completely free of animal products. Prices may vary a bit based on your location.

Subway, $9.62

It’s easy to eat fresh and plant-based at Subway. For $9.62, you can order a 6-inch Veggie Delight sub with chips and a drink. Skip the drink, and your total drops to $6.98. 

Make your Veggie Delight a footlong, and you can still keep it under $10 without the beverage.

The bread you choose depends on the options available. The most common are the artisan Italian, hearty multigrain and toasted artisan flatbread.

Your toppings will include lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onion, pickles, black olives, jalapenos and banana peppers. Add as many or as few as you want.

Next, choose your sauce. The plant-based options are oil, red wine vinegar, yellow mustard, buffalo and sweet onion teriyaki. And lastly, your seasonings: black pepper and salt.

To choose your chips, check the ingredients. Typically, Subway carries Lay’s and Baked Lay’s, which contain only plant-based ingredients.

Olive Garden, $8.99

You can enjoy a lunch or dinner at Olive Garden that’s totally satisfying for under $10. For just $8.99, you can order Olive Garden’s lunch special, which includes minestrone soup, salad without dressing or parmesan — substitute with oil and vinegar — and their famous breadsticks.

For dinner, order a bowl of the minestrone soup. It comes with two breadsticks and costs you $8.49.

Moe’s Southwest Grill, $9.95

Budget meal seekers love that Moe’s includes chips and a variety of salsa types to choose from with every order. Plant-based diners can enjoy a burrito, bowl or tacos with a choice of fillings that includes tofu, seasoned or cilantro lime rice, black or pinto beans, pico de gallo, roasted corn salsa, black olives, jalapenos and lettuce.

Burger King, $9.48

Burger King is one of the first fast food chain restaurants in the United States to make the Impossible Burger a permanent menu item. At Burger King, you can order an Impossible Whopper, hold the cheese, and a small French fries for $9.48.

Panera Bread, $7.49

Panera Bread is known for their “clean eats,” so when looking for budget-friendly, plant-based food, this is a great choice. Get there before 10:30 am, and you can order their hardy steel-cut oatmeal with strawberries and pecans for just $5.89.

Stop in for lunch and enjoy a Mediterranean sandwich with a side for $7.49. Be sure to choose one of the plant-based/vegan-friendly bread options—black pepper focaccia or artisan ciabatta — and hold the feta cheese. The sandwich comes filled with hummus, cucumber, red onion, peppadew peppers, mixed greens, sliced tomato, salt and pepper.

Your side options are an apple, Panera Bread’s famous chips or a French baguette. 

Chili’s, $8.97

Chili’s offers several plant-based sides: black beans, corn on the cob, fries, and broccoli. Order 3 of these for $8.97, and you’ll be plenty full.

Tropical Smoothie, $6.19

Smoothies at Tropical Smoothie range from light and refreshing to thick and filling. If you’re hungry, choose the chia banana boost smoothie.  For a lighter option, go for the detox island green. For something in between, the avocolada is a great choice. 

Each of these will set you back  $6.19.

Chipotle, $8.60

Chipotle is a fast-casual favorite, especially among plant-based folks, since there are so many great options. Order a veggie or sofritas bowl, burrito bowl, salad or tacos. You can add as many of the fillings as you want, so load up on black and/or pinto beans, Sofritas, mixed fajita veggies, and four different salsas, including fresh tomato salsa and roasted chili-corn salsa and lettuce. Add guacamole for an extra $2.65 or if you skip the Sofritas, it’s free.

Panda Express, $8.60

At Panda Express, order either a bowl for $8.60 or 2 a la carte menu items for $9.20. A bowl comes with an entree and side. The super greens is an available entree at all Panda Express, while at select locations, you may also find eggplant and tofu. 

Pair your entree with either chow mein, white rice or more super greens. If you like, you can order “half and half” of two different sides. Ask for a sauce, like Teriyaki, to drizzle on top.

If you prefer to order a la carte, you can choose from all of the same options.

Taco Bell, $5.99

Taco Bell is not going to surprise many of you for being budget-friendly. What you may not know is how plant-based friendly they are. So friendly, in fact, that many of their ingredients are certified vegan. 

Most of Taco Bell’s menu items require modifications to be meat- and dairy-free. To make ordering easy, look for the term “fresco style,” which means that Taco Bell knows to remove all dairy from that item, replacing any dairy products with tomatoes.

The most budget-friendly meal at Taco Bell is their veggie build-your-own cravings box. You’ll choose one specialty item, one classic item, a side and a medium fountain drink — all for just $5.99.

The specialty options are a cheese quesadilla, a back bean chalupa supreme and a black bean crunchwrap. The quesadilla is difficult to modify, but the chalupa and crunchwrap can both be made plant-based by ordering fresco style.

A plant-based black bean chalupa supreme will contain black beans, lettuce and tomato. The black bean crunchwrap will have black beans, a crunchy taco shell, lettuce and tomatoes wrapped in a soft tortilla and then grilled. The standard sauces will be left off of both of these, so grab a couple of extra packets of hot sauce so they’re not too dry.

The classic options are a bean burrito, a spicy potato soft taco and a cheesy bean and rice burrito. All three of these can be made plant-based and vegan by ordering them fresco-style.

The bean burrito made fresco style will have beans, onions, tomatoes and red sauce. The spicy potato soft taco will include potatoes and lettuce. The cheesy bean and rice burrito includes beans, seasoned rice and tomatoes wrapped in a soft tortilla.

There are three side options as well; the chips and nacho cheese sauce, cinnamon twists and cheesy fiesta potatoes.

The cinnamon twists need no modifications. Ask for the chips without cheese or substitute with guacamole for an extra charge. The same goes for the cheesy fiesta potatoes. They need to be ordered without sour cream and nacho cheese sauce or simply fresco style. You can ask for guacamole for an extra cost.

Lastly, choose your medium fountain drink. Two food items, a side or dessert and a drink for $5.99 — a great deal.

Wrapping Up

Whether you are heading to a drive-thru, fast-casual, or sit-down chain restaurant, ordering plant-based has never been easier or more budget-friendly!

Jen Horton is the passionate creator of the vegan website and app VeggL; she shows you how to order plant-based at chain restaurants, airports, sports venues and some amusement parks in the United States. When Jen is not researching vegan options, you can find her experimenting with flavors in the kitchen or hiking with her husband and pups, Mia and Maggie.

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