Haven’t you noticed the talk these days about the connection between cheap food and obesity? It’s become clear that the most iconic and most affordable restaurants are serving us the foods that are harming us most. But I have some liberating news for you: Affordable dining can be healthy! Take a look around NYC with a different set of eyes, and you’ll notice a new generation of chains and independents who’ve taken the initiative to serve it up with a new healthful outlook. It’s no longer unusual to find delicious, balanced meals made from wholesome, even organic ingredients on any Avenue. Even someone as cuisine-conscious as I am frequents a dozen of these 21st century eateries, and gladly.
This great news comes with a caution: As with any product or service, you should beware of sneaky marketing. There are many genius devils out there who could twist language to make a Twinkie sound like health food. Let me eliminate the mystery by leading you on a tour of a few of my favorite establishments and chains, and along the way, introduce you to the universe of healthful, budget-friendly dining on the go.
In Michael’s bookkeeping, he finds so many receipts from this organic chain that he calls it my home-away-from-home. Le Pain Quotidien, or “The Daily Bread”, specializes in artisanal sandwiches, breakfasts, salads, soups, pastries, quiches and coffees, with a focus on freshly-baked organic breads, and using organic ingredients when possible. Often I’ll substitute coffee with their Gazpacho on days when I have 3 or 4 coffee appointments. The pastries are incredible, but keep in mind that organic junk-food is junk-food nonetheless. The service varies greatly from location to location. Beer and wine are offered. Calories are listed on the menu. 30 locations in Manhattan.
Using natural ingredients and avoiding preservatives and obscure chemicals is sacred to this unique chain. They are not a slave to big food factories, depots or processing places. Their sandwiches and salads are freshly made throughout the day, on location, with no need for shelf life dates; when they make too much food, it gets offered to charities working with the hungry. All this sustainability, and still delicious! Soups and pressed juices are also recommended. 39 Manhattan locations.
Their name is truth in advertising! Fresh & Co goes out of its way to purchase fruits and veggies from organic, sustainable farms in the Hudson Valley, Long Island and New Jersey. I’ve ordered in countless times from this farm-to-table chain, favoring their falafel sandwich on whole wheat, their turkey chili, and their Gaucho Salad. Their Quinoa Breakfast Bowls are a treat, and their recipes run the gamut from classic to trendy. Their website has a nutrition calculator so you can plug in what you’re ordering and figure out what you’re ingesting. 10 convenient locations in Manhattan. Delivery and catering offered.
Adding righteous dimension to Mexican finger food is the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain, where all ingredients are prepared on premises, and sourced from sustainable farms whenever possible. That translates to meat and dairy raised without antibiotics or hormones. The burritos are fat, and loaded with real food with real flavor. The toppings options go way beyond guacamole. Calories are listed on the signs. 50+ locations in Manhattan. Link here to see their philosophy about their ingredients.
And A Special Mention
At the Union Square Greenmarket year-round on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Body & Soul offers up exceptional vegan baked goods with gluten-free options. I particularly love the savory side of things…Their Black Bean Turnovers and Curried Vegetable Turnovers are both delightful at room temperature (although they can be heated). Portions are generous, and the people are super-friendly!