The other day I was tasked with creating a healthy, plant-based meal for someone who is a very fussy eater. This person does not like vegetables or legumes, and is starting to experience symptoms of malnutrition as a result of it. They do, however, enjoy fast food; especially chicken sandwiches from McDonald’s. With that in mind, I got to work on this healthy, vegan version of a fast food style chicken sandwich.
Fast food can actually be an adequate source of basic macro nutrients – protein, fat, and carbs – but it typically lacks vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients. It’s also full of empty calories. In fact, certain fast food items, like french fries, are almost entirely empty calories. A person can definitely survive on fast food for a long time, but they won’t thrive on it. Eventually, those missing nutrients will start to catch up with them.
The key to making fast food healthy is to simply use better ingredients and healthier cooking methods. Fast food restaurants are notorious for using poor quality ingredients, so I didn’t have to do much wizardry in the kitchen to replicate and veganize a McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich in a healthy way, I only had to replace the bad stuff with good stuff.
Instead of white bread, I used whole wheat buns. Whole wheat has much more protein than bleached flour, and it’s also a better source of carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients. I replaced the battered and fried chicken with lightly breaded and baked tofu. I also added healthy spices, like turmeric and coriander to the breading. And lastly, I swapped the mayonnaise, which is mostly egg yolks and vegetable oil, for cashew-mayo made from raw cashews, lemon juice, and expeller pressed grapeseed oil, which is an excellent source of vitamin E. As for the veggies, I used organic green leaf lettuce and vine ripe tomatoes.
All in all, this sandwich has less calories, less fat, and less sodium than a McDonald’s chicken sandwich, but just as much protein and even more vitamins and minerals. And when I say it has less calories, not only does it have less calories overall, it has far less – as in almost none – empty calories.
Ways to Make this Sandwich Even Healthier
- Pile on the veggies: The easiest way to squeeze more nutrients into this sandwich is to stack up the veggies. In addition to lettuce and tomato, try onions, peppers, pickles/cucumber, olives, and/or mushrooms.
- Use whole grain bread crumbs: Just like using whole grain bread instead of white bread, try using whole grain bread crumbs. You might be able to find them at your grocery store, but if not, you can simply make your own from stale bread.
- Skip the breading: To cut back on calories and starch, skip the breading all together and simply grill or broil the seasoned tofu.
- Get saucy: Try adding additional healthy sauces and spreads made form plants, like guacamole, hummus, cayenne pepper sauce, or even a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Crispy breaded tofu served on a whole grain bun with green leaf lettuce, vine ripe tomatoes, and cashew-mayo. A healthier –and better tasting– version of McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich.
- 1 pkg extra firm tofu
- 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (use whole grain crumbs or no crumbs for healthiest option)
- 2 tbsp organic sugar-free ketchup
- 2 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp grapeseed oil
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 2 tsp fine sea salt
- 2 tsp cracked pepper
- Green leaf lettuce
- Vine ripe tomatoes, sliced
- Cashew-mayo or vegan mayo of choice
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1/4 cup water
- Juice of one fresh lemon – about 1/4 cup
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- Squirt of dijon mustard
- Cut tofu into 1" slices. Freeze slices overnight in ziplock bags for best texture (optional).
- Defrost tofu (if frozen) and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Mix ketchup, mustard, and oil together in a shallow bowl. Cover all sides of the tofu slices with a thin coat of the mixture.
- Mix together bread crumbs and dry spices in a wide dish. Thoroughly coat all four edges of the tofu, then transfer to a greased baking sheet.
- Bake at 425º F for 10 minutes on each side. Transfer to a cooling rack when done.
- Soak the cashews in water overnight or boil them for at least 15 minutes.
- Add cashews, spices, water, mustard, and lemon juice to a food processor. Process on high until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.
- With the processor running on low, slowly poor grapeseed oil in.
- Transfer to a bowl and chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
This was essentially a copycat recipe, so I stuck to the basic formula. But for me, this sandwich is a little too boring the way McDonald's does it. I add red onion, guacamole, and hot sauce to mine.
If you're more concerned with flavor than the healthiness of this sandwich, I suggest pan-frying the tofu. It tastes soooooo gooood!
Whether you bake or fry the tofu, I strongly suggest putting it on a cooling rack when it's done. This enables steam to escape, so the tofu gets crispier as it cools instead of soggier.