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.