Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Does Fast Food Have to be Fat Food?


I love to cook and get a true thrill out of menu planning but there are times when I'm delayed or simply lazy. On our weekly treks to Vermont, I pack snacks and sometimes choose to starve my family versus stopping at the gross and "golden arches" but there are times when we get stuck. Last ski season, it was a hailstorm that forced us to make a pit stip. I wrote about this "adventure" in Fast Food Slaytons but would prefer not to recap this experience. As we cruise through states, past the many exits I scan the signs looking for an appealing fast food option. How I wish there was an Energy Kitchen somewhere along I-91.

Energy Kitchen makes healthy fast food. They recently opened an UWS location a few blocks from the Foodtrainers’ offices. In my not so well cropped photo above, you’ll find a sign from Energy Kitchen that reads, “fast food doesn’t have to be fat food.” Energy Kitchen offers a healthy menu with salads, entrees and burgers (bison, veggie, ostrich and more).  Nothing on the menu is over 500 calories.  We received a bunch of tweets and email about EK recently, mostly asking if these calorie counts were “legit” or “too good to be true.” Kelly, from Energy Kitchen reassured us that their prep team pre measures all ingredients each morning. EK also sends all items to a lab for nutrition analysis before adding a count to the menu. So yes, the calories are legit and they take portions and health seriously.

I realized when preparing for this post that I had a problem. I get the same items, with little variation, every time I go to Energy Kitchen. I love the Grilled Salmon, which comes with 2 sides. My 2 favorite sides are the asparagus and the black bean and mango salad (you’re not going to find that at Mcwhatever).  I also love the sweet potatoes. Today at our lunch meeting others had the chopped salad (sans blue cheese) and the salad with seared tuna which both got rave reviews. I had the lentil soup with mixed veggies on the side, also really good. We were pleased to hear the veggie burger used at EK is organic and that the sirloin is grass-fed. If the salmon were wild and the vegetables all organic, I would contemplate hanging up my apron.

There are a few other chains in NYC serving healthier fast food, these are:

For those of you that aren’t in NYC and can’t wait for an Energy Kitchen to open near you, here are some other Foodtrainers favorite “fast food” restaurants nation-wide:


Right now Energy Kitchen has 10 locations, mostly in Manhattan. They do have 55 East Coast franchise agreements from Miami to CT. Kelly tells us they have “agreements in place for Long Island, Connecticut, Westchester, Queens, Brooklyn, Florida, Boston and Washington D. C.” I don’t see Vermont on that list but maybe one day (or maybe I’ll open it).
Have you been to Energy Kitchen, what did you think? Are there any similar concepts in your area? Do you think healthy fast food is an oxymoron?
Leave your comments; one of you will receive a $20 gift card to Energy Kitchen (thanks EK). 

21 comments:

  1. My favorite place on the UWS for healthy food. Grandaisy bakery has awesome flatbread pizzas

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  2. Thanks for the post, I'm going to have to check out Energy Kitchen and let you know what I think.

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  3. There are definitely more and more places popping up around NYC where you can get healthy fast food. Aroma is another one of my favorites that has healthy salads, sandwiches and soups. Unfortunately, this isn't the norm everywhere else. I think we are seeing a trend, however, and more places will be popping up as time pressed Americans increase their demand for healthy food in a hurry.

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  4. pret a manger is a UK chain love that one, wish we were closer to NYC best food

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  5. i would definitely love to visit and eat at energy kitchen one day, it sounds really fabulous. im a firm believer too that fast food doesn't have to be fat food like we've been led to believe for many years.

    xoxo

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  6. Happy that the UWS is finally getting so more healthy options. I don't think healthy & fast food is an oxymoron. People don't realize how easy it can be to prepare quick, delicious & healthy food!

    Another note about Energy Kitchen- they don't note Gluten Free on the menu boards but items are listed on the actual paper menus. When I stopped by the other day, the staff wasn't aware of that.

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  7. Erica, good thing to note. I actually asked EK if any breads were GF and they aren't (sadly) but their wrap is vegan (that's response I got). Seems as though a GF bread wouldn't be too hard to incorporate or at least staff knowledge of which foods meet the bill.

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  8. I have an energy kitchen right near my office and where I used to live. I used to eat there ALL the time. Unfortunately, i quickly got burnt out. Sometimes if I'm craving a burger I'll get their turkey burger because it's LOADED with veggies, and I love their sides.
    I do recall that when I got a plain piece of chicken with tomato sauce, I wasn't too fond of it. But I will try again!

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  9. Hi Lauren, Energy Kitchen sounds really good! The only place on your list in my area is Panera Bread, but the only place on my way home that I would even consider stopping at is Subway. I wish there were more good healthy "fast" options!

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  10. Love Energy Kitchen wraps without the wraps - usually get a side of mixed veggies. Mix it all together. The hummus bowls at Crisp are good (especially when you customize); skip the pita on the side!

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  11. Never heard of Energy Kitchen. Now I will have to check it out. Good to know there are some healthy options out there.
    The prices are probably very high though, right?
    Wonder if this is a Metropolitan phenomena or if it can break out into the burbs and middle America.

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  12. Amanda, I can see burning out but think even healthy fast food shouldn't be too frequent. Jen- I don't know Crisp but you are always cutting edge and Hemi prices higher than you know who but even if price point has to be lower a good concept and where "fast" needs to go.

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  13. This place would go BOOM in the Seattle and Portland markets... All of our holier-than-thou preppy granola people, I would LOVE to see a few out here. My parents and I (I'm a college student) frequently grab lunch together and it would be great if something like this was an option.

    Madison

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  14. Love EK! Had it for lunch today in fact... And I love the very concept of food that is fast and easy and convenient that also packs a nutritional punch. There should be more places like this!

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  15. We have an Energy Kitchen nearby and I really like it.

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  16. No EK near me. Surprised Panera is on the list. Most of their food is a nightmare. The foods seem innocent enough, but when you look at the nutrition facts most of it would only be appropriate for a bodybuilder.

    I don't think fast food has to be unhealthy, but you need to make strategic choices. My main complaint is the food is too processed (too many fillers in the meat, etc) and the way it is handled (no gloves!) can be gross.

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  17. Thanks for turning me on to Energy Kitchen and Healthy Fast Food in general! Just the description of your typical meal sounds delicious! It would be wonderful to get yummy, nutricious food without the wait or added expense.

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  18. I crave fast food when I'm in airports, such a weakness. If you are ever in the San Diego airport, there is a great fast food place called Organic to Go. They list all nutrition info, everything is organic and made to order. And it tastes better than anything else at the airport. They are planning to expand to other airports soon.

    I do love that Panera, ever since it was founded near Wash U and called St. Louis Bread Company. There are a lot of healthier choices, but I can't seem to choose well there.

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  19. There are certainly more places appear around New York where you can get healthy fast. Perfume is one of my favorites, which is a healthy salads, sandwiches and soups. Unfortunately, this is not the norm elsewhere. I think we have seen a trend, however, and more places opening must be pressed Americans make healthy food quickly.

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  20. @cheesy - I agree about Panera. I actually eat there quite frequently (alas, no longer in NYC since having a kid and moving to the suburbs, so no Energy Kitchen for me yet!). But I find I have to be very careful about what I order there. I will say that it's POSSIBLE to eat healthily there and it's sure better than most fast food places, but it's not a panacea and it's very easy to eat a 1200 calorie meal there without realizing it if you're not paying attention. I'm usually careful to get soup or 1/2 salad with 1/2 sandwich, and there are only a couple of sandwiches I'll choose from. And it takes every bit of willpower I have to walk past the pastries every time (very bad sweet tooth). Most of their sandwiches are a nightmare (but not all), the salads are largely pretty good, and many of their soups are very good, although they taste very salty so probably very high in sodium - but that's ok for me on a once-a-week basis as I'm not on a low-sodium diet.

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  21. Thank you for sharing information

    The awareness of the fast food these days is increasing at an alarming rate due to
    its availability always and the taste. Therefore, you do not need to eat fast food
    for eating sake but you have to eat a healthy fast food

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