Healthy Chain Restaurants: The Freshest Fast-Food Spots

Fresh food fast was a rarity when marketing executive Aaron Kennedy unveiled Noodles & Company in 1995. It filled a huge void: There are now nearly 500 locations of this Colorado-based chain across the United States. An abundance of soups, salads, pastas and noodle dishes awaits, with plent of options for gluten-free and vegetarian, along with those concerned about their sugar and sodium intake. One particularly alluring aspect of the menu is a section devoted to dishes that are 500 calories or less, including the Japanese pan noodles – caramelized ribbons of udon with broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and black sesame seeds in a sweet soy sauce – or Penne Rosa, pasta tossed in a spicy tomato cream sauce with spinach and feta or parmesan. A new lineup of decadent mac and cheese varieties – boosted with barbecue pork, buffalo chicken or truffles – can be ordered in smaller, under-700-calorie portions for necessary splurges.